Sunday, September 13, 2015

on intent: what's the opposite of anxious?

There's something magical about starting a career from scratch when you're thirty-four, which is how old I am for one more month. Oh, and by magical, I mean fucking terrifying. Let me assure you, when I left my job in June 2014 to be home full-time with Rowan, I (1) was still in hearty denial that I was quitting at all, (2) planned on being re-employed by the end of that summer, and (3) had zero intentions of abandoning my chosen field entirely.


I exited my career the same way I entered it: by following my heart. I know, I know, so cheesy and overwrought - but absolutely true. My undergraduate degree, my first job out of college, both of my graduate degrees, my two social work internships, and my post-graduate jobs - each and every one of those things began pretty much by accident. (There's not really a better way to describe how one ends up with a bachelor degree in Arts & Ideas in the Humanities with subconcentrations in Developmental Psychology and Writing of Poetry and a minor in Environmental Studies.)

They felt like accidents, but in hindsight, each of those things happened because I was following my heart. I was doing my thing, not particularly worried about my utter lack of purposeful direction, and in the meantime, a powerful cloud was swirling around me - one of passion, of creativity, of effort, and of bliss. All the time, the cloud hovered, whether I realized it or not, and all the time, it manifested into something real.

But the stakes are so much higher now. It's really hard to trust a nebulously benevolent universe. I have a partner, a mortgage, a child. And, if I'm being honest, I also have a newfound psychological need for financial stability. Like my degrees and my jobs, money manifested itself during my twenties. I mean, it manifested because I was often working sixty-hour weeks at jobs that didn't end when I left the office, and because I was pouring my heart and soul and passion and well-being into those jobs, but you know what I mean. I didn't worry about money, and boom, there it was. Magic.

Something else manifested in my twenties, though, too: anxiety. I actually thought it was depression, since I was fatigued, ill, sad, irritable, and not interested in...well, anything. I sought help from a therapist, who needed about two seconds of our intake session to astutely confirm that I had anxiety, not depression.

"Anxiety?" I squinted at her. "But...I'm so depressed."

"Well, being anxious all the time is really depressing," she responded.

Yes. Sure is.

I've written at length about all the symptoms and expressions of my anxiety, but - aside from a fancy little bout of postpartum anxiety - it's been well under control for a few years now. And I was at my best, anxiety-wise, from the time I became a stay-at-home mom until pretty recently, when I started perseverating on career and financial worries.

And so, this weekend, I found myself perusing the blog of my favorite author, Martha Beck, because I always make my way back to her when my anxiety levels are spiking. I stumbled on an article that she posted on New Year's Eve-Eve of last year called Conjuring Good Magic: How To Set Powerful Goals, and I started following her four goal-setting steps to the letter. I [Step One] came up with a lofty and brutally honest life goal (being a rich-ass stay-at-home mom and successful writer, boom!), and I [Step Two] happily daydreamed about what that would look like (ironically, I'm already pretty close to some huge chunks of that goal, so it looks pretty similar to my life for the last fifteen months).

BUT. I got totally hung up on Step Three, which directs you to conjure up adjectives that describe how you'd feel if your dreams came true. Sounded easy enough. I know I want to feel blissful (my favorite and frequent emotion since leaving the workforce). And I want to feel prosperous, like my daily work is impactful and translates to (relative) fortune. And, most importantly, I want to feel...not anxious.

[Cue brakes screeching.]

Nope. Nuh-uh. You're not allowed to describe what you do want by stating what you don't want. It's like with two-year-olds: Instead of telling them what not to do ("Stop running!"), you need to tell them what to do ("Use your walking feet!"). Okay, that's fine: What's the opposite of anxious? That's what I want to feel. The opposite of anxious.

But what is the opposite of anxious?

It'd be great to wrap this all up by saying, I figured it out! My third dream emotion is _____. But I'm still not sure. Is it hopeful? Is it trusting? Is it contentment? Is it calm? Is it candy? I've spent plenty of time crawling out of anxiety pits, but I've never stopped to consider what constitutes the terrain of the terra firma beyond the pits.

Help. Please. I want my intent to be clear. I need you to be my thesaurus and help me figure out the word I'm looking for.

I want to feel:
1. Blissful
2. Prosperous

^^Blissfully prosperous; only anxious about strangers and thunder.

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