Anxiety is a byproduct of being fully present while projecting your current situation forward. I spent most of my life living adjacent to the moment, right now but barely there. I had preferences and tendencies, but not much in the way of goals or expectations. I was rarely proud or disappointed and made a point of not examining my life too closely. It was a small life, but I rarely felt stress or anxiety. My needs were so basic that it was difficult to dislodge me from fine. The closest I came to ambition was the stubborn, but largely unchallenged, belief that under the indifference was something extraordinary.
I am married to someone with goals and needs who has worked hard to fulfill both. At some point she was swayed by the glimpse of something extraordinary, but it is difficult to grow and plan with someone perpetually adjacent to the moment. It took a long time, and a global pandemic, to properly understand this, but I get it now. I am attempting to change. I read some books on my Attention Deficit Disorder, realized that much of my defiance and oddity were the function of a misfiring brain, and set about having proper goals and expectations. I am just moving past the point where my goal is to have goals.
But here is the problem. I am not fine. Decades of organizational and motivational debt, that was previously the sort of thing that other people worried about, have become personally problematic. I feel like I quantum leaped into the life of a shittier version of myself and I am denied better circumstances until I resolve an unreasonable amount of back story. The stress and anxiety that was previously, curiously, absent has arrived full force. I do not enjoy them and I am unpracticed at separating cause from effect.
I dislocated some ribs recently. It’s happened before. I used to snap them back in and continue to workout. This time it rattled me. The recovery was slow, and for the first time there were goals that were disrupted. It wasn’t the pain, it was the opportunity cost. It happened two days before gyms and my muay thai club reopened. Two days before I could go back to things that I had used to prop up my identity, and that loss at the end of a series of losses shook me. I had a panic attack for the first time, and then again whenever my ribs would twinge and remind me of the things I could no longer do. I understood that this was a problem of the moment, but I was stuck in that moment…and if I escaped the old way I worried that I might not find my way back. So I projected, included my sudden frailty into my future plans and obligations, and I realized how useless the well intentioned advice I’d given my anxious friends over the years actually was.
I am feeling better. My ribs are still tricky, but I feel an appropriate amount of annoyance and much less panic. I am still planning and goal setting, inexpertly and with some panic, but I am steering into it. I am a better partner. I do more chores. I listen better. I have some perspective on the emotional tax present in most adult activities. I think my life will be richer because of this, but I am not fine. I miss being fine. Growth is painful and I am behind in many ways, but I realize this is the consequence of withdrawing from adversity, so the only way out is to move forward. I am moving forward. I can’t tell if that reads as hopeful or desperate, but whatever gets me there I suppose.
Thank you for your openness in all of this. I’ve always been an anxious over-planner, and I envied those who were “fine.” While anxiety sucks and is often not a great use of mental energy, your post is helping me appreciate that there have been benefits to my projecting the present into the future: it’s helped me be empathetic, responsible, and a good partner. I’ll remember this the next time I find myself thinking that the grass is greener for those who can be present-adjacent.
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