I am never going to ride a bike again – I knew that the moment I stepped into the emergency room. I was eleven years old, clutching a broken arm, and royally pissed off at my rotten luck. And I was right. After that accident, I never rode a bike again.
For a while, my reactions to bicycles were extreme – if I saw one, I would get heart palpitations and sweaty palms. If I saw someone riding one, I would have the almost uncontrollable urge to run over and to demand that they get off. Didn’t they know what sort of danger they are in? After all, my arm broke because of one of those things.
Most often, however, I would shut my eyes and do my best to block it out.
It’s a little ridiculous to admit that for most of my grade school years, I had nightmares about bicycles. I would experience real-life flashbacks of something that had already happened and could not hurt me anymore. This is something you would expect from true trauma survivors – not someone who had a minor accident you could read about in almost every volume of the Hardy Boys. So naturally, I’ve never really talked about it.
Only recently, as in the last two years of my life, have I been forced to reconcile myself with bicycles. Why? Because I am surrounded by them every day. So many of my friends get from place to place on bicycles, mostly because driving a car in this area is impractical and simply not possible. It’s also cheaper, and I think a lot of them would admit to actually enjoying riding.
This is something I still don’t understand. But because my pride dictates that I never ever tell anyone about my irrational fear of two-wheeled death traps, it never came up.
A few people noticed that for the last few weeks, the Anxious Introvert has been offline. I started getting emails, comments on the Facebook page, even a few comments here on the platform – all asking, “where did you go?” The answer seemed obvious: I stopped writing. Duh. Why did I stop writing? Because you all started reading.
It’s easy to say and do what you want when you think no one is watching. Is easy to put yourself out there when “there” is an empty stage, and the only music to dance to is your slightly-off key humming rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling”. But as confident as this writing voice seems, take a look back at the name of this blog, if you’ve forgotten – I am still the Anxious Introvert. As soon as I get any form of attention, even positive attention, I have no idea how to handle it.
Because I’m afraid.
I’ll be the first to admit it, here in front of everyone. I’m terrified. I’ve written about fear before – I’ve written about courage and anxiety and all the ways you can overcome these obstacles in your life. But right now, while it’s still relevant, while I’m still cowering in my little three-room apartment with my Guinea Pigs chewing loudly on their fresh lettuce behind me, I want to talk about the fear that stops me in my tracks, every single day.
This fear looks friendly. It looks like it might help. Like the impulse to pull every kid off of a bicycle and tell them that it’s just not worth it, it seems as though it knows what’s best. And, I’ll tell you without hesitation, I listen to it more than I should.
There is a difference between living a life of anxiety and living a life of fear. A lot of times, as in my case, you can have both. But let me be very clear: anxiety is something that is irrational. It visits you when it makes no sense. It keeps you up at night when you have nothing to worry about. It’s the worst, but there are ways to cope with it, because even on our worst days, we still know that anxiety isn’t right. We can differentiate between the truth and what anxiety is telling us. We can use medicines and coping mechanisms to drag ourselves out of a dark place and into a better one. For me, this is lot easier to deal with than downright terror.
Fear, on the other hand, is so much worse. Fear is a reaction to something that has happened, and, for all you know, could happen again.
Fear is what I feel when I think about maybe riding a bicycle again. I can feel my stomach dropping, the way it did when I went plummeting to the pavement on that fateful day, so many years ago. I can hear the crunch of my pink, plastic watch breaking underneath me. I can even taste the hot tarmac in my mouth. These are things that my body refuses to let me forget, because I got hurt, and it wants to make sure that I never go through that again.
But there is more to it than that.
Fear is also what happens when I think about opening up to someone. I think about that time in band in high school, where I left my heart out, and just about everyone stomped on it. I think about that time I taped a copy of my favorite poem to my locker – it was about the battle of the mind – and a bunch of kids, my friends, laughed while writing mean, crude, and racy messages all over the beautiful script. Fear is what happens when I remember that time telling a boy that I loved him, and he laughed at me. Fear is that clenching, gnawing feeling in my gut that tells me that although life could be better if I stepped out of my comfort zone, it could also be so much worse.
So why face it? I don’t need a bike to get around, anyway.
I’m crying as I write this. I want you to know that this is not something I have conquered, and there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. This an ongoing battle, happening in my mind, right now. The reason why this is such a problem is that yes, it keeps you safe – I have not broken a single bone since that last trip to the emergency room – but it also keeps you scared.
