Pedal to the Metal

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Have you ever been go-karting?

Not kiddie go-karting. I mean proper go-karting with a real track, and fast karts, and onesies that smell like manliness and oil, and helmets that make your head loll they’re so heavy?

I have.

Yes, I’m a sometime speed demon, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I do rock the child-sized onesies. The combination of child-size onesie and adult helmet makes me look like a bobblehead of The Stig.

It’s a good look.

I’ve always had a great time on the track. I’m a rubbish driver – running alternately on equal parts of adrenaline and sheer terror – but I have so much fun! I put my foot to the floor with irresponsible delight and go hot all over with excitement, and then I hit the brakes hard when the fear that I’m about to flip over turns my entire body to ice. I accelerate so fast my head flies back, and I can’t see where I’m going because the gravitational force pins the top of my helmet to my headrest… and then I brake so abruptly that I slam forward against my restraints and knock the breath out of myself.

Start and stop.

Back and forth.

“WHEEEEEEEE!” and “AAAAAAAAH!!!!”

Lately I’ve been thinking that in some ways my entire existence is like that. I live my life the way I drive my go-karts; racing ahead with life and plans and ideas, and then coming to an abrupt and sometimes painful halt when fear overwhelms me.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Probably since childhood, although it’s definitely felt more pronounced since becoming an adult. In university, I first decided to go for a broad, general Arts degree (philosophy and English lit.), only to stop dead in my tracks a few months later when I started to feel afraid that it would be of no use to me. So I decided I wanted to do animation – a huge passion of mine – but was too afraid of trying and failing, so settled on graphic design because it sounded like a safer, more practical choice. Then I panicked at the idea of not being good enough for the safer and more practical choice, and in an abrupt and inadvisable 180°, then decided to go for something intentionally difficult (Japanese Language). I quickly pivoted again when I felt myself struggling with a subject I had chosen on a whim, that I never cared for and had no real interest in.

Which, you know… BAD. *smacks hand*

Eventually I realised that I was constantly, desperately looking for escape routes at every turn, trying to avoid the difficult and unpleasant feeling of Not Feeling Good Enough. I realised that I just have this innate knack for self-sabotaging in the worst way. In trying to avoid obstacles in my path, I tend to leave the path entirely and instead end up on the bumpiest off-road tracks that are often far more complicated and impassable than the original obstacle. I just get in my own way. It’s very unhealthy.

So I went to see a counsellor.

She was very kind. She mostly stayed silent and whenever there was a long pause she would say, “…And how do you feel about that?” which always made me want to laugh. I didn’t find her hugely helpful but she was very nice, so I felt bad about ending our sessions. In the end, I waited until there was a natural break for the holidays, told her I’d reschedule in the new year, and then never did.

… Still cautiously avoiding the bumps in the road, obviously.

I went back and tried another counsellor, and he was far more helpful. Instead of “sessions,” our appointments felt like strategy meetings. It felt less feathery-strokery and more proactive. University became less about finding ways to evade my fear, and more about putting my head down and bulldozing through it. There were quite a few obstacles in my way, and they were the kind of obstacles that made people ask if I wanted to pack it in, but I knew that I needed to make it to the finish line. I wasn’t sure I would be able to look at myself in the mirror if I didn’t get out of there with a degree.

So I gritted my teeth and I lowered my head and I stuck it out and I got out of there with the piece of paper clenched tight in my fist. Nobody can take that away from me. My degree now lives in a locked drawer, safely tucked away as a reminder that I am capable.

These days I’m a bit better at catching myself when I feel the fear take over. I recognise it and know that logically, I’m being an idiot. I know not to let it rise over me like a tidal wave, because if I do it has about the same potential to smash my life to smithereens. I still struggle to work through periods of time when I’m Not Feeling Good Enough. I know now to rely on the fact that I have occasional bursts of self-confidence, and that’s really all I need to press my foot down on the accelerator and get going again. Hopefully the gap between bursts will narrow over time until I can hopscotch across my river of insecurities on self-confidence stepping stones. Maybe one day my biggest anxieties will be covered over by a sheet of self-belief that will allow me to skate right over them. I’m working on it.

I have a picture in my head of what I want my life to be, but it looks… fuzzy around the edges. It looks undefined, like I’m looking at it from a distance through a mist. I can see the hazy shape of important parts of it, but the details are missing. I know that in a lot of ways, I’m still afraid. What if – with all my speeding and stalling and stopping and starting – I never get there? What if I flip my go-kart?

For now though, I’ve learned to stay the course and ride the bumps in the road. I’ve learned to enjoy myself in the moment, rather than focus tunnel-vision style on the things that worry me. Not every pothole is a catastrophe. Not every hill is too steep to climb. Putting pedal to the metal can be as exhilarating as it can be terrifying. It doesn’t have to be a smooth, straight stretch of road; the journey doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be good.

Anyway, a bit of uneven ground keeps things interesting.

Tangled

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Before I get to today’s more light-hearted post, I would just like to say thank you to everyone who read and/or commented on my last post. I was worried about people’s reactions, but everyone was thoughtful and kind. I was really touched by how people took the time and read and comment, even if they didn’t entirely agree. I know it’s a tricky subject. So thanks. Thanks for being great people.

