Nothing to fear

I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than this happiness.

It’s so foreign. So portentous. So … easy.

I can feel myself giving into it, floating along with the current and being OK with not knowing where I am going. With knowing exactly where I am going.

For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I’m not.

And what I was not was happy.

So who am I now?

No longer someone who can write, it seems. Nor think clearly, nor maintain commitments, nor complete to-do lists. I’m far too happy for such ho-hum activities.

I’m probably in love, I guess. If I admit it to myself, if I stop second-guessing it.

But what does that even mean, for a mopey moon-baby like me?

“Wow,” says my therapist. “Do you realize? You’ve made it through a whole session without saying anything bad about yourself.”

“Well that can’t be right,” I self-deprecate.

It’s just easier when you’re afraid. Easier to accept your shortcomings, for one — of course I’ve failed again, you think. That’s what I do. 

Easier to work, too. The hustle consumes you. You know that you can’t stop, because if you stop your inner nature will take over, and your inner nature is a flaming pile of garbage.

So you don’t stop.

Fear is a superpower, says The Doctor.

He means it in a positive way, and he’s not wrong. Heightened senses, activated reflexes, a readiness to act decisively are all lacking in the happy-go-lucky.

Perhaps that’s why I reinforced it in myself for so long, whipping myself into the person I wanted to be through the language of fear. The only language I’d ever seen people talk to themselves in.

I’m unlovable, I feared, so I designed a life without a place for anyone else.

I’m worthless, I feared, so I pushed myself into extrinsic value.

I’m ruined, I feared, and so I was.

This is why the stereotype of the tortured artist exists. I still sincerely doubt that it’s possible to create without pain. I don’t know that you can pay for success except in tears.

But at some point, there must be enough pain. Pain reserves, carefully put up for the dry spells, to be pulled out and decanted as the blank page thirsts. Distilled, through time, to their essence — strong enough to be opened up, sipped, then stoppered back up when the light of day beckons.

But of course not. Of course there’s never enough. And of course this too will hurt, eventually.

The only question is will it have been worth it. 

Being happy means giving up power to that happiness. So of course the control freak in me has begun to panic.

Falling in love was painful, and disrupting, and I could handle that. It took all my newfound skills, but I could handle it.

I cannot handle being trapped again, I do not think.

The timing of things — of course, of course we do not choose it. I accept that.

There’s no good time for things, either.

But now? Right now?

“The person in whom invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise,” writes David Foster Wallace. “You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

I riled myself up, hotter and hotter, delirious with fear, panicking. 

I’d done so much work to sift my own desires out from the flotsam of those I’d picked up along the way. I’d stared so deep and so painfully into my own soul, to get to know it.

I poured old worries on the flames and instead of being doused they toasted me back.

Now I was to trade my hard-fought independence from depression for the joy in giving up control?

But just a few degrees away from Wallace is Roxane Gay. “Love is the hardest thing. To allow yourself to be in love, you have to surrender so much. You have to accept that your heart is a fuller piece of flesh with this other person in your life. You have to surrender to not knowing how things will end, if things will last, if that love will be returned.”

I’ve been sleeping, lately.

Cozy hours at a time, that even when it’s not enough, it’s enough. Satisfying sleep. Come-back-for-more sleep, stay-in-bed-cuddling sleep, morning-sex-then-nap sleep.

Fuck-productivity sleep.

It’s eroding my sense of self in the same way that sleepless nights of depression did, by making me wonder if I’ll ever be able to not want this. If I’ll ever return to my lists, my goals, my dreams. Or if they’ve been muddled up, if I’ve opened too far, so wide I can now dream for two.

I fear the loss of myself — what I had thought of as myself — when the phobia of happiness comes to no longer define me.

“Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration,” I think, as I come again and again and cease to care.

I have no idea how to live this way.

Bumbling blindly through uncharted, unimagined territory, I search for ways to cower back, to end this vulnerability.

I’m too far gone; this is happening. But the fear remains.

I fear the pain I expected this vulnerability to cause. I fear its absence.


My fear is logical, says my therapist. My fear is universal. My fear is based on specific life experiences.

So why does it no longer matter?

I’ve always been scared of people who don’t fear happiness. I don’t understand them.

To be happy is to have something to love, something that can be lost.

This is why they preach contentment over happiness. Contentment — the knowledge that if one area of your life falls apart you can use the other pieces to pick yourself back up.

Contentment that is anathema to love.

“Anyone who can meet my level of intensity can’t be totally normal,” says SoSadToday.

And yet I’ve spent the last few months being so counterintuitively content that I have not been my usual fearful self. That someone who claims to love me believes me to be chill.

This is irreconcilable. How can I be terrified and yet completely at ease? Yet I am.

How can I be boringly content and yet brazenly, audaciously, deliriously so, so happy? Yet I am.

Fortunately, for me, it’s the known and not the unknown that frightens.

The familiar worry thoughts return to comfort me.

Will it have been worth it? When will you ruin it? How? 

I’m not brave enough, it turns out, to leave them behind completely. I don’t want to.

After spending a lifetime self-sabotaging, it would be foolish to think I could move forward without them on the shelf, half-filled bottles ready should I need to crack them again.

It’s harder to have the bottles around, probably. Swearing off them entirely would be easier. Smashing them would be so very satisfying.

But I guess I’m no longer the person that avoids, that takes the easier way, that whips herself into submission with promises of failure.

I guess I have to push back against the fear every day, and that means not taking my eye off of it.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” writes Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

And so I watch the dust gather on my worries, and wait.




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