I submitted the following to the Man Repeller Writer’s Club for January 2018. The prompt was to write about one or all of the following in 500 words or fewer:
What’s a risk you took that you regret taking?
What’s a risk that you’re glad you didn’t take?
What a risk you wish you took?
What’s a risk you hope you take this year?
I have been on this spinning blue orb for more than twenty-six years and I have never taken a single risk. Or, at least, it feels that way. I’ve never bungee-jumped, taken a transatlantic flight, publicly declared my love to someone, or gotten a tattoo larger than a postage stamp.
That’s not entirely fair. I’ve done some stuff. I dropped out of college (more than once) but ended up in graduate school, and, I mean, I got married. But, in the moment, these seemed like the safest options, hardly the risks they purport to be. I had played it safe for decades because the threat of the unknown was too daunting.
So, when I started therapy, I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t seem like a risk, because when I’d tried it before, I hadn’t learned anything. I didn’t do the work, I didn’t stick it out. I’d go once, maybe twice, declare it useless, and forge ahead with my life. But by the time my twenty-sixth birthday appeared on the horizon, the nihilism and hopelessness that had characterized my adult life became too overwhelming to bear. My panic attacks increased. I was drinking every day. I was unmoored from reality in a way that was jeopardizing my health and my marriage. And worst of all, I had no fucking clue what to do with my life.
And then I met Tanya. Her office was at the end of a long hallway in one of the campus’s newest buildings, which had the sterile vibe of a hospital ward. Her lime green loveseat reminded me of my childhood bedroom. After some sessions, I’ve fallen apart and failed to put myself back together for days at a time. I’ve arranged toys in a sand table and choked on my own tears. I’ve made resolutions, reported successes, and admitted failures. I’ve shown up drunk—she’s seen the worst parts of me up close. And most importantly, I’ve learned to trust another person with my real thoughts, my inner monologue, not just the bullshit performance everyone else sees. The chasm between how I see myself and how others see me is so much wider than I could have ever imagined. Vulnerability is a trip.
Tanya ends every session with the same line: “Remember what we talked about.” Sometimes, that’s the hardest part—remembering that I deserve to be happy, that I’m a good person. That I don’t need to constantly self-flagellate, or be polished and perfect every moment of the day. That I’m allowed to say no.
It’s been the greatest, shittiest, hardest, most wonderful six months of my life. Well worth the risk of actually getting to know myself.