I truly cannot think of anything more tragic, more heartbreaking, and more of a waste of time than living a life of fear. It is such a ridiculous concept that I am ashamed to admit that this is what I have managed to do to myself for the past 34 years. I’ve always doubted my intelligence, my abilities, my God-given gifts. I’ve shunned compliments like the plague (I told y’all I wasn’t faking being modest or humble), and used self-deprecating humor to shield myself from the inevitability that people will pick me apart, tear me down, look down on me, or otherwise make me feel like a lesser person. Always.
I compared myself to other people constantly. I was always happy to cheer on my friends and their successes, but every time I did well and received any praise or accolades for myself I somehow felt like a fraud. Those good grades, soccer championships, nominations for honors societies, etc. were not really for me. Not the “real” Ashley. The Ashley who suffered from intense stomach cramps since the age of 4 stemming from anxiety (What does a 4 year old have to be anxious about?!). The Ashley who would have severe mood swings and cry all day in private, but then put on a big smile for a drill team performance or a student council leadership conference. The Ashley who was constantly being compared to her mother (tall, thin, brilliant, kind, gorgeous), her brother (tall, thin, brilliant, mild-mannered, handsome), or anyone else perceived as being ‘more than’ or ‘better than’ me. This inferiority complex became a crutch to avoid putting myself in uncomfortable situations, but also became the driving force behind my desire to be successful. The trouble with this approach is that I am never satisfied. I have no gauge with which to measure what I consider to be success in the long run, which further feeds my feelings of never being enough. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I have always tried to fade into the background of social situations in which I found myself, even if it did not appear that way on the surface. I guess I am what people now call an Introverted Extrovert. I was (still am) the person who would be devastated if I wasn’t invited to a party, but very rarely accepted the invitation and always tried to find a way to avoid going or leave early if I actually did accept. I left most slumber parties early as a child because I wanted to sleep in my own bed, I refused to do anything that could possibly cause me one moment of embarrassment (karaoke? I would rather die.), and if I ever lost a game or something I would get very down on myself and vow never to play again. I still hate losing. I hate it with a goddamn passion that burns white hot deep within me with the heat of 1 million suns. But I am getting better. White hot sun flame is a definite improvement from what I felt in my teens and twenties.
When interacting with strangers I wanted to lower their expectations of me to minimize the risk that I might be found to be fraudulent or inept in any of my thoughts or actions. I also had to fight the voices from some close family members who seemed to enjoy pointing out my deficiencies which only magnified them in my eyes. My issues never really stemmed from my parents growing up, but my anxiety, depression, and fear of total and utter failure can be traced to other branches of my family tree. I had to fight my demons while trying to slay other people’s as well, and that was a very heavy burden for a child to take on against her will. And it did damage. Serious fcuking damage that reverberates through my spirit even today.
By the time I got to Howard University, I was so unsure of myself and terrified of Life in general that I squandered my four years at The Mecca. I hid my insecurities behind books (#SafeSpace), did not get involved with organizations where I probably could have contributed a lot just by being myself, didn’t go out and explore Washington DC because I was convinced I would end up dead in the Potomac River somewhere if I left campus, and hung out with a very small handful of friends who never really forced me out of my comfort zone. They loved me and allowed me to always be myself, but I wasn’t pushed or challenged and that was all I really wanted – a safe place. I tried very hard not to make mistakes or take chances that normal college kids took just in case I had a less-than-desirable outcome, and I was convinced this would happen given my overall bad luck that was playing out in my head. Only as an adult do I fully grasp how warped this way of thinking actually was, and I will carry some regrets with me for the rest of my life.
This fear and uncertainty haunts me even today. As a kid I was afraid of being made fun of or not being “enough” to be successful, and as an adult I face those same fears every day. Fear that I am not doing my job well or somehow failing as a boss to my team. Fear that I can’t change jobs or career paths because what if I don’t 100% know immediately on Day 1 how to do my job and people think I am stupid? Fear that I can’t lose weight or get healthy because I have tried and failed so many times that it’s just easier to stay fluffy and not risk facing that failure again. Fear of Love because I have been abandoned, lied to, cheated on, emotionally abused, and sexually violated. Fear of marriage because I might get a divorce. Fear of kids because I might be too selfish for them, can’t give them the life I had growing up, or I might become one of “those moms” who lose themselves in their kids. What if I emerge 18 years later totally unrecognizable to myself and those around me?
I realize how very narcissistic this all seems – to think people give me as much thought as I give their perceived opinions about me…it’s just part of the fear and anxiety that has taken up residency in my own mind. Sigh.
But a wonderful thing has finally happened. I am finally tired of it. All of it. Exhausted really. I promised myself that by writing this blog every week I will be brave enough to live my life without self-doubt moving forward. I will fall. Spectacularly, with flair, and flat on my face. I will not, however, let myself be crippled with the delusional paranoia that everything I attempt will end in disaster and with the taunts of other people cheering on my failures. My Season of No Fear starts right now, and I will no longer let anxiety dictate my direction in life or my happiness! I will share my successes and failures, my highs and lows, my inadequacies and my triumphs. I will take a major step out on faith and finally see in me what so many others have seen in me for my entire life. And I will do it all my way. I’ll apply for a job that scares me. I’ll flirt with the cute guy at the parties I’m going to force myself to start attending. I’m going to forgive myself for eating and drinking my emotions over the years, and show my fluff some love with more veggies and shyt like chia seeds and kombucha and start healing my body from the inside out so I can live a long and healthy life.
I’m giving myself permission to be ok with who I am in this moment because I know that I am going to be fine. In the past I would succumb to my feelings of fear and inadequacy, but now I will embrace it and tackle it head on. The more I love and accept myself, the less afraid I am about what comes next and the more forgiving I am about what has happened in the past.
This blogging journey is a critical step in my self-healing, and I am feeling inspired! I’m doing something for myself- I’m taking control. I’m giving fear both middle fingers and toasting this new-found self-love with a nice cold glass of Chardonnay to celebrate! Cheers to you all!