Lately I've been talking to friends about our mutual fights with anxiety. Anxiety about the future. Anxiety about the present. Anxiety in relationships. Anxiety about dealing with the emotional fallout from our own individual pasts.
In all of these individual discussions I've noticed that there are all similar in theme; I want to regain control.
What I realized early in these conversations is something very simple; None of us have ever had any control over life.
This is not to say that we are completely out of control. This is also not a statement to advocate for embracing anarchy because we still have influence over how situations unfold.
The simple, bare, truth is this; All I have control over is my own thoughts and actions.
The freedom to do as I wish comes packaged with consequences. Consequences influence, and sometimes determine, circumstance. I find this particular sentiment both distressing and empowering.
My friends and I have been discussing the ease that we have been falling into our own thoughts and memories, since the lockdown. How we have been uncovering situations, and related unresolved feelings. Unresolved feelings that have always been affecting my present but I now realized the deep influence of this undercurrent. Many past traumas ignited by current situations around us. Inner voices that have been ignored for decades feeling louder. In the past I would use the hustle of life to avoid emotional pain. Instead of turning inward, to process and resolve, there's always been an opportunity to divert my own attention.
When Covid-19 shut down concerts, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms there was a shift. I realized how much I relied on those diversions as proximity-based, shallow, substitutions for real human connection. I could tell myself that by being near strangers I was putting myself "out there" and opening myself up to new relationships and adventures. What I really was doing was going to the same places with the same people over and over again expecting different results. Afterward I would head home feeling entertained but no closer to the life, or romance, of passion I desired.
I felt this shift more acutely because I live alone. Social distancing in early days exposed that gnawing feeling of anxiety along with the realization that I had forgotten how to keep myself company without Netflix. Turning to video chatting exposed just how vapid some relationships are and how deeply I appreciate others. I stopped spending time with people who had no plans to live according to their own rules. I find myself more concerned with mutual consent of being within 6 feet of each other. I do not want the choices I make to affect another adult without their permission. Because of all this, I have reduced who I call friends to those who truly bring value into my life.
Dating is different for me, too. I know that who I have chosen to dedicate my time and attention to is based on much more than attraction. Because of the inherent risk of being physically close, I need to trust them and their judgement. I find myself wondering about their tolerance for risk and if our value systems are in alignment. Do they care enough about me, and themselves, to be careful? Do I trust them enough to risk my health or the health of the people I love?
I have made these decisions over and over again, more times than I can count. Over the months I started to understand something important:
Life is about risk management; Living is about choosing to take worthwhile risks.
Risk management (life) needs to be practical.
• We avoid being mugged by avoiding dark alleys at night and creepy people.
• Driving based on the rules of the road reduces your chances of getting into an accident.
• We avoid getting infected by wearing masks and social distancing.
Taking risks (living) is courageous.
• To increase your odds of getting a job, you have to apply and risk rejection.
• To find love you have to be willing to risk meeting the wrong people.
• To fall in love you have to risk being vulnerable enough to get your heart broken.
Before this point I don't think I fully realized how limiting playing it safe can be. Avoiding risk, and fear, makes me feel small and stuck. I thrive on change and challenge. I glow when I learn something new. My heart has only raced when I risked getting hurt. Playing it safe does give me more control over the variables, and maybe more consistency, but those patterns have not given me what I really want.
So I guess that I could feel like I have more control by limiting possibilities. I could always live with caution. l could, but why? I know the unconventional life I desire to live requires risk and that is something I can live with.