Doing regular things that cause me anxiety or make me worry–a friendlier name for fear.
Over the years, I’ve experienced a dramatic shift in how I handle life. I no longer “handle” life. I love it. I am thriving. And it’s new enough that it still feels unexpected. Different.
Two things have been life changing:
1. Becoming aware of my own thinking
2. Learning to laugh at it
Just ‘cos I’m thriving doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious, that I have eradicated anything other than positive, uplifting thoughts. Ha. That makes me laugh.
This is Who I am
I’m the girl who considered standing up on the bus an adrenaline-fueled activity. Who, when asked by a prospective boyfriend what she liked to do outside of work, responded with “I read a lot.” Who secretly took an Ativan each evening on her first sailing trip.
I’m now the woman who considers skiing black diamond runs–except for The Coffin–an adrenaline-fueled activity. Who said ‘yes’ to getting up in front of 1,000 people. Who slept without Ativan the last time she went sailing.
And what has changed the most is my relationship with fear and worry–my own inner anxious thinking.
This is What Laughter Does
Now, I can laugh at it.
And this has been so life changing, so radiantly impactful, that I felt compelled to take my ‘F fear’ self-challenges one step further. I signed up for a stand-up comedy class. That culminates with performing live on stage at Yuk Yuk’s in Vancouver. Waaat.
As soon as I made the payment to register my brain hit the fan. My inner anxious woman went beserk. She was freaking out. “What the h did you just do?! Why did you do that?! You’re not even funny!” And that last one felt like the biggie. You can see a picture of my face in that moment on both my facebook pages–and instagram. I figured if I posted about it, it would up the ‘face my fear’ factor–because I wouldn’t be able to back out.
And I don’t care.
This feels important. My Higher Self says ‘Oh heck, yes. I’m all in.’
So I’m gonna do it.
When I told my mom about it she laughed, told me to go for it, and then said “You better get started.” The class doesn’t start until January. I have 11 pages of what might be material. Because, like I said to my mom, “I know. Because everyone else in the class will be … funny!”
The Life Changing Impact of Laughing at Ourselves
I’m applying to speak at PowHERtalks about The Life Changing Impact of Laughing at Ourselves.
In high school I had good “friend” who was da bomb at dancing. I put “friend” in quotation marks so you know she wasn’t what I’d call a true friend these days—she was better at insults disguised as “I’m only telling you because I care” comments than she was at being a friend.
Da bomb doesn’t have ‘em. So you know she was better at dancing than she was at being a friend.
I’m gonna call her Anna. Anna had a reputation. At any party or get together, everyone knew that Anna would own the room. The girl had moves. She was sixteen years old and could werk werk werk like she was Rihanna. Which she did, nearly every time we got together.
I would watch Anna out of the corner of my eye from a corner of the room. I would think I wish I could dance like her.
I have always loved dancing.
I Wear My Kindergarten Tutu
When I was in Kindergarten my favourite thing to do before bed was to put on the white slip with tutu-esque crinoline one of my aunts had bought me and fling myself around the living room to one of my parents’ Beatles records. Mom and Dad would carefully hold a straight face behind their respective book and newspaper, occasionally peeking out to catch me spinning in circles or jumping up and down.
I am Uncoordinated and Dancing
I have a very distinct memory of being at a party in high school, deciding that once and for all I would not stand in the corner of the room watching but would instead stand a metre or so out from the wall, and dance.
I remember wondering if I was doing it right, if I looked anything like what I hoped I did. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. I was loving it.
I heard a voice behind me. It was Anna.
She said, “Don’t dance, Lindsey.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” she replied, “you can’t.”
And then she walked away.
I am Crushed
I know you’ve had your own high school moments, or moments from later in life, that impacted you more than you wished they would. So it likely won’t surprise you to know that it was years before I tried dancing again.
I Try Again
About a year ago a friend of mine convinced me to be her wing woman in a ballet class. I’m going to call her M. M had done ballet as a kid, and wanted a buddy alongside her when she tested it out again. It was a beginner class. I was a whole new person compared to that kid in high school. I agreed.
If you have never taken a ballet class, let me explain something key to you: even beginner ballet is for experts. Most of the time, the teacher does not teach. She demonstrates what you’re going to do once, and then says ‘Your turn.’
And then she walks around the room adjusting arms and legs as the students navigate the sheer terror of trying to remember a combination of moves they have never seen while attempting to look like a ballerina in three different mirrors all the while coming across as more of a hippopotamus.
