Today, I came across an article on Facebook that really resonated with me. It was by someone who didn’t believe in pressure and limitation of New Year’s Resolutions, and just wanted to be a happier individual that didn’t obsess over things that really don’t matter that much. So, instead of creating a bucket list, she created a “Fuck It” list; a list of worries, concerns, anxieties, drama, and nonsense she wanted to remove from her sphere of existence.
I used to be much, much better about managing stress and anxiety, which is also to say that I was much better about living life in a fairly irresponsible way and not freaking out about situations I couldn’t handle until they actually descended upon me. For instance, even during the most challenging time of my life, where I’d lost all of my friends and was being kicked out of my condo and didn’t know where I was going to live, I managed to not freak out. In fact, two days before having to leave my home of years thanks to a very spiteful acquaintance-turned-enemy, I hosted a goodbye party for anyone who still cared enough to show up. During that evening, I drank multiple bottles of wine, went skinny dipping in the pool, hooked up with a friend’s ex-something-or-other, and skipped through the rather fancy lobby in front of the security guards, who were also from the Atlanta PD. In the midst of the chaos of trying to find a place to stash my stuff and figuring out how not to live on the street, I was more focused on this rather senseless and crazy fling than on things that mattered.
And when things went even more wrong and I moved in with an ex-boyfriend, and had no sense of how to get my life together, I approached everything with a “one day at a time” attitude. Everything was falling apart, and I was still listening to my iPod and tanning by the pool and playing online poker. I was trying to figure out my future, but didn’t wake up with the sense of “If I don’t fix this today, I might as well die.” I was still happy when I woke up in the morning and saw the sunshine. It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware that I should probably be closer to suicidal than thinking I was Paris Hilton recovering from a little “oops”, but it was a coping mechanism I’d always employed. Concentrating on the moment always made me more appreciative of the little things. If you’re aware that next week, you can lose everything, small things like trips to Cracker Barrel or being able to watch TV in my PJs or going out in the sunshine become things that really make you happy. For most people, most days, the little things are remarkable and life seems boring if you don’t set the bar higher for “interesting things that can happen to you”. When your life is really falling apart and you have no sense of stability, you don’t want interesting. You don’t want adrenaline rushes. Everything you have, even time that is so free of stress that you can dance around your room with your earbuds in, seems so much more valuable. I think the time in my life where I most appreciated how many good things I had in my life immediately followed the shock and trauma of having everything taken away.
These days, I can’t cope that way anymore. When things are not good, I am terrified of the consequences; I lie awake at night thinking about what it’s like to die, or what if I didn’t wake up the next day, or if I became homeless or got arrested or something happened to someone I love. (not that I have any reason to believe these things will happen.) When things are good, I rarely remember how to live in the moment. Instead, I’m stressing about the next moment and the next.
My doctors tell me I’ve struggled with symptoms of anxiety most likely my entire life. However, I never had any idea. Nobody did, because my way of coping with life was to appreciate what you have today, and if tomorrow sucks, deal with it then. In fact, except for my health issues, my life today is about 1/10th as stressful or dramatic as it once was. I’m no longer getting myself into “situations” wherever I turn. I no longer think of the future as “planning for next week”. And when things make me unhappy, I do not remember how to push them aside and live in a way that’s even more fearless or even more appreciative, because they may be temporary. Instead, I cry for the possibility that the worst might happen, and I don’t appreciate the little things I do have so much as mourn for things I used to have but no longer do.
Somehow, my coping mechanisms disappeared, and it left me an anxious, worried, frightened person. The person who used to handle situations that would cause other people to break down for me is suddenly a person who does not routinely wake up feeling joy anymore. She is a person who feels like a failure, who is scared her health will limit her or kill her and doesn’t know which is worse, who can’t remember “Today is a good day simply because nothing bad happened.” Some people might say I simply grew up and started thinking like a responsible adult, but I don’t feel better for the change.
I kind of miss those days when the worst things in the world were happening, and I just kept on living and dealing and moving forward. I don’t miss the horrible things that seemed impossible to handle, but I miss how wonderful it felt just to appreciate one of life’s small pleasures without fear or anxiety. It would be the highlight of my day to walk down the road for a slice of pizza and a rum and Coke, just because I could. I remember once, after not only barricading myself inside in the suburbs for months but also not drinking alcohol at all, taking the train over to Decatur and having a martini at lunch at one of my old haunts. I wasn’t worried about being seen in public and having an egg thrown at me, and it felt like freedom. I remember thinking I was too young to feel so worried and so scared about the future, and it gave me the courage to move on. Moving on wasn’t easy. As soon as I started to take small steps and appreciate the little things, though, the more I rebuilt my life.
