When I sit down at my kitchen table in the morning and open up my feed, letting the news roll in, they’re always there waiting: the self-help articles. How to handle stress without looking like you are on the brink of a mental breakdown. 46 habits of the most successful and rich people in the world who earned their first million at the same age you half-assed your internship.
Actually, they’re more than self-help articles: they’re charitable hands, they are get-your-shit-together handbooks. I look at myself in the mirror and I catch sight of my new crow’s feet and I remember I am nearing 27 and I should start reading those articles. I am most likely in need of some self-help. Of some adult-looking apartment and job and appearance. So I click on the click bait and immediately I am told several things. Important things.
I am guided through my own self on a journey to grab the holy grail: courage! Success! Being awesome and fearless.
I am told I should not be scared of the future. I should not be afraid of switching careers, not even at 35, not even at 67, not even at 99! Go get ’em, girl. I am told I should not eat meat, carbs, bad carbs, fats, also good carbs, cheese, milk — I stick to vegetables then? No, also some vegetables are not great because of FODMAPs — yes, even vegetables have betrayed you. Just like those one of two toxic friends you have been hating secretly for years, just like your employer who forgets about that raise — by the way, you should not be afraid of asking that employer, what about my raise? You should not be scared. Here is how: look him or her in the eye, and simply do not be scared. Another technique: fake it until you make it. Pretend to be a power house while your guts churn at the idea of a public speech. Smile! It is scientifically proven that smiling makes you happier. If that public speech really has to happen, then here’s another trick: lock yourself in the toilet, stand with your feet wide apart, put your hands up, and breathe. Or cry! But whatever you do, never-ever be scared!
Here is what’s up: I look at these articles and I don’t recognize myself. Bad thing: I am afraid of all of these menacing elements of adulthood, but (good thing:) I was never afraid enough to actually think I need tips and tricks to overcome them. My personal technique: breathe deeply, pretend you are cool, go; you’ll turn cool on the way there. I am sure half of the writers of articles like above would be lukewarmly and vaguely proud.
But there is another, bigger ‘but’: what do you do if your gut-churning, palpitation-inducing fears are of another kind?
I have a full-blown anxiety disorder, and while I am not afraid of switching careers throwing years of hard work to get there in the shark tank, or packing everything up and moving to another country when I am tired of the current, I am completely paralyzed by, not in order: having allergic reactions (I am not allergic to anything), having a deadly disease, choking on stuff I am eating, having panic attacks in front of strangers, finding myself in the middle of a mass-shooting, and in general that something is very, very wrong with me, on a hourly basis. A lot of people are like me.
There is no article on the World Wide Web to tell me what to do about that. I have a great therapist, but tons of people don’t, because therapy without meds is not covered by insurance, at least in my country. As a result, there are no top 5 ways to take your body back to normal when you are having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. There is no list of safe foods to avoid paranoid thoughts about whether or not they will kill you. There are no secrets to fake sanity until you make it out of here sane.
Technically, we are the wrong ones. We have all the wrong fears: while we should be scared of what the future holds, we are scared of childish things, like the dark, or of unrealistic things, like having allergic reactions while having no allergies, or being shot by an invisible stranger, or spiders.
And the world keeps screaming at us: you should have no fear! Never, ever be scared! Or take meds, that helps; and then, do not be afraid.
Sometimes, you think there is no way in hell you can make it. What is the point of being unafraid of some normal life stuff, if you can’t leave the apartment because you are suddenly convinced something terrible will happen at 10:30 AM? What is the point of scoring the adult job, if you cannot leave your bed because you are afraid of your own shadow? We have all the wrong fears, and no weapons given to us to defeat them.
They are telling us not to be afraid, and the whole point is that we are. All the time. We are always scared.
Here is the only tip you might need, and it comes from Ned Stark. Yes, Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark.
“The only time a man can be brave is when he is afraid.”
This is not much material to put in-between quote marks, but it is a major point. When I read it the first time, I jumped from my chair (I am very emotional). Ned Stark is telling you something here. He is telling you: you know what? Whatever. I will be afraid. I will be scared. And then, I will do it anyway.
I am inspired by Ned’s words. I am afraid of planes, because what else could happen, if not an airplane disaster every time I board one? I make myself board about 10 planes a year. I force myself to eat food I am sure will be lethal, and it normally is not. Some days I am afraid of just going outside. Every fiber of my body shakes in terror with each step. Obviously, I must do it anyway. It’s the whole point.
Here is another quote by Georgia O’Keeffe:
I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.
You know what? You are not the portrait the media makes of you. You are not an avocado toast statistic (what in the hell, by the way). You are not even supposed to be buying a house right now, if you like renting. Do whatever the fuck! Be scared! Be afraid! And then do it anyway.