Since last week’s post was a total copout (and I thank you for the mulligan), I’ll jump right in this time and get straight to the point. This video, a typographically-enhanced snippet of a conversation with This American Life‘s Ira Glass, made me cry yesterday.
Now, maybe it has that effect on all creative professionals, or maybe I just need to eat more red meat. Either way, sometimes it’s life-affirming to hear from someone at the top that it’s okay to struggle at the bottom, or even halfway up. It’s nice to hear someone say they’ve been there.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a movie theater, about to take a bite of popcorn when I realized I couldn’t swallow. You know how we sort of randomly swallow even when we aren’t eating or drinking anything? It’s a simple involuntary function, obviously — like breathing or blinking — so when we realize we’ve momentarily lost the ability to do any of those things, we panic. We panic like hell.
It’s happened a few times since, as have a handful of moments when I can feel my heart racing for absolutely no reason, and nothing I do slows it down. One night last month, I was watching television and thinking about my deadlines the next day when my carotid artery started pulsing so hard, I could actually see it in the mirror ten feet away. Talk about panic — I thought I might be dying. I thought I was going to be one of those dead-at-35 cautionary tales about how “you just never know” — the sort of story that makes people hug their kids tight, or call up the object of their affection and throw caution to the wind, or book that vacation they’ve been putting off for years. So after tidying up my apartment to the point where I was sure the paramedics — in case they came — wouldn’t have just cause to later describe the surroundings in which they found me as “a hovel” or wonder “how someone could live that way,” I hopped online and started self-diagnosing with the hope that there wasn’t any reason to call them after all.
Oh, hey, look at that. I have clinical anxiety. It likes to make you think you’re dying, and it takes great joy in making you do things like clean up your apartment in case the paramedics come to get you. It loves to jack around with your blood pressure and your central nervous system. It particularly thinks it’s hilarious when you get online, Google your symptoms and realize how foolish you must look when you see it sitting there on your screen, giving you the finger and telling you what’s up. It’s sadistic like that.
I’m not sharing this for the purpose of drawing sympathy out of anyone. What I’m dealing with is actually pretty mild, all things considered, and I’ve already started taking steps to send it packing. I have amazing people around me who look out for me and give me comfort when I need it (not to mention a swift kick in the ass when that’s called for instead). It’s also a small price to pay for what I’m doing with my life — I love it, I’m just getting started, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I’m sharing this because I think it’s important to admit that things aren’t always what they seem, nor are they as easy as they look. I think things like anxiety, depression, addiction and self-doubt in general are things we don’t talk about enough, and I’m here to start a conversation. Luckily, I’m only saddled with the first and last elements of that series, but I know plenty of amazing people who’ve dealt with any or all of them, and no one on the outside would ever have guessed it for a second. Tremendous people who’ve accomplished great things — who look polished and pulled-together on the outside but who, in their quieter moments, fight epic battles with things that are, at times, bigger than their victims and hard to send back to the factory. Those people deserve a hug. Those people deserve a break. Those people are pretty much all of us at some point or another.
Two tenets have carried me through life thus far: the belief that it’s important to be kind, and that it’s imperative to work one’s ass off, even in the face of adversity, because tenacity is what pulls us through to the other side. My parents taught me those things less by dictation and more by example. We’re all fighting a battle of some sort, and if we’re lucky enough not to be right this second, we probably either just emerged from one or are blissfully unaware of what’s waiting around the corner. Life is beautiful for certain, but sometimes it’s hard too. We lose people. They die. They run away. They drift. We get sick. We fail. We screw up. We feel pain. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad, and the chasm between is full too. It’s just life. The phrase “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle” hits home for a reason.
My battle in particular isn’t so bad — it’s highly winnable, and it’s far outweighed by all the good stuff in my life. But not everybody’s so lucky… at least, not all the time. It’s kind to take the edge off. It’s nice to be nice. So let’s be nice to each other today.