I have a bad case of the February feels. It happens every year, around this time. The mid-winter slump hits full force and shakes me up, knocks me around a bit and offers no apologies. With sudden clarity I recover from a temporary case of amnesia and I recall how the same thing happened last year, and the year before, ad infinitum. It’s rough.
Last year, I dealt with it by drinking a lot of tequila and dancing to mo-town music. I snuggled in with friends and took icy walks around the neighborhood, sat in the snow and watched my favorite tree slowly grow fragile buds underneath the frost.
The year before, I put on my running shoes and started chasing sunsets down dusty roads. I took a lot of naps, dozing in the heat of the afternoon African sun, feeling the cool tile beneath my body. I asked a lot of questions, made a lot of plans, and used the word grace, on a daily basis.
This year, I’ve been listening to a lot of Meat Loaf and 80’s love ballads. I’ve been coloring excessively, filling a notebook with new hopes and dreams, repeating the sacred ho’oponopono mantra under my breath, and sipping Kombucha.
It’s still hard. The feels are like unwanted guests, knocking on your door rudely after all of the festivities are over, demanding attention and surprising you with their late arrival.
How are you supposed to entertain them? What are they here to teach you?
Yesterday, I was confronted with one of the loudest, most unwelcome visitors of all, FEAR. For the past two weeks, I’ve been spending much needed time with my sister in Idaho after returning from Europe, taking in the fresh mountain air and beautiful views of the Teton Valley. I’ve been toying (read–can’t make up my frickin’ mind), with the idea of staying longer and finishing out the season with her, finding a part-time job until April or so.
Being the amazing sister that she is, she found me a job at the resort where she works. The only catch was that I would have to ski to get there. I was supposed to start today.
I haven’t skied in over five years. The time before that, my attempt at flying downhill with two wooden strips strapped to my feet landed me in the Emergency room with a head laceration and nine stitches. So I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Nevertheless, I agreed to go with her to the mountain to practice and try out my ski legs once more.
The first two laps went pretty well. I kept my balance, practiced my pizza, and didn’t fall even once. My sister thought I was doing so well, she decided to take me up the mountain a little further. To my growing anxiety, when we got off the first ski lift, we immediately hopped on another one, going even higher.
“Are we doing a blue now?” I asked.
“Wait and see,” she demurred. “You’re doing great, look at the view! Isn’t it beautiful?!”
I gulped. My grip on the metal bar preventing me from plummeting hundreds of feet to my death tightened.
The lift sped up and we scooted towards the edge of the seat, lifting the bar over our heads. Sliding off, we skied to the top of the hill and stopped. You guys, I looked down and immediately started crying. I felt so much panic it turned into physically feeling like I wanted to throw up.
The mountain went straight down. The kind of straight down you can’t actually see until you’re going down it.
“You’re doing great, just have a little more confidence in yourself!” My sister encouraged as she glided off gracefully.
“Ski over here to me, and then we can sit down and take a break!” she shouted from the edge by some trees.
I took the widest turns I knew how, awkwardly lifting my skis through the slushy snow, turning so slowly I was basically stopping after every move. I was TERRIFIED. I hated every minute of it. I was so scared I couldn’t even appreciate the view, which was breathtaking. All I could see were my two skis and the steep descent I had to somehow survive.
“Mariah, you’ve got great control, you’re in control, see? You know how to stop if you’re going too fast, you’re doing great!”
My sister’s patience and positive affirmations didn’t make one ounce of difference. I didn’t feel in control. I didn’t believe I could really stop if I started going too fast. In my head, all I could imagine were scenarios of me flying off the edge of a cliff, tumbling down the mountain like a snowball, or fatally colliding with a tree, Sonny Bono style.
Eventually, after using every muscle in my body to go as slowly as humanly possible down the mountain, I found a bench and sat down. I took off my skis and cried even more. I started thinking about how I have relentlessly pushed myself to face my fears and how exhausted I feel because of it.
I’ve forced myself to do a lot of things I’m afraid of. I’ve rappelled down waterfalls in Ecuador, I’ve lived in foreign countries where I couldn’t speak the language, I’ve traveled around the world solo, taken a chance on unlikely romance, jumped off cliffs, risked my career, my reputation, my relationships.
I’ve worn courage and bravery like badges of honor, putting myself in situations that require all of my energy, focus, and vulnerability, time after time.
Sometimes it’s to prove a point. Sometimes it’s to learn, to grow, to stretch. To bump up against a limitation and push past it. Sometimes it’s for the rush of adrenaline I get afterward, the experience of empowerment, strength, invincibility.
Yesterday I didn’t feel any of those things. The nauseating panic stayed in my gut, even after I made it down the mountain safely, without falling or injuring myself. Yesterday, for the first time maybe ever, I realized, “I don’t like this, and that’s okay.”
Yesterday, I realized fear wasn’t just something to overcome and stare down until one of us blinked. I sat down at the bottom of that beautiful, gravity defying mountain, and I understood–fear isn’t just a tool, it can also be our friend. It can be a gentle guide, showing us where we don’t belong. It can be a subtle reminder to take a break, sit down and re-assess before going further.
This is new to me, but I think perhaps there are different levels of fear we’d do well to pay attention to. There’s the self-sabotaging kind, the self-preservation kind, the ego-driven, two-year old tantrum kind. But then there’s the fear that is trying to serve you. It’s telling you something is off, not quite right, too much to attempt right now. It’s more instinctual, subtle, gut-oriented. It’s still connected to the mind, but felt on a much more physical level.
It’s the fear that no matter what you do, it refuses to go home.
I didn’t take the skiing job. I’m sure with practice I could have overcome my panic and fear of heights. I could have honed my skills and become competent and comfortable on a pair of skis. I could have gained more confidence and maybe started enjoying the sport.
The thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t care if I never click into a pair of skis ever again in my whole life. It’s not something I want to get good at or challenge myself to “overcome.” Part of me feels guilty for admitting this, for giving up without trying harder, for calling it quits so early in the game.
To be honest, I think this is something I should probably do more often. Sometimes it’s just not the right game. We don’t have to be in it to win every time. It’s okay to watch from the sidelines once in awhile. To cheer as someone else tackles their fear in a way that is empowering, for them.
I don’t love the February feels. I don’t love it when they demand my attention and make a mess of my heart. I much prefer the violent winds of March, sweeping away the debris of winter in preparation for Spring. I’d rather skip ahead to the gentle blooming of April when everything becomes new and lovely and hopeful again.
Yet, here we are. Half-way through February, mid-way through winter. Full of fear, full of the feels. I’m beginning to learn this is sacred, too.
*Photos uploaded from Google.Google+