The sound of crunching metal and plastic halt space and time in an instant. The only awareness I have at the moment is the primal need to get to my child. I don’t register the ground or gravity as I bolt, feet flashing, and the only sound I hear is blood pumping in my ears. An arm – tiny and familiar – lay still under the wreckage. Fast forward.
Scene: the E.R. “There is significant damage,” the doctor says. Pictures flash in my head of a new life, one in which a ramp leads to the front door of my home and I have to dry the tears of my child struggling to accept the limitations and/or peer rejection that weave the tapestry of their future in a wheelchair. The movie continues to play disgusting indulgences of my worst fears. “STOP IT!” I snap at myself, perhaps a little too loud for social acceptability. My internal narrative can be my worst enemy, telling me lies and horrific fantasies that freeze my blood and strangle my breath. I struggle to control my anxiety and thoughts.
“Why can’t I get a dirt bike, Mom?” My daughter looks at me expectantly, and I weigh with caution how to respond. Here she stands before me, safe, fearless, confident, believing that in this moment, she is capable of greatness in anything she tries. How can mine be the voice she hears in her head that sells her ideas of limitations and fear? Moreover, how can I muster the courage to let her ride?
Our internal narratives hold such power over us. The things we say to ourselves – right or wrong, the tone kind or judgmental – our minds believe to be true. This inner voice leaves a lasting impression that affects our perception of choices and success. My incessant worry and fear creates a filter in my personal and professional life. It adds pigment to the memories I gather each day and limits the color palette of my choices. When I was younger, I thought this fatalist point-of-view made me complex and mysterious, everything a young artist clings to. However, now I see how limiting this mindset really is.
Last week, I was watching some dreadful news cast, more of the same banal political babble. The commentators were arguing about some government official controlling the narrative and therefore bastardizing the system’s integrity. This ambiguous concept of truth and perceived truth is a hot topic lately. It seems in the world in which we live, those that control the narrative control majority opinion. It’s strange to me to think that reality is so subjective. I think of Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, in his essay The Transcendence of the Ego: “People are fooled by the stories they tell themselves about their lives. A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them.” I suppose truth will always be as subjective as our perception. I consider how deliberately creating a positive personal narrative and limiting my indulgent fears may help me find peace of mind.
It was about 10 years ago that I quit smoking. I know, terrible habit, don’t tell anyone. But it was nearly 10 years before that that I decided I needed to quit. For a decade, I half-heartedly tried nicotine gum, the patch, mind-warping Chantix, herbal remedies and acupuncture. There was a lot of energy spent on the business of quitting smoking. Failures and subsequent guilt dappled this decade’s attempt to reinvent myself. In my head, I was so concerned about the addiction. It had grown into this great beast, an invisible adversary, that waged an existential war in my mind. I spoke to a dear friend about my struggle. They said, “If you want to quit, quit. It may take three days for your body to stop wanting the nicotine, after that it’s all in your head. It’s simple.” I found my willpower – as if lifting a veil – when my internal monologue changed. My impression of the challenge, to identify as a non-smoker, shifted; I stopped obsessing about the idea of “the thing.” Instead, I repeated my friend’s words to myself whenever I felt anxious. I recognized the power I had over my mind. I found my strength and never picked up another cigarette.
Could the same thought-pattern-control help me keep my anxiety within the limits of sanity? I am constantly worrying and looking out for calamity and doom. “Is that man in the parking lot following me? Was I too harsh on the kids? Do they feel loved? Is that a lump I feel? Is it cancer? Did I forget to pay my credit card last month? Is my credit destroyed? There’s a lot of hair in the drain, am I going bald?” It never ends, this negative thought chatter. Meditation helps some; however, I need an alternate narrative to avoid dreadful visions of my children suffering, or grisly scenes of my imminent demise in the grocery store parking lot. Just like finding my willpower to quit smoking, deliberate thought replacements seem more effective in changing my anxious mindset. I like to throw a couple positive affirmations in there too, just to remind myself that I’m awesome and the world won’t end today.
“Can I get a dirt bike, Mom?”
My precious one. (pause) “yes.”
I have to let her live outside the fear I cage myself in. I may still consistently feed my kids reminders of safety: “Look out for snakes. Don’t go too fast. Watch out for cars.” I mean, I am still a mom. But it is important that I help nurture the framework of their self-confidence and positive thinking. If the lessons I teach them are the world is something only to be feared and they are fragile and destined to fail, then that is a far worse injury to their future than any they experience on a dirt bike.