Last night, I lay staring at the ceiling with a feeling of absolute dread. This is a recurring theme for me, being terrified in the middle of the night. Lying there in the dark, I feel like a monster is breathing down my neck. The anxiety makes my chest thump and my thoughts start sprialing into ever-darker places. In the morning, when the sun is shining again and Mia is greeting me with her joyful smile, it all feels so strange. What the hell was I so scared of?
On this particular occasion, it was thoughts of work that were keeping me awake. And part of me wants to write about all the things at work that are stressing me out, and try to talk them out one-by-one and convince myself that it's all going to be OK and that my fears are overblown. But I have a feeling that's an exercise in futility. Because if I somehow manage to defuse my work-related fears with logic (long odds on that, anyway), then I'll just move onto some other dark fear the next time. Like my loved ones dying, or my own death, or my fear that I'll never see California again. (Yes, these are all real things that have kept me awake at night.)
But I think it might be helpful to look at the way my thoughts spiraled last night, just to see the tricks my mind plays on me. I started with my stress over creating invitations for a fundraiser. (This task has taken hours and been more complicated and frustrating than you could ever imagine.) Then I moved on to my anger over how I shouldn't be doing this at all, because someone else said he would take care of this fundraiser and then backed out at the last minute, in a rude and insensitive way, leaving me completely in the lurch. Then I moved to my fear that the people I rely on to pay my salary are not really invested in raising the money they need to pay that salary. Then to my feelings of abandonment, of being alone in a big scary world. Then to the fear that our organization will fail, that I will lose my job, that my resume will be tarnished by running a failed organization, that I won't be able to find another job and (as a technically self-employed person) won't get unemployment, and that we'll end up broke and living in a singlewide trailer somewhere. Whew! That was quite a ride down the slippery slope of catastrophizing, wasn't it?
Really, the specific situation isn't the problem. No, my job isn't perfect and its funding is somewhat precarious, but that's pretty much the nature of having a job. The only way out is to become independently wealthy, and I still haven't figured out how to make that happen. The problem is the way I allow myself to get hijacked by my fear. It's the way I get caught up in all my imaginary what-if scenarios. It's like I walk myself out into the middle of the dark woods and then tell myself a terrifying ghost story and then wonder, "Why am I so scared?"
I'm trying so hard to take the advice of the wise zen masters, to just drop the story line and sit with the fear. To just feel the energy of it, the way it moves in my body. To watch the thoughts it triggers but not get swept away by them. To bring myself back to my breath, to this moment in which I am safe and warm and just as employed as I was a week ago--when I wasn't worried about this at all. But the reality is it's so, so hard. Fear gets in your face, and it won't back away, and it's hard to keep your composure and remember your strategies when it's breathing down your neck.
But at least now, in the light of day, I can see the fear monster for what it is. It's just me, telling made-up ghost stories in the dark. And if I keep working at it, I might learn how to stop repeating those same old tired tales night after night.