For several weeks now, I’ve been struggling with anxiety around the idea that 2014 is going to be unbearably hard, like worse than trying to hold my awful cats Livre and Lola at the same time.
There are real and real-ish reasons to think this:
- I have an incredibly challenging job leading a startup organization with a new business model, using skills I am still developing. (That is a politic way of saying that while I’m convinced we have a great idea, and I know we have great people, I AM TERRIFIED TO NO END that I’m going to screw it up before I figure it out.)
- My daughter is turning 13. I remember being her age. I was many things. Rational, consistent and even-tempered were not among them. Some closest to me might say I have been rebooting my 13-year-old self lately. Thank god my hair is not my 13-year-old hair.
- Mom and Dad are getting older. I’m not worried about their health; Dad makes more unsolicited comments about their sex life than a 15-year-old boy would about a lack thereof. But I do worry about their obligations to others. They’ve more or less moved in with Mom’s mom (my last living grandparent and anxiety soulmate; related: when I am my grandmother’s age, I expect my daughter’s daughter to soothe me with iced Bailey’s and her handsome boyfriend). Anyway, selfishly, I miss my parents and wish they still stalked me on Facebook like they did the year I was getting divorced. More on that in a bit.
And also right now, it is negative a million degrees outside. It is awfully hard to imagine, at the moment, a day in spring when the 400 bulbs I planted in October will have arrived for the kind of party with sundresses and asparagus dishes that I love.
But to my saving grace, I have been writing woe-is-me stuff since I was about eight. I can pull a random journal off my shelf from pretty much any year and read for very little time before I’m reminded of this amazing pattern: The times I thought were hard – indeed, the times that were the toughest – turned out to be the best.
Take this one, from March 2011, two months after my divorce was finalized:
“The fear is horrible. I think it’s the worst of all the emotions I’ve felt – worse than loneliness, even – and it’s the one that has held me back the most. It’s prevented me from making tough decisions, from being honest with people I love, and from getting close to people I could love. It has stopped me from becoming me and living my whole life, from reflecting the traits I feel when I feel most alive.”
But then I went on to write a list I called “Things I Can Do To Banish Fear” (because I am a list-maker and I had a fantastic post-divorce therapist who encouraged this habit):
- Remember the difference between solitude and loneliness (I later wrote a blog post about this)
-Reach out to other people. Be around them.
-Solitude can be easier around strangers than it is alone in your house.
-Be around other couples who are happy.
-Listen to music. Sam Cooke and Patti Smith have made me very happy the past two days.
-Eat well. I haven’t been eating enough, and what I’ve been eating is crap. When I cook a decent meal for myself, I feel better.
-Exercise. Sometimes I don’t feel up for it, but when I just do it anyway, I always feel better.
-Cry. I feel better after I’ve broken down and just cried in front of other people. I don’t like to do it, but I always feel better. Courtney, Justin, even Lily on the afternoon of the furniture store. (I don’t remember the afternoon of the furniture store. Of course I don’t.)
And then I wrote the following little pep talk to myself, which probably made me cry at the time and definitely made me cry when I re-read it almost three years later. I’ve hesitated to share it here because it is a) so intimate and b) so Stuart Smalley, but it’s pretty much the whole point of this post and I think it may actually help someone, so:
“You, Knight, are going to be fabulous. You are getting there so quickly and you just need to keep moving forward. No self-pity needed, but do be gentle and patient with yourself. Look how far you’ve come already. I mean, in 20 minutes you’re meeting (my ex-husband) for a drink. Some people think that’s crazy, but it’s who you are: a passionate person who finds a way to LOVE, and in all the different ways you can love in this world.”
It may sound strange if you haven’t yet been through a similar experience (don’t worry; you will, even though you don’t believe it; I didn’t, but it’s true), but at some point you will actually miss the most trying times of your life. The funny thing about time is that it not only allows you to see how a difficult thing made you stronger, it lets you feel downright sentimental about the struggle itself.
And as for 2014: The biggest gift I can give myself is to write about it, because I know one day I’ll miss its excitement, rapid change and growth, its learning curve and how hard everyone worked. The scary parts will be lost somewhere among all that.