Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Fear of Being Ignored

My friend Darcy wrote a beautiful post last month about no longer being afraid. Her words resonated with me as so many of my anxieties have melted away over the last year. 

I, too, have become more comfortable with the darker, most intense shades of myself.

I stared down numerous fears in 2015, and won.

I tried things I'd been told would harm me, and they turned out to be healing instead!

I realized how often I based choices on a fear of future regret, and began to inhabit my present more than my future or past. 

But as lesser fears retreated, one of the last Big Ones loomed into focus. 

An enormously healing moment came one autumn day in my kitchen when I could finally, tearfully, verbalize to Chris my deep-seated fear of going unnoticed, of not being missed, of not mattering outside the walls of my home. I'd been grieving the end of a relationship--and with it many lost relationships from the past--and had at last been able to put the dread into words.

Sure, it's silly, but I've spent years wondering who would even know if I was gone. Would anyone but relatives show up for my funeral? I've fretted over this question for years. I've lost sleep over it. The fear was part of my drive to accomplish something, to achieve something, to leave something noticeable in my wake. And it was part of what made the loss of even a single young friendship seem devastating.

As is often the case, finally speaking this fear's name aloud shrank it to powder and its dust soon blew away in a breath of reality.

Because as soon as I could express it, I could see how false it was. Yes, for a variety of reasons, the anxiety was real. But these days I can see that it was a trick, left over from decades of longing for connection and understanding. 

While I may have felt neglected, isolated, or silenced in the past, those words hardly describe me now. I am bold, colorful, irrepressible, with a strong and articulate voice. I am seen, I make a difference; even my absence is noted. And those who want to ignore me have to work at it!

My deep-seated fear of going unnoticed blinded me to the numerous people who do notice me. In the weeks that followed that afternoon in the kitchen, my eyes opened to the many ways others participate in my life. And I began to value friendship differently, seeing that even short or shallow relationships can hold life-altering meaning. That some moments matter more than whole months. That friendships come in a host of flavors and it is never a waste to demonstrate care or compassion.

Road trip to visit a friend!
One year ago, I cried because I couldn't think of any friends I could telephone if I was having a rough day. Today, I have them! Friends who look out for me and check on me, friends I can ask for hugs, friends I have fun with, even friends I can talk to in the middle of the night. And not only do I have friends, but fans, admirers, maybe even a few adversaries! I'm participating in my community, interacting with people not because of shared political or theological allegiances, but because of how our lives intersect.

The world seems a far less frightening place than it once did. I'm grateful for everyone who has reached out to me, kept me company, taught me new things, given me a chance, cheered me on.

As Hugh Grant says in one of my favorite movies
"If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
Now when I feel a twinge of anxiety or sadness, my first thought is, "But look at all the people who notice me now! I'm not alone; I get to share life with all these other human beings who care about each other." 

And it gladdens me. Every time.