Advance and Retreat

After the excitement that came with my initial blog posting subsided, I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. So many ideas had been accumulating for months (and maybe even years) that it was hard to focus on one thing and take the next step. In the days that followed that first post I created a new Facebook page for My Twisty Tale, a new Twitter account,and got a shiny new email address. All that enthusiasm was bound to turn into something great, right?

Not exactly.

The response to “Goodbye, shoes. Hello, blog!” was much bigger than I had expected, and the response was so positive and encouraging that for the first time I realized that people actually want to hear what I have to say. I was overwhelmed and grateful, to say the least. But I was also the tiniest bit anxious. Now that people were actually listening to me, I started worrying about whether or not I had anything to say.

Now, most of you reading at the time I’m posting this know me in person, but for those of you who don’t I’ll just come out and say it: I have an anxiety issue. It has plagued me about as far back as I can remember, and sometimes it is worse than others, sometimes it coincides with depression, and sometimes it seems to come from out of nowhere. No matter how it comes on or how long it stays, it generally involves worrying that is disproportionate to the situation at hand. That is where I’ve been for the last couple weeks.

As each day passed and my Facebook and Twitter feeds sat empty and I had yet to post a second time, I began to get more and more anxious. What if I really did only have one post worth of something interesting to say? What if people were just being nice when they were encouraging me? Did people really want to know about the not-so-nice parts of the story? I had almost psyched myself out of the whole damn thing when I remembered one of the main reasons I started this new part of my journey: to participate.

For a good portion of my adult life I’ve been an inconsistent participant in many of my personal relationships, including my relationship with myself (which is definitely enough for its own blog post at a future date). Most recently I have been sidelined by my autoimmune conditions, but I’m certainly not a stranger to being an observer instead of a participant and it has caused me a lot of sadness, guilt, and loneliness. For many years I felt like I was waging an uphill battle–each time I felt like the worst was behind me, some other bizarre physical condition would pop up, or my mental health would take a dive. I began to stop making plans with friends because I didn’t want to have to cancel if I wasn’t feeling well, and I was self-conscious about being with people if I was feeling sick or in pain or anxious or depressed. Little by little I was starting to feel like one big walking illness.

So I retreated.

Time and time again, I retreated. I watched my friends from afar, trading a few emails and texts, watching their kids grow up on Facebook. I read countless stories and message boards, searching for people that had made it through any of the things I had been through. I watched and read and related, but I very rarely joined the conversation.

My long term friends have been so accommodating of my tendency to retreat that I am always surprised and relieved that they still allow me to come back in to their lives. I have felt unworthy of their continued support and friendship and I’ve often thought about how frustrating it would be to be my friend–that I’m much more trouble than it’s worth. These same friends have let me back into their lives after long absences with open arms and warm smiles saying “I knew you would come back when you were ready, you always do.”

My impulse was (as it often is) to wait to post again until I was having a good day–a day where I felt calm and healthy and upbeat– but that wouldn’t be very authentic. Much of my health these days is managed with medications, but I’m at peace with it because at least I know what it feels like to be a person again instead of just a series of symptoms and illness. Even on a day that my pain levels are up, as long as I am capable of getting out of bed it’s a not-so-bad day. My ability to participate hasn’t always in been my control, but in this moment it is and it’s an opportunity I don’t intend to squander.

I’m here, and I’m ready to participate.