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Friday, November 1, 2013

Even With My Eyes Closed Shut

When I passed a certain age milestone that shall remain nameless, I started looking at my fears and tackling them one at a time in the hopes of feeling freer and mentally healthier. I was tired of being afraid to speak in public, to sing in public, etc. I took my fears one at a time, made a plan, tackled them and got them out of the way.

The latest one is what I consider my deepest and most imbedded fear, and that is singing in public. It comes from an incident from Catholic School (of course), when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. We had a lay teacher for music, a gruff old man. I was eight years old. This was 1970. The Partridge Family was a big thing amongst my age group.

On the first day of class, he was giving a lesson on a capella singing. He asked, "Who thinks they know all of the lyrics to a song?" We looked at each other and some of us, including me, raised our hands tentatively. He points to me and says, "You! Stand up. What's the name of the song?" I said, "I Think I Love You," by the Partridge Family," in what squeaky little voice I could muster. He said, "Sing it." I stood there, blinking. My mouth went dry. My throat shut. I started to feel weak at the knees.

He said, "Go on! You think you know it? It's not so easy without the music, is it?" With a look of contempt, he said, "Sit down." From that point on, I have not even been able to sing along with Happy Birthday songs without feeling extremely uncomfortable, though I have been trying to power through this as much as possible lately because I know it's completely irrational and silly.

My latest plan of attack was to make myself sing at Karaoke. I mean, that is bold considering that I can't even feel comfortable singing along with a crowd that's not expecting anything close to perfection. And my opportunity came along after a film festival a few weeks ago. I confided in my new friends at the after party that I had this fear of singing in public and karaoke in particular. They went with me to the nearest karaoke bar and supported me as I confronted this fear. And it felt GREAT (even though I seriously messed up the song), but it didn't quite cure me of the fear. It just made it a little bit easier. And maybe I'll always be at least a little nervous. Who knows? At least it's not debilitating anymore and I can cross it off my list, even if I still work on that front a little bit.

Not too long ago, I also conquered my math anxiety by preparing extensively before I took College Algebra and working almost every single day with a tutor until I could pass the course. It just about drained me financially, but, it was worth it because it was the only conceivable obstacle between me and my Bachelor's Degree. And I know plenty of folks out there from The University of Arkansas who only need College Algebra to get their degree and they've given up on it.

I feel like if I could do it, literally, anyone can. You have no idea how badly I was immobilized by my fear of math for years. I had math nightmares. I woke up with chest pains and palpitations. It was horrible. But when I prepared for my last attempt, my experience was very different. Everything was much more doable because I had my tools and options lined up and I made myself do it. I didn't feel trapped and the situation never seemed hopeless so I pushed on and "Got 'er done."

Another biggie is the losing weight thing. If losing weight were simple, we'd all be skinny. I am finding that it is a complicated process. Your physical attributes, including excess weight, are part of your identity. It's what everyone sees and what everyone notices and even comments on. I get that. You can transcend and love yourself no matter what your weight is, but, honestly, you don't look at good when you're grossly overweight and it's laborious and painful to get around so you're not as comfortable. Also, it can stop you from doing the things you love. It can literally immobilize you.

Weight can make you feel trapped. It can make you feel like a loser. It can really take a toll on your self-esteem, which is probably a pretty fragile thing for most of us anyway. While the mechanics are somewhat simple--exercise more, eat healthier--very few of us accomplish this in a substantive way and keep it off. There's a whole "weight loss industry" out there that has zillions of products for us to try, some probably quite harmful, and if we're desperate enough, we will try them.

A few years ago, I decided that the reason why I started gaining weight in the first place was two attempted rapes/molestations that happened to me when I was around 16 years old, with one incident being pretty dramatic and terrifying. After the second incident, I shut down mentally and tried to make myself ugly. I wore my hair in my face, I wore baggy clothing and I started gaining weight until men no longer noticed me. The problem was that the boys that I wanted to notice me stopped noticing me, too. From that point on, I've struggled with my weight.

But once I identified what was blocking me mentally, I felt empowered to try to shed the weight physically. I lost 60 lbs and went to Ireland and had a blast exploring and hiking everything I could. I kept the weight off for a year, started gaining it back after a friend died, but I did manage to keep 30 lbs off. Then this January, I started another program that I liked much better and lost another 40 lbs (though I've been yoyo-ing 5 lbs up and down for a while). I just lost my job recently, so once things stabilize, I will probably start losing again.

While I've been mostly out of work for the past month, I've been working a little bit more on self-improvement. Today, I took an online test which determined that I have a fear of failure which is keeping me from succeeding. No surprise there. So, I came up with the idea that if I can state my fear honestly that maybe I can surmount it and make a real change in my career path. Then maybe losing my job can turn into a blessing.

In my job hunt, I'm going after both safe government jobs like the one I had and also some of my dream jobs that I'm stumbling upon. These are the kinds of jobs where you just smile thinking about how happy you would be if you had them. My actual fear is that I'll take some dreadfully boring job out of desperation and hate it for the rest of my days until retirement instead of taking this opportunity to redefine myself as a professional with a college degree who is capable of doing much more.

And now all of you know my fear and my struggle to navigate this. I'm still keeping all my options open because I'm afraid to do otherwise. There is also a part of me, the part that still dreams, that wants to buy a movie camera and set out to explore my world like Jeff Kerouak and just create my own future. And yet, I feel shackled by the duty of bringing in the benefits for the family and taking a safe job.

Not too terribly long ago, Donny Osmond was faced with the same dilemma. He was training to be a race driver and he even had a pit crew and sponsors lined up and was loving his new life, his new identity. He was redefining himself and felt more alive than he had in years. Then, the call came for Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat and he had to make the decision. I imagine that his heart died a little bit the day he turned away from the racetrack and started rehearals to do the same show over and over and over and over again, until he could do it in his sleep. This was what his family needed and what his fans expected, and he did it, like a good drone.

I wish I could say that I know my decision will be different, but truthfully, I am still on the fence. I'm trying to convince myself to take the leap. To have faith. But, I look down from the clouds of my dreams and I can't bring myself to jump without my trusty parachute, even with my eyes closed shut.