I’ve had to rebuild my life often. Different cities, different friends, different jobs, different relationships. Long-term doesn’t seem to work well for me, and living with a life of little stability is something that takes courage. Now that I am not living that way, there is so much more time to think, and everything is so much more difficult to handle. I think about the future, I think about my relationships, I take every failure, every heartbreak, every loss, every personal deficiency so much to heart.
So, honestly, there’s probably something to be said about completely not giving a fuck about most of the stuff that adults are supposed to spend time worrying over. What do I think about myself? What do other people think of me? Am I with the right person? Am I loved? Am I successful at anything? Am I on the right path in life?
Life used to be an adventure, and you accepted that you’d have to adapt and change as it went along. That’s just life. And in the meantime, a quiet day where you got to sit by the pool or go dancing with your friends or watch your favourite TV show with pizza could be a pretty good day. As we get older, our requirements for things that make us happy seem to get higher and higher, and the definition of things that will ruin our days become a much broader spectrum of things. For instance, the past few New Year’s Eve’s of my life have been spent with me crying, because of arguments over relatively small things, like silly string and forks…whereas horrible New Year’s Eve’s in my 20′s were defined by very dramatic, life-changing moments that said “This is an end to a chapter of your life; you have to change course now”.
I do not think that seriousness and responsibility is bad, but life isn’t necessarily something to be mapped out in an obsessive way just because you become an adult. And, if you spend most of the good times thinking about the future and most of the bad times crying about the past, and most of the unremarkable times worrying about everything and everyone, you miss out on a lot of appreciation of the present. You miss out on the little things that can create a feeling of security and freedom and peace in your life, and that feeling isn’t something that should only be reserved for the very young, for those still naive enough to feel hopeful.
There are people in my life—very few people, and not those I’m able to see as frequently as I’d like—who put me in this frame of being, and as a result, help me cope with some very trying times and still look forward to finding happiness in the small things. For instance, one of them is a friend who has made a very conscious decision to live life without caring about the minor drama, without having life ruined by small mishaps, without being affected by what people think or say about him, without being bothered by 85% of what most people are bothered by. He’s truly decided to adopt an attitude of “Life is too short to only give a fuck about the really important things”, and as a result, he puts other people at ease. His lack of emotional delicacy and unwillingness to sugarcoat things is something that actually comforts me, and puts life into perspective.
There are a few others, but for the most part, a majority of the people I know seems just as stressed and unhappy and anxious and worried and care about just as many irrelevant things as I do. People care so much about image, about prosperity, about the future, about what others say and think, about having enough, about being better than others, about judging others—and it’s so limiting, and so stressful.
There comes a point where you realise that you can de-clutter your emotional space the same way you clean up your living space. You put things away when you don’t need them. You throw away things you won’t ever need or only serve to make you feel negatively. You realise that tomorrow, something great might happen, or something horrible might happen…but it doesn’t matter, because now you’re perfectly fine. If you’re not, you will be.
Giving a fuck about everyone and everything can be toxic, as toxic as not caring about anyone or anything at all. Not every moment is worth treasuring, because, yep..it’s just a moment. But once in a while, you’ll feel a sense of freedom and like everything that weighs you down has been stored in the closet, and when that happens, that moment is a good one. It doesn’t matter if it happens when you’re travelling the world, or when you’re making Kraft Mac & Cheese.
Fearing the unknown and being paralyzed by mistakes of the past are two really simple ways to make sure you never go anywhere, do anything, appreciate a single moment, because you’re so hung up on yourself and stuff that doesn’t matter. All of life is uncertain and unknown. And every day will be a yesterday eventually, and there may have been a mistake that day. There will be more.
I wish I could remind my anxiety of what it used to be like when it wasn’t consumed by being afraid of everything that didn’t have an explanation, or controlling the future, and was just a little piece of baggage along for the ride.
I wish I could remind anxiety that there are things worth being excited about and adventures to be had, and even if my “mystery illness” turns out to be a fatal five-years-to-live thing, they can still be a really worthwhile 5 years. When I was outside of Atlanta traveling this summer, strangely, life seemed to take back a sense of perspective. A little sunshine and good company and time out appreciating the small things, and I actually woke up every day feeling 10 years younger and looking forward to life.
I wish I knew how to do that in the context of my actual life, because I think I’m missing out on a lot, not feeling that excited about life every day. I wish I knew how to be happy about my ordinary, every day life, rather than feeling crappy about all the ways in which it isn’t the life I want, I’m not the person I want to be, and I feel powerless.
I think it would change a lot, if home felt the way I do when I travel…or if home actually felt like a safe, comforting place and not a temporary stop haunted by a lot of negative memories. I wish I could remember that my life is still full of possibilities, and not obstacles that all say “No” forever.