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The Fear of Not-Doing

A sound rang out at the beginning of this month that instantly reminded me of my mind set a year before. July 1st, Canada Day fireworks.

Hearing them this year reminded me of the inner alarms I’d felt alongside them exactly a year before. Last July began with uncontainable uncertainty. As coloured fire burst and crackled overhead, I was looking at the view before and behind me with spurts of explosive fear and doubt that spread across each memory. Memories seemed to link up in a repetitive chain, and each reminded me that I kept having to deal with the same struggles. The consistency burned through every source of motivation I usually pull from for fuel. My familiarity with this depleted feeling added fear– if these problems kept coming back, how could I be strong enough to keep fighting through them?

The month that followed challenged me in every way. I was scared. I was scared because I could not believe in my capabilities. Though, at the time, I don’t think I was thinking clearly enough to know that’s what the fear was. At the time, every aspect of the ‘every day’ was too much. I was working a theatre job that I loved, though I couldn’t navigate a way to be able to feel that love of it. So...

I backed away.

I had to quit.

I had to quit doing something I loved.

I had to quit something that I was grateful for. Something where I was surrounded by support and help. Quitting felt like an awful option that I didn’t want to do. But I was desperate to find any path that might let me opt out of this struggle that kept returning into my life.

Thinking that things are impossible is a horrible place to live from. Knowing that I’d known that place before is what made it even harder to prove to myself there is a lasting mindset that exists without all the doubt. Last July, I couldn’t think through any plans without my past ‘’failures’’ telling me that I would be unable to carry them out. I was thinking of all the times working felt impossible, being a friend felt impossible, being a student felt impossible. I was thinking of the three times everything felt impossible, and of the three lengths of inpatient stays in a psych ward. I was thinking I was going to end up there again. And that felt impossible too.

Hindsight has let me see that in all of these thoughts, I was most scared of the wrenching pain and guilt that comes from feeling things are impossible. Looking back, I’m able to see it wasn’t the fear of doing-the-things...It was the fear of not-doing-the-things. The fear that another failure would add even more strength to the painful voice that told me of my own faults.

I’ve known many versions of moments where I couldn’t feel reliable as a person because, day-to-day, my abilities were very much unreliable. I lived from a place where I felt I had no control over how my illnesses, fears and insecurities would affect me. I’m realizing now that a very large part of my self-doubt last year came from the fear of not-doing...well. It was the fear of not-doing well for myself, not doing-well for others. In a large sense, the fear of just not doing well enough.

This, I know, is something we all feel sometimes. So, how do we DO the things despite this halting immobilisation? How do we look directly at a new version of a challenge that we know we've failed to meet before, and believe in ourselves enough to try again?

I spent every day last July feeling insufficient in all areas. By July 18th, I was sitting alone at the hospital. Again. This is not as sad a thing to read as you might think… For a while, it was sad for me. For a while, it was more proof that I added to the list of struggles that keep returning. But, even though I was struggling in the same way, I’d reacted to the struggle in a completely new way. Realizing what I'd done was a big deal. This time, I’d somehow felt mature – as if I’d levelled up. I was able to think carefully about what I should be doing. I got myself to the hospital. I self-advocated, I tried very hard to care for myself in a way that used past experience of the up and down cycle to remind me that more positive thoughts and feelings could someday come back.

Life is very full of challenges for us all. There are lots of times when we feel we have no control over our abilities and options. But look carefully at every small good choice you make. Watch the details that shift as you learn what can work.

It takes trusting in the effects of time, it takes forgiving your own faults – even if you can only do so ever so slightly at first. It takes reclaiming another chance at responsibility once you’ve felt you’ve let yourself down by letting other people down. It is very hard. It is extremely hard. But it is not impossible.

Throughout the past year, I panicked each time I took on a new responsibility. I panicked remembering all the times I’d let people down by taking on more than I could handle. I nearly quit two jobs that I was thrilled to have before I even started them, all because of my fear of past failures. But, looking at these same “failures” from a different angle, I was also able to see my success through them.

Recently, I have realized how distinctly different my feelings of stability are this year, and this made me wonder - ‘’When did all that progress happen?’’. It was a really interesting moment when I realized that if I look back along my timeline, I could pick out my hardest, most impossible moments, as the exact moments that indicated the markers of change towards the new stability I’m able to feel now. It was surprising, because I get quite frustrated with statements that suggest that bad things ‘’happen for a reason’’, but each time I experience a struggle I’ve felt before, I approach it with a little more clarity and a better understanding of resources.

I heard something recently that explains the resilience we all have in a wonderful way:

‘’Humans live through the feeling that life is impossible.’’

To me, this is very helpful reassurance. It reminds me that it’s okay when something feels impossible. It doesn’t mean it is impossible. When I was looking ahead at the two jobs I nearly quit before starting, I was able to say, ‘’This is going to be very hard, but I CAN manage very hard things.’’

As I’ve come a full year from the point of impossible-feeling challenges, I am celebrating life.

I am celebrating that I am becoming better equipped and supported in the perpetual journey of accepting the challenges of life.

July was a bit hard for me this year as well. Those fireworks were not easy to hear, because it was difficult to hear them without the sound acting as a cue to worry through struggles that come back.

It was difficult to confront that pain, but I did confront it. As I heard the fireworks this year, alongside my insecurity, I was also able to feel a very slight explosion of joy within the flaming bursts of memory. Maybe next year, that small feeling of hope will have grown into a very full explosion of joy, and those colourful flames will be met with strength to match their sound.

Though… if not, I’ll also be okay.

Life brings us all challenges every day, and when things get hard again, I’ll be a little more prepared to find courage from both the good and the bad in my past abilities and choices.

We can get through things feeling impossible.

Things will feel impossible...and we WILL get through things feeling impossible.

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