I still remember filling out the intake form for a therapist the Friday after everything imploded with my engagement. One of the questions asked, “What’s your biggest fear?”
My response: “Can it be your biggest fear if it has already happened?” In the months that ensued, the therapist would continue to find me a bit cheeky.
Fear looks different for each of us, and we fear the same results. We fear the change. We fear the empty within us on the other side. We fear the powerlessness and that our nightmares must repeat themselves.
And for good reason—
a realized fear remakes us. Just like love changes us, fear does too.
Sometimes, I feel more bold—like I’ve just rolled out of a toboggan at the bottom of a mountain that was victim to a forest fire. I lick my fingers to extinguish the piece of my hair that’s smoldering, survey the crackling pine trees, and find myself uttering, “Who knew it could suck that bad… Anyone got a s’more stick?”
I mean, what else is there to say, really?
And then there is the other side of fear—the one that makes me small and sad and a little stuck. In this space, I’ve succumbed to a weekend stint of pajamas and the deeply held conviction that I need a topiary tree. I’ve run till I’ve gone far enough that I have to sob to breathe. I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve Facebook stalked. I’ve written angry letters. I’ve sent a couple of them.
It ebbs and flows, and yes, it is changing me. But overall, I wouldn’t take it back (I would absolutely take back the topiary tree). In the midst of the pain, I am more aware of who I am and how to love myself well. I’ve done a lot of walking back through the fear that I thought would undo me, and I’m carrying some important things forward.
1. I know where to take my heart.
I don’t need to doubt this process of feeling confusion and grief and hurt and love. It comes in waves. It all belongs. And I can’t race through it, because there are new things for me to feel in every cycle, and I seem to be naturally navigating that pretty ok.
2. I don’t want to hate my behavior.
I have some big moments where I’m disappointed in how I showed up. I was perfectionistic or controlling. I was manipulative or shutdown. I remember hating how I was acting and not knowing what else to do. Looking at a bigger picture, I realized something. I act that way when I feel inadequate or insecure. I push out the big and turn to the small to feel safe. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s a place where I get to stop and say, “Something needs to change because what I’m doing means I’m not ok.”
3. I shouldn’t work so hard to not get angry.
I work to avoid anger. I’ve felt there should be a better option, and I also know the reckless results of anger—ugly things are said or done. And, people who are safe can hold mine. They can mirror back my impact without losing who they are. They can know that beneath the anger is a big longing, and they can invite me to bring that instead of the rage. Not feeling my anger robs me of the gift of a kind and brave friend’s love.
4. I should need things.
When people ask what I need, I tend to leave the space of hurt too quickly, anticipating the steps for next time that could avoid the hurt. I’m bad at just saying, “I need a hug.” “I need sushi and some mindless television.” “I need some quiet and alone time.” But there is no leaving this hurt. There is no, “next time this happens, do this instead.” Everybody who is with me gets to be right in the middle of whatever soup of the day we’re serving. Honestly, I think that engaging of the moment leaves me more relaxed and more hopeful about tomorrow than an “avoid hurting Katy strategy.”
Holding true to most things in my life right now, this post doesn’t get a wrap up. It’s like me, present and mostly accounted for. We’ve made it this far, and the fire hasn’t consumed us yet. That’s a win. We should probably order sushi.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 26 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called The Someday Writings, and someday, she may let those writings see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.