My Cup of Coffee With Fear
by Diana Carson-Walker
I was talking to a friend of mine a few months ago, and I found myself trying to explain my (apparently) deep-seated anxiety that rears its head all day long.
Generally, it goes something like this:
I’ll be puttering around in my kitchen, and gaining some small measure of satisfaction. My brain starts wandering.
At first the little side trip seems pleasant enough:
“ooh, I wonder if my flat in London will have a kitchen this big? I bet not.
I wonder where I can put my bright things? Oh that’s right I’ll have to get new ones… that would be cheaper than taking them with me.”
Then comes the dark side:
“WHO are you kidding? Putzing around your kitchen is getting you NO CLOSER to ENGLAND you LOSER!”
I dive deeper into la-la land, and imagine myself in a group of Those People – the group of successful actors I see on BBC – but they’re all standing around with their arms folded: “You are NOT wearing THAT out, really? I thought we had this sorted” (They would say “sorted” because they’re cool and English, whereas Americans say “sorted out.”).
The Cycle of Fear Starts
What business do I have tossing out a perfectly good (if bland, boring, beige slow death of a) career?
What about that safe, stable marriage that had begun to trap both of us?
Here I am, putting on airs and thinking that I’m some sort of “ar-teest.” Here I am dreaming of being an actor and writer, with no real gifts… just an incredible love of storytelling and an abiding hatred for meaningless paperwork.
It comes up during yoga too.
I’ve just relaxed into a good, strong, downward dog, when I look over at my under-arm-wiggle waggle. “Ugh,” I think, “I’m not sure there are enough Chaturangas in the world to tighten these puppies. And who wants a 50-something actress with under-arm-wiggle-waggle”?
So in my grand, oh-so-eloquent way, I found myself trying to explain this to my friend.
I don’t want to give up my dream, but this constant anxiety is lethal.
Not to mention, it gives me a weird eye twitch, which guarantees Those People will want NOTHING to do with me.
I tried a couple different ways of explaining it. In the end I asked:
“Do you ever have these thoughts… you know, the ones that just wind you up with useless fears, and anxiety, and well, do ya know what I mean?”
After my friend stopped laughing hysterically (or was it maniacally, I can’t always tell the difference) she gasped “Oh NO, never”, and resumed her maniacal/hysterical laughter. Finally she managed to catch her breath and offered this advice: “Sit down and have a cup of coffee with it.”
Now, I remember her telling me eons ago (last month?) that someone had given HER this same advice. At the time, I had nodded sagely (even though we were on the phone) and said, “hmm… sounds like good advice.” Well, that was for HER, not me. After all, I deal with all my feelings as they come up. I am introspective, always seeking life’s lessons, not repeating the same old… oh… crap.
I HATE it when that happens.
So now, here I am: across the table from Anxiety. Or is it Fear?
Or just… what the hell IS it?
First question: “Cream or black? Oh I guess you’re not having coffee since you are not on the material plane.
Fine…more for me.”
I look this thing over. I mean really look at it.
Thing is, it’s sneaky, creepy, and doesn’t really want to come out in the daylight. It has a sort of gray aura, and reminds me distinctly of Gollum, Or Wormtongue/Grima. (If you are not up on your sci-fi fantasy, those are references from The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, and it would serve you right to put this down, and go read all FOUR books right now. Or you could Google it, spoilsport).
Second question: “What ARE you, anyway?”
It: “I am the symptom, the result of something out of synch inside yourself.”
Gee. Really? I NEVER would have guessed.
Me: “Well, ok. I dub thee Fear. What am I afraid of? Since when does following my dreams scare me? Traditionally, I love chasing something new. Why am I scared?”
Fear: “Because you are facing your sense of unworthiness. Admitting you have a dream this big, this risky, requires vulnerability, something you have worked REALLY hard at not having.”
Me: “What do you mean, I don’t have any vulnerability? I have plenty.”
Fear: “HOW many years of martial arts did you take?”
Me: “Enough that I felt comfortable in nearly any physical situation. Still do. Oh and the mental strength it gave me… Oh.”
Fear: “And… let’s see… when was the last time you cried at a movie? Sang in public?”
