The sallowness in my stressed out skin has been replaced by the glow of a sun-filled existence, but the sunken shadows beneath my eyes are slower to fade. I had given so much of myself away that I worried I might never find my way back to center, and my spiritual self-neglect had manifested physical scars on my body: hives and acne, wrinkles, belly fat, and that obscure thousand-yard-stare of the corporate zombie.
Sometime over the last six months I’d developed a mild (moderate) case of agoraphobia: I could no longer leave my home without Bill to support me. Naturally, I didn’t tell him about it, I just made up excuses for him to grocery shop with me or acted like a spoiled toddler in need of a nap when we did anything else. The truth was that my brain was in a perpetual state of sensory overload: I’d gotten stuck in a never ending fight-or-flight cycle that was fueling anxiety attacks, rage, and exhaustion. I was at my wits’ end, but so was Bill. He didn’t ask to be on the bus to Crazytown, but at some point we’d taken a turn down the express lanes to that destination.
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
The last two weeks have been about forcing myself out of my house. I’ve taken two road trips and have begun chatting up strangers in coffee shops. During one trip to Empire Espresso, I met The Fox. He was immersed in his MacBook so I was free to stare at his long beard and hair beneath his red felt hat that clashed in the best way with his pink Utili-Kilt and fox tail (yes, a fox tail hung from his belt) for what would have otherwise been a wholly socially unacceptable period of time. Fueled by carbohydrate delirium (Belgian waffles, anyone?) I approached The Fox with a simple question: “What do you do for a living where you are allowed to be….yourself?” I was afraid that I’d offended him, but his belly-laugh put me at ease and he shared his story of being a freelance techie, photographer, and spiritual healer. He showed me work that integrated all of his specialties, but was emphatic that he did for a profession things that he would (and sometimes does) do for free. He lives his life passionately, including how he dresses, and feels the universe has repaid him ten-fold. When he asked me what I like to do (professionally) I told him my favorite things have been taking a visionary concept, breaking it down into attainable steps, and then delivering the finished product, as a newborn child, into the world. I was a midwife of ideas in my mind’s eye; The Fox said, “Oh, Sweetie, you’re a Project Manager.” I said, “I don’t know what they do.’ The Fox said, “You already do what they do, it’s time you get paid for it.”
I walked home energized by a stranger’s belief in li’l ol’ me. The Fox spoke to me with compassionate energy, and spoke OF me with certainty and conviction. He saw me for what I was, without the baggage that polluted my inner dialogue. I was slowly emerging from my cocoon with confidence, feeling better about rejoining the world without fear and anxiety. I emailed some acquaintances, set up some meetings, and ventured south toward the familiarity of my childhood home. I hadn’t seen my grandmother since Christmas, and now I had to break the news to her that I’d left my pension, my stability, and my career behind me in a quest for happiness that I was only beginning to believe I deserved. White knuckled, I drove 200 miles to face the fear of disappointing my hero. I tuned the radio to Lucinda Williams and hoped for acceptance on my path toward redemption. My wrinkles in the rear view mirror were now battle scars, and when I smiled it felt natural, and Lucinda sang my anthem :
“I just wanna live the life I please
I don’t want no enemies
I don’t want nothin if i have to fake it
Never take nothin don’t belong to me
Everything’s paid for, nothin’s free
If I give my heart, will you promise not to break it?”
I Lost It, Lucinda Williams 1998 “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”