Where I’m coming from
Let’s start with a quick confession – this is my second take at writing my first blog article.
I’d originally written a really nifty article about new year’s resolutions (and why they don’t work). I was most of the way through before realising that without giving you any context of where I’m coming from, that article and everything in it probably wouldn’t make a great deal of sense. I might pick it up again but for now, I’d prefer to take a step back, introduce myself and share with you where I’m coming from.
First the basics. I’m Ben. I live in Sydney, Australia, and am about to turn thirty-two. I have an incredible loving partner (Nathan), and work within the creative spheres of design and communications. I moonlight as a jazz pianist and singer (usually in my lounge-room, though I do take the odd gig here and there) and Nathan and I are currently in the throes of building our first house. I’ve created this blog because I’m looking for an outlet where I can write creatively and share with others the journey I’m on.
Rewinding a few years, I’d spent most of my adult life (aka my twenties) doing what many twenty-somethings do; having fun, figuring out who I was, looking for a relationship, finding a career that was challenging and inspiring, and planning for my future. I’ve always been a planner, holding the belief that great planning brings about great outcomes. Things weren’t always smooth sailing – I had to do my fair share of soul searching to discover what it was I actually wanted to be doing with my life, something I didn’t discover until I was about twenty-six – but by the time I turned thirty I had it all worked out. I’d planned my future, learned the life lessons I needed to learn and was pretty unstoppable when it came to just about anything I set my sights on. I was for all intents and purposes living ‘that perfect life’ I’d always worked for, with all of the ‘indicators for a successful life’ boxes ticked – great job? tick. partner? tick. friends, family, finances, health and happiness? tick tick tick tick tick. I was almost on cruise control.
Everything was running relatively smoothly until it all came screeching to a halt on the evening of my thirty-first birthday, where I suffered a paralysing anxiety attack (I promise this had nothing to do with turning thirty-one). What I didn’t know at the time was that beneath my veneer of a wonderful life was a pressure cooker of hidden childhood trauma that had spent 15 years building to a point where it finally couldn’t stay contained. Between the waves of flashbacks, uncontrollable crying, shaking, shivering, and sheer terror, the rug I’d been standing on for most of my life was well and truly yanked out from underneath me. I couldn’t leave the house, and the confidant, self-effacing, ‘I got this all together’ me was gone, replaced by an anxious mess who really wasn’t sure of anything anymore. My cruise control was replaced with life interruptus.
The most difficult part of this ordeal wasn’t the anxiety attack itself, but dealing with the trauma that I’d unknowingly been carrying under the surface my entire life. This meant seeing a psychologist and undergoing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) therapy, and learning a whole new set of life lessons whilst at the same time trying not to lose everything I’d worked really hard to build.
For the first time in my life I had to learn a whole lot of things I honestly didn’t want to have to learn. Things like learning to be vulnerable in front of other people, to accept my limits, and know that it’s OK to slow down so that I can let myself heal. This last part was perhaps the most challenging lesson for me as I had always relied on my fast, efficient, creative mind to help me overcome challenges quickly, and for the first time I was facing a problem that I couldn’t think my way out of, instead having to learn to feel my way through it. It was like walking through a stranger’s house in the dark, fumbling around to find a light switch whilst trying not to stub your toe on the corner of the sofa. I stubbed my toe plenty of times.
I had to learn how to truly rely on others – namely Nathan, my dear friend Karen, my sister and my mother who have all walked through this with me – and most importantly to be OK about the fact that I wasn’t (and sometimes still aren’t) OK.
There was no coming back from that point back in February. At the time, after finishing the sessions with my psychologist, I really thought I’d just be able to hop straight back on the life train as I always had (quiet carriage please), and I did in many ways. Realising how important home was going to be to both of us, Nathan and I bought a block of land (there’s a funny story to go with that for another time) and started building our house, and I took on a new and more challenging role with my work. I’d hit a point where after everything that had just happened I needed to create a fresh start, and these were great ways to achieve this.
What I was yet to learn though was that the journey of healing and discovery I had just started would be so much more challenging and more involved than I could imagine, and I couldn’t get through it simply by creating some newness in life. And this is the real clincher – looking back over my life I’ve realised that I have always used newness and my ability to transform my surroundings as a way of coping and escaping whenever I’ve needed to. New clothes, possessions, hobbies, businesses, jobs, houses, and friends – you name it, and for the first time I’ve had to learn to accept the fact that no amount of newness or external fixes will help me. No quick fix. Somehow I have to find a way to heal from within.
You see, coming out of 2017 with all of the therapy and work I’ve done on myself, there’s still one thing I haven’t been able to shift – I have to manage anxiety on a daily basis. I’ve always taken comfort from the fact that hard work equals great results, and at the time I couldn’t help but think that despite the work I’d done, the sometimes-daily presence of anxiety in my life meant that I’d failed. I hadn’t worked hard enough to shift it, and it was my fault. I’ve discovered that this is the exact kind of thinking that fuels the anxiety fire.
And here’s another home truth I had to get real about – I’ve always been an anxious person, I just didn’t know it. For my entire adult life I’ve continuously called upon my overstimulated, overthinking, unquieted mind – coupled with my seeming ability to push myself to the brink of burnout before coming up for air – to accomplish some really great things. I mean, I’ve done some really cool and incredible shit over my life that I’m really proud of. The anxiety attack in February whilst being triggered by the trauma I’d been carrying, was actually the result of a nervous mind and body that had been overtaxed and ignored for so long that it finally said to me “If you’re not going to do something about this I will”… and it did. Let the hard lessons begin.
Nearly a year later I realise I’m just barely scratching the surface. And this brings me to the beginning of the journey I’m on now. A journey to rediscover and redefine all of those ‘indicators for a successful life’ I mentioned before. To go slow instead of fast, deep instead of wide, and mindfully explore what it means to be a partner, a friend, part of a family, healthy, and content – in a holistic way. And this is where I’m coming from.
The best journeys, I’ve discovered, are the ones we share with others. The shared journey is deeper, more challenging and ultimately more rewarding because of those that go on it with you. So, I’m going to share this journey here for anybody that would like to come on it with me.
PS – the photo above was taken from this perfect rock we discovered in Bowen (just north of the Whitsundays). Here on this rock we bid farewell to 2017 as the sun set for the last time before the new year.