I didn’t know how to pronounce the word “epitome” until I was solidly in my second year of college.
There are at least three light switches from my childhood home whose functions remained a mystery to me even after 22 years of living there.
I didn’t know how to ride a bike until I was at least 11 (which isn’t surprising, given my general lack of athletic prowess).
Despite being miles behind on some of these
basic developmental milestones learning curves, the most surprising thing I picked up on late in the game was this:
As a person who has had an anxiety disorder since at least middle school, a worried and foreboding narrative has been in my life for almost as long as I can remember. One would think I would thus know how it works. Here’s the issue though: It’s one thing to know you have a disorder, but it’s a whole other game to know what that means in your daily life.
In college, thanks to support by a crew of wonderful teachers, mentors, a few priests, and definitely nothing I naturally was inclined to do, I was given this wonderful idea: our fears and narratives we’ve traveled with are not necessarily true. In fact, these stories could be farther from the truth than any other dream we could come up with.
This seemed too good to be true. I’d been carrying these heavy things for years, and I might not have to anymore? How could I have missed something this big? The revelation was about the scary story I told myself: What if it’s not true?
If you have had a mental illness for most of your life, it can take a long time to understand how exactly that illness plays out in your day-to-day. If you have been telling yourself a story for your whole life, how would you know that it was inaccurate or overtly critical of yourself? In all likelihood, you wouldn’t know that, at least not with your small sample size of just yourself. At least, I definitely did not know that.
I had always thought the way I negatively talked to myself or predicted the future was what everyone did. To an extent, everyone does do that—but not to the level of daily, hourly, or about everything. That’s a heavy load to carry, and it’s something that I learned doesn’t have to be as true as I was once convinced it did.
If you’re telling yourself a negative narrative, please know that other possibilities exist. It seems almost too good to be believed, but the constant thought you have carried that you are not x or y enough could really (and in full reality) be totally false. This was the best news I had ever heard, because I was unaware until that point that our fears don’t create us. Just because our inner bully is telling us we aren’t smart, or not capable, or not enough, doesn’t mean that it’s true. You don’t have to accept the worst story you’ve ever heard as true just because it’s the thing that fills you with the most fear.
Knowing this doesn’t mean it will be easy to erase that narrative, and I’m guessing if you’re anything like me, it will take more than an off-brand blog post to convince you of this. But if you can let this in for a minute today, it will be a minute well spent. Knowing that your scary stories might be bullshit won’t free you completely from them, but that knowledge will give you something you didn’t previously have: a choice in what your story becomes.