This is What Happens
This is what happened during me and M’s class: I got the giggles so badly that the teacher stopped in her around-the-room pacing to give me a stern school-marm glare that was so intimidating I was more impressed than cow-towed. I completed my first turn on one leg with the other gracefully raised behind me and both arms arranged just so—only to find I was facing the wrong way at the end of it.
And I was the only one facing the wrong way at the end of it. Also, I kicked the bar: twice. Which happens when you are using the wrong leg. Both times, the resounding clang rang out through the ballroom like a gong, causing all of the other students to stop and look. M could barely contain herself.
Despite it All, The Love Comes Back
There was a part of me that was loving it. There was a part of me that felt like that little girl in kindergarten in her pretend tutu, flinging herself around to The Beatles.
So me and M went back. We signed up for the Beginner Series. And then we signed up again.
And eventually, I began to feel like I was getting it. Like there were moments in the midst of all the huffing and puffing where I actually did stop looking like a hippopotamus and for a split second looked and felt like a ballerina.
You Might Say I Got a Bit Too Confident
I started dancing at home while making dinner. I would put the radio on, get the food cooking, then clear out the ottoman from our living room, and—when a great song came on—I’d dance. Matt would come home from work to find me flinging myself around the living room, dinner burning on the stove. You can see that very thing happening here: in this video we made for a friend’s wedding. Cooking is also not my greatest forte.
Once Matt came in the door, I would usually race back to the kitchen, too self-conscious to let him see me.
But one day, I got there. I had done other dance classes—hip hop, contemporary, and burlesque—and got to the point where I felt like I got this. I got this dancing thing down.
So one night Matt and I were settling in for a cozy evening at home. The plan was to watch Netflix and relax. He was all set up on the couch: in his basketball shorts and t-shirt. I was all set up for joining him: in my sweatpants, tank top, long-sleeve shirt and sweater.
A song was playing in my head as I came up the stairs. And I was owning it; I was bopping my way into the living room, I was sliding across the hardwood floor, I was as graceful and as lithe as a real-deal dancer. I spun myself into a pirouette.
I lost my balance and tipped over.
Ricocheted off the ottoman.
And onto the floor.
I collapsed. Not from shame. In laughter.
I lay on the floor and laughed until I could hardly breathe. Through his laughter, Matt asked if I was ok.
And you know what?
I was. I am.
Because I don’t care if I don’t look like a ballerina. I don’t care if Anna would still come up to me at a party and tell me not to dance. I don’t care if I fall down.
You know what I love? Telling people what really goes on. Cos’ I like people to know that I don’t have it all figured out.
Also, it makes me feel a bit like I’m running my own reality show. And I always wanted to be on TV.
So here we go. I’m going to tell you a juicy story.
Before Matt and I bought our home, we lived in a 13-floor concrete tower that a friend of mine called ‘The Peacock.’ Because the blue and green on the building, and the way it’s 70s fabulousness stood way out from all the other tasteful, three-story walk-ups from the 1920s made her think of a bird that flashes its tail feathers to get attention. That was our building, always flashing somebody.
It had a lawn on one side and a pool on the other. During the summer the pool was pretty much lived in by four “oldies.” That was what I called them in my head, mainly because all of them had lived in the building for over a decade and even though only two of them were…well…old, all four reminded me of a bunch of retirees in Florida.
I Know I Said I Was Going to Share a Juicy True Story Right Away But I Got Distracted Remembering Arnie
Arnie was from Germany. He was about 6’ 5” and tall and skinny. He was in his early 90s. In the winter he wore one of those fur hats with the ear flaps that tie up on top of your head and a pea-green wool coat. One morning, after quizzing me in the elevator about whether or not I was living life for happiness, Arnie stepped out of the elevator doors into the lobby and said “I’m off to rob a bank. It’s the one just down the block.” He untied his ear flaps, made sure the hat was snug and then walked out the door.
And then Roger Walked Into the Story
In the summer, Arnie wore a Speedo and a swim cap. He swam laps back and forth, back and forth until Roger would call out to him, “You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack.”
Roger was a former hairdresser. He had run three high profile salons in the city and made a lot of money. Then he left his wife and kids for a younger woman who stayed married to him for a while until she decided to move to Europe. With her new man. And then Roger didn’t have very much money anymore.
Roger would motor out to the pool patio on his motorized scooter called Karma—I kid you not—pull himself onto a plastic chair and park there for the day. He was in his mid-80s. He wore blue cotton shorts and a button-up short-sleeve shirt. No hat.