Fear: “To feel worthy, you will have to learn vulnerability. Any big dream requires it. Not to mention, acting and writing require it. There’s nothing like diving in with both feet.”
Me: “That would be JUMPING. Diving is head-first.”
Fear: “Smarty Pants. Anxiety, over imaginary people and circumstances in the future, is MUCH easier to deal with than immediate vulnerability. You know: the vulnerability you face just walking out the door – writing in hand – to your writers’ group? The vulnerability you face going to auditions, to acting class? Oh, and it’s also a GREAT dodge for the pain and frustration you feel staying in your current job, where you feel you are dying. WASTING every day of the life that remains in you.”
Me: “Thanks. Well, I’m not going to let you keep me wound up like this. What’s the worst that could happen if I pursue this?”
Fear: “You might fail.”
Me: “Well, now that requires a definition of failure, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure if I keep trying I can at least get to London for an acting workshop. AND a visit. Multiple repeated visits. So. There.”
Fear: “You might die alone. No one will go with you on this madness.”
Me: “Yeah? How is that more likely to happen while pursuing this dream, than staying in my apartment in the Central Valley?”
Fear: “er…Well, if you stayed here, and played it safe, you could find a nice, settled… widower or something. Keep doing the same job, get your retirement. Er.”
Me: “Oh THAT’S a selling point. Thanks.”
Fear: “You might go over there, try for years, and never get a paying role.”
Me: “Ah! But who would I become in that process? There’s the REAL question. And, what an adventure!”
Fear: “Or,… you might succeed. And to do that, you have to step out of here, face some hard realities, and actually DO something. And keep doing it. You’d have to commit and follow through. Be disciplined. Success will mean coming face to face with reality. It’s not all the rose-colored daydream you think it is. Your age, your lack of training, and the amount of work in front of you will be obstacles. You will have to summon the energy to do meaningful work, not just coast at a job. You’ll have to face failure, and try again, over and over. You can’t hide and pull this off. You will constantly re-define yourself, and who you think you are today will not be who you think you are tomorrow. It will be lonely and crowded. Hiding is so easy, so comfy, so safe.”
Me: “Well my life is lonely now, and crowded with meaningless paperwork. I’d rather crowd it with people I love, a city I love, doing art I love.”
You know what? I think you’re the same guy that winds me up when I start something new. There’s that fear, right before I start: the fear of “I can’t do this” – heart racing; the whole works.
Then, I just step out the door, start doing, and pretty soon the movement just blows you out of my system. This feels very similar. Like your purpose is to keep me afraid of reaching for my power.
You work best when I don’t quite see you.
When you’re lurking in the corner of my eye. When I do get a good look at you, I get instant amnesia (like The Silents – yes, ANOTHER sci-fi/fantasy reference. Either watch Doctor Who or Google it).
Me: “Well Fuck Off, Mr. Scary Pants. You with your nerdy high waters and argyle socks and … Whatever weird thing you wear that goes with gray and slimy. Piss. Off. I mean it.”
Now after this conversation, Fear hasn’t entirely gone away, but at least I know he’s there. I know what he looks like, and what he’s trying to do.
When he tries to stop me, I turn and look at him. I remember who he is, and who I want to be: I want to dive in with an open heart, make mistakes, and keep going anyway.
I may not ever be rid of him, but I refuse to let Fear call the shots.
About the author
Diana Carson-Walker – Artist. Warrior. Scientist.
In October, 2012, after several years of being the Scientist being in charge – I had two science degrees, was working a stable well-paying government job, and my soul was on life-support. – (just before my dying gasp), my Artist scrambled to the top like a drowning person and said, “Enough! I am in charge now.”
Stepping sideways into crazy, I am planning my escape from a stable, respectable job in natural sciences, and desperately scrabbling into the life of an artist.
Follow Diana on her blog: www.sidewaysintocrazy.com
About the Creative Life Essays and Stories
“Theatre is a safe place to do the unsafe things that need to be done” said John Patrick Shanley. Likewise, Creative Life is a safe place to share ‘unsafe’ things that need to be said.
The stories and interviews from this site share the personal experiences of courage, fear, vulnerability, flow, creativity, and happiness from the perspective of the artist.
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