I see this every day. I see it every time I get a text from a loved one and the first thing that crosses my mind is they don’t really love me. I feel it every time I try branching out into a new relationship and I pull back, because they don’t really want to get to know me. I hear it in my head when I give everything I have to a person, and yet I still refuse to make myself vulnerable to them, because they only want to hurt me. And while this protects me from potential heartbreak and pain, it also isolates me from joy and fellowship.
Let me make one thing clear: Fear is poison in relationships and in life. So many mornings these last few weeks, during the time the Anxious Introvert was trying to figure out her life and was therefore not online, I woke up and stared at myself in the mirror while saying, “I refuse to let my fear poison my relationships.”
That’s what’s been happening here – for the last few weeks, my life has gotten better. I’ve made more friends. I’ve gotten really close to a few people I wasn’t close to before. I’ve tried so many new things. I’ve gone new places. This little blog has taken off. And for the first time in a long time, I’ve been living the life I always pictured I would live, and I’ve been loving it. So what happened?
Fear stepped in. Fear intervened and started telling me to back off. Good things end, it says. People leave you. People betray you. People will use you until your usefulness is up.
The most heartbreaking part about this is that I listened.
Me – the brave one, the one who screams about courage from the rooftops, who preaches about living loud and not giving into fear. I caved. I stopped writing. I stopped answering texts. I stopped going to class. I stopped getting out of bed period. I’ve been hurt before, and my brain is set and determined to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
This time, however, I’m the reason I got hurt.
By shutting myself off and pulling back from my relationships, people who care about me began to think that I no longer cared about them, when the reverse was true. People that I would jump out in front of a bus for got the message I was indifferent. Fear poisoned my relationship with these people and with myself. Fear stopped me when I was on a roll. But for the first time in my life, I know that I don’t have to listen.
Maybe you’re reading this right now and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve been through the same sort of thing. Relationships are hard to build after you’ve had so many previous ones fall apart. People are hard to love when you’ve had so many use your love to manipulate you. But maybe you’ve also realized that this way of life – this fearful life – isn’t good enough anymore. Maybe, like me, you’ve realized that while fear has kept you from being hurt again, it has also kept you from ever being healed.
So what is there to do about this? I’m not here to offer you an easy solution – in fact, most of my life is composed of the inconsistencies involved in trying to combat this difficult situation. But there are things that help, and I’m here to share them with you, for better or for worse.
First, I turn to the Bible. I find myself often returning to 2 Timothy 1: 7: “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (ESV). The reason why I love this verse is because unlike other verses regarding courage and conquering fear (check out Joshua 1, if you’re interested) this verse reminds us that not only are we commanded to be courageous in our lives, but also we are fully equipped to be so. God doesn’t merely tell us to be brave. He goes out in the storm with us and gives us the tools we need to actually do it.
Second, I practice courage. (For more details on this, see The Anxious Introvert’s Take On Courage by clicking here). This means that every time I have a fear reaction to something, no matter what it is, I do my best to respond in a way that does not feed my fear.
This means different things for different people. For me, it means going directly against what fear and anxiety is telling me and letting myself be vulnerable. It means making myself open to being hurt, and knowing that I will recover if things go wrong. How can we do this? How can we practice being brave?
This is how.
Be brave enough to believe someone who says they want you in their life, even if you don’t understand why they chose you.
Be brave enough to believe you are accepted into a group and can participate fully, even if you don’t feel as though you have much to offer.
Be brave enough to get up in the morning, wash your face, brush your teeth, and go out into the world, even if you know that no one will notice if you just stay in bed.
Be brave enough to publish your little blog about your little life, even if you know no one will read it…and maybe especially if they do.
The world is a scary place, my friends. It isn’t kind. It isn’t sensitive to our needs or our feelings. It doesn’t care about us. But there are people that do. There are good things out there – there are beautiful things, wonderful things, things that make your life worth living. But you will never know those things if you let fear tell you to stand down every time things start getting scary.
Maybe it’s time to go out there and try something new. Maybe it’s time to say what you really think and feel, in front of people who are actually listening. Maybe it’s time you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and leap – knowing that you could achieve great things; but also, you will be okay if you don’t.
Maybe, my dear, sweet, courageous friend – it’s time to get back on the bicycle and enjoy the ride.