As someone who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the age of 15, I'm no stranger to having fear and doubt rule my life. Though my conditions are mostly managed through medication, I still have a hard time not overthinking things and, all too often, miss out on things because of it. I decided to challenge myself by going one week not giving in to the little negative voice in my head keeping me from doing things.
Because fear and doubt are so prevalent in my life, I began by making a list of things I most often kept myself from doing, so I could be more aware when it happened. In general, I wanted to improve my connections with other people, write my novel, and get a tattoo that I've had my eye on for years.
I had no idea what to expect, but was willing to give it a shot.
I have a difficult time talking to people because of my social anxiety and introversion. Even though it comes off as me being unfriendly, it's usually out of fear that I'm going to say the wrong thing or make a bad impression. It is also difficult at work because I'd rather remain silent during meetings than make a suggestion, for fear of looking stupid.
During the last week, I pushed myself to keep my head up and not avoid — perhaps even go so far as to initiate — conversation with others at home and at work.
There weren't any big moments at work in the last week that I shied away from speaking about, so I began working on a few projects that will require me to go out of my comfort zone. After talking it over with a co-worker, I know my ideas are solid and I have the support I need to move forward.
In my personal life, the biggest test for trying to be more outgoing came on the day where my son had a soccer game, followed by a birthday party for my twin daughters. Though it scared me to death, I dove in and made conversation with almost every single parent. To my amazement, it actually went really well.
At the end of the day, I was so emotionally drained that my body physically hurt, but it was a much better feeling than going to bed with guilt that I was standoffish or cold to the other parents.
I began writing my novel in November 2013 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It was something that I had wanted to do since the second grade but have never managed to complete.
Every time I sit down to work on my story, I get bogged down with fears that it's not good and no publisher would ever want to read it. Rather than pushing through and figuring out the best way to develop a scene, I just stop. After all, they can't reject me if I never finish it.
While I didn't finish the novel in this last week, I did come up with a productive game plan to finish it.
I set aside a certain amount of time each day to work on it. Additionally, I began to make the most of down time that would normally be wasted by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. If I wasn't working on the actual text, I would take notes to organize the universe in which my characters live.
Instead of worrying about whether anyone else will like my story, I forced myself to only worry about whether I like it. With this new litmus test, I've made more progress in a week than I have in six months.
Will my story ever get picked up by a publisher? I really can't say, but I do know that if it never happens, it won't be because I was too scared to finish it.
On the last day of my challenge, I decided to celebrate by doing something I've wanted to do for a few years: get a new tattoo.
Evolution is the most beautiful thing I've ever learned for so many reasons, and I have wanted to get a tattoo on my wrist of the phylogenetic tree drawn in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.
While the fear of commitment is what stops most people from getting a tattoo, I had a hard time allowing myself to do it. I felt that 30 was too old to be getting a tattoo in such a visible spot and — as silly as it seems — a friend of mine has the same tattoo in the same spot, so I didn't want to upset her by basically stealing her look. (Sorry, Nicole!)
I'm glad I decided to go for it.
Because the evolution tattoo didn't take the shop's minimum amount of time I had paid for, my tattoo artist let me choose another simple and small design. I chose a quill pen on my right ankle to honor my career as a writer.
I am extremely happy with how they both turned out, and the Darwin tattoo became increasingly poetic the longer I looked at it.
Before drawing his first phylogenetic tree to explain how evolution led to all of the different species on Earth, Darwin wrote two short words that are just as important as the tree itself: I think.
Lisa Winter / A Plus
At the time Darwin penned his manuscript, he had no way of knowing how correct his theory of evolution was. He had no knowledge of genetics, so he didn't even know why evolution happened. Certainly, he had no way of knowing that people like me would tattoo his humble drawing on their bodies more than 150 years later.
By writing "I think" above the drawing, Darwin acknowledged his own uncertainty about his idea. Despite that doubt, he published his book anyway and went to completely revolutionize the field of biology in ways we may never be able to truly appreciate.
Forcing myself to become a little more outgoing or adventurous for a week certainly didn't make my anxiety disappear, but overcoming it didn't kill me either. I was able to make connections with other humans, work toward pursuing a lifelong dream, and decorated my body with things that I find truly personal and beautiful.
Spending a week overcoming the way fears and doubts had held me back was eye opening, and I'd encourage anyone to do the same.
Your path to possible can start today.
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