Back to more frivolous, Fridayish thoughts…

I am terrible at maths. TERRIBLE. Numbers make no sense to me. I have an extremely short memory when it comes to maths. If you teach me a formula I will learn it. If you ask me to do it again the next morning though, I will be absolutely incapable of even remembering where to start. It’s like my brain builds bridges to the answers, crosses over, and then immediately sets them on fire.

I constantly write down numbers back to front. If someone calls out their phone number for me to take down, I sigh internally. It’s bad, is what I’m saying. Numbers hate me. I avoid all forms of mathematics if I can possibly help it. The rest of the time I count on my fingers.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that when I say that discomfort > benefits = avoidance forever, even that completely fabricated formula is probably wrong. Yet it’s how I deal with things on a day-to-day basis. So, for example, I haven’t been to the hairdresser since last June.

LAST JUNE.

I got a trim. It was not traumatic in any way. The hairdresser didn’t stab me with scissors or give me a bowl cut that turned me into a monk from the middle ages. She was a chatty, lovely, gorgeous blonde who did exactly what I asked her to. “You should visit the hairdresser every eight weeks,” she said.

Eight months later, I am still dragging my feet.

I really, really hate going to the hairdresser.

I am not actually particularly attached to my hair. I mean, I would miss it if I woke up one day to find it packing a bag and heading for warmer climes… Although I couldn’t blame it (“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore. You never even wear a hat. You don’t consider my wellbeing at all and it’s just not a healthy relationship for me. Bye Felicia“). I’m not someone who really does anything with my hair. It just sort of… chills out. I’m a bit weird about textures and always want things to be pleasantly tactile, so I never put product in my hair because I like my hair to feel soft and silky. I basically want my hair to be run-your-fingers-through-it soft at all times. You know, for any surprise moments when someone might run their fingers through my hair.

…Happens all the time.

Even if that weren’t the case though, I don’t know how to use any products on my hair that aren’t a GHD. I don’t dye my hair. I don’t know how to put my hair in a messy bun. I can’t use mousse properly. I don’t even really know what dry shampoo is or how it works its magic. To be clear, I would like to know how to do these things, I just never learned, and now I feel like it’s a bit late in the game for me to start braiding my hair and using texturising spray.

So it just sits. Which is fine.

Except that it really does need a trim every now and then, and now that we’re over 600 words into this blog post, and some people will have hopefully dropped away in boredom, I can finally, hidden-halfway-down-my-post, explain why I hate going to the hairdresser so much:

It makes my anxiety flare up something fierce.

I know. I even feel shame typing that. Everyone has anxiety these days. It must be social media or society today or maybe there’s something in the water. I could pretend that I don’t feel anxious about interacting with strangers, but then I would be lying and I’m not very good at that.

Some people hate going to the dentist. I actually really enjoy going to the dentist! All I have to do is show up, lie back, and relax for however long it takes to do whatever it is he does with all those spiky instruments. Then he has one-way conversation with me about the importance of flossing, during which I always open my eyes wide to show I’m taking his dental opinion seriously. He makes me spit in a cup, and then he lets me leave. It’s not so bad. I quite like it. I spend the rest of the day running my tongue over my teeth. So smooooooooooth….

But the hairdresser.

The hairdresser is a different kettle of fish. At the hairdresser, I’m expected to make small talk (something I am already terrible at) with someone who I’m reasonably sure could not care less about the holidays I have coming up, or how my week has been. I mean, they probably just want to do their job and cut my hair without hearing information that will be discarded as soon as I’ve left the salon. Still, it’s expected of them to make small talk and ask about my life, and it’s expected of me to tell them about it and ask questions in return, and so we get stuck in an awkward cycle of expectations and reluctant small talk, and basically the entire thing makes my anxiety flare up like crazy to the point where I actually feel bad picking up a magazine and flicking through it. Instead, I hide my hands in the folds of my plastic bib and twist my fingers so hard they feel like they might break, and silently wonder how much longer I’m going to have to talk about my plans for the weekend.

It’s horrible.

[Sidenote: This is one reason* why I have never been to a nail salon. That scene in Legally Blonde where she goes and unburdens herself to her nail technician freaks me out. Like, do you have to make conversation for the entire nail … experience? You’re hardly going to sit in silence avoiding eye contact while someone literally holds your hand. Then again what if there are awkward silences? What if you run out of things to talk about? How long does it go on for? Just thinking about it is making me bounce my leg anxiously.]

It’s now March, and my hair is almost at my waist. It needs a chop. What I really need is for someone to drag me bodily to a hairdresser. Realistically, after typing this, I will avoid thinking about it for another, ooh, three months? Sounds doable.

So that’s my frivolous Friday thought; my first world problem of not having the cojones to go to the hairdresser. Wednesday: long blog post about awful truths. Friday: long blog post about getting your hair done. This blog is a rollercoaster of emotion.

If anybody has any tried-and-true methods for making yourself do things you don’t want to do as a grown adult… please leave it in the comments. Or carry me to the hairdresser, tie me up in one of those black plastic ponchos and dump me in a chair.

Either or.

I’ll see you on Monday! Have a great weekend.

*My other reason is that the sound and feel of nail files completely freaks me out. Just typing that out made me curl my fingernails protectively into my hand.