Once Roger had badgered Arnie into getting out of the pool, and Arnie had pulled his robe around him, traipsed back inside, up the elevator, changed into his regular shorts and T-shirt and come back down, Roger and Arnie would sit at a plastic table and harass each other.
“That robe makes you look like a boxer who’s lost his juice,” Roger would say.
“You’re skin looks like a burnt potato,” Arnie would say.
They both spoke out of the corners of their mouths, sometimes leaned back in their chairs with their eyes closed.
They stopped talking if someone else came to swim. In which case they would switch to commenting on the swimmer.
“Too much splash.”
“Form’s all outta place.”
One of the first things Roger ever said to me was “What happened to the red bikini?” I’d swapped my old red bathing suit for a new blue one. I thought it made me look Australian. “We liked the red one,” said Roger.
Roger and Arnie would comment to each other about the swimmer until Mona would arrive with the pizza update.
Mona had been a home-care support person. She was in her 70s. She had tattoos on both arms, and one on her chest: letters that spelled out someone’s name. Mona had never been married and didn’t have kids. She’d had adventures.
“Lindsey, I got stories for you that would make you turn redder than that bathing suit you used to wear.”
Mona was in charge of ordering the pizza. At about noon, Mona would come down to claim her spot in the sun. She commanded the lounge chair with the blue mattress—where she had lain her towel, magazines, and book mid-morning before going out to run errands. She’d call out to Arnie and Roger: “Pizza’s ordered.”
Mona swore like a trucker. The first thing she ever said to me was “That’s some fucking hat.”
The hat was an oversize straw sunhat, just big enough to push it into statement-making territory. “It’s a bit big, isn’t it?” Mona asked questions in a way that let you know she wasn’t actually asking a question.
The next time I saw her at the pool, she was wearing one.
So was Arlene.
Of Course Arlene Had to Show Up
Arlene was in charge of meeting the pizza guy at the hedge. She was the youngest of them all, in her late 50s, and talked each time I saw her about what she wanted to do when she retired. “I’m gonna spend all day at this pool,” she said, eyeing up the lounge chair Mona lay on. Mona settled deeper into the cushion.
When the pizza guy arrived and called out over the hedge, Arlene would jog over and pay him with the cash she’d collected from the other three, and then jog back to where Arnie and Roger sat at the plastic table. Mona would start hauling herself off the lounge chair when the pizza guy arrived and by the time Arlene started her jog back Mona was arriving on her feet. Eventually, she joined Roger, Arnie and Arlene at the table and the four of them ate their pizza, often offering me a slice.
This is Where I’ve Been Heading the Whole Time
Our last summer in The Peacock was hot. And I was busy. My coaching practice had grown and my days were bubbling with appointments. People in the neighborhood complained of the heat: shopkeepers, baristas, servers. But I had the windows and the patio doors open and the breeze from the ocean.
Until the day they decided to test the fire alarm. On each of the 13 floors. Two on each floor. As the first bell rang out, I bolted upright in my chair. I’d forgotten about the notice on the elevator. And my day was packed with calls.
My brain went into emergency mode. The patio? Too much traffic noise, and too close to the action. A café? Too public. A friend’s place? No guarantee I’d hear back from them in time to get on my next call.
The car. I would do my calls in the car.
I raced down to street level. Hopped in the car. And immediately started to sweat. Universal truth: Cars get hot on hot summer days.
My next call came in as I was rolling up the window I’d opened to see if I could take the call with it down. No-go. Too much external noise.
So I sat in our car with all of the windows rolled up, on one of the hottest days of summer for an entire hour, focusing on the words coming from my client’s mouth. I paid extra attention.
Because my inner Worry Captain was convinced I was going to bake to death in that overheated SUV. Because if I let myself pay attention to her, I may have blurted out: “I can no longer listen to you because my sweat has pooled in my ears.” Or: “I would love to continue this conversation but I’m distracted by the sweat which is also stinging my eyes.” Or: “We’ll talk more about this on another call, because I’ve been taking such small inhales of too-hot air that I’m afraid my brain will atrophy from lack of oxygen.”
But I didn’t say any of those things. I sat in our car with all of the windows rolled up, on one of the hottest days of summer, holding in my inner Worry Captain until the hour had passed. Then I fell out of the car onto the grass and lay there breathing. Like a normal person.
Arnie walked by.
“I don’t know why you don’t just go for a swim.”
p.s. Read more truth about this and other stories, here.
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