Anxiety, Uncertainty and Delicious Ambiguity

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
― Gilda Radner

Uncertainty and I have a turbulent relationship. Some days I love it, I’m excited by it, other days I despise it, I simply want answers; all the answers.
Sometimes when I’m particularly anxious, I force myself to just stare at the uncertainty quotes I have stuck on my wall, I read a couple over and over, and hope that some of the words sink in. “…make the best of it…”… GAH.

Often they help, I remind myself that life is too short, I gain some perspective and I am able to breathe again. But sometimes, I just can’t slow down. Sometimes, no amount of journalling, or meditation, or exercise, or late night phone calls to friends stop your brain doing what it does best: thinking. Or in my case; overthinking. I want to know everything.

Meditation helps, and I really ought to commit to regular practice, but when I’m anxious, the last thing I want to do is be left alone with my thoughts. And of course that’s precisely the point; to sit with your feelings, to accept them, to be still and connect with the inner peace that is always there inside you if you are able to access it. Sadly, in times of stress, I make no effort to connect with that inner peace. No instead I make a pretty instant connection with the contents of my fridge. It brings a false sense of inner peace for about seven minutes then I am back to where I started, anxious, frustrated and inevitably bloated.

So how does one train the monkey-mind, how does one silence the inner-critic, or the voice that wants to work everything out, and leave some space for some actual presence, maybe even an empowering thought or two? Well, like all things in life, with practice. It takes some work to get into the habit of observing your thoughts and saying “Actually nah, not right now, I’m not going to go down that line of thought right now..” and consciously move on, be able to move on. Awareness is everything. Mental habits are hard to follow but you know yourself best. I like to think for the most part, I can decide what I focus on, that I have a degree of control, and the more I practice things like meditation, and mindfulness, and observing my mind, the more control I will have. Like a muscle, the brain can be trained. The idea that I could simply “change the channel” to what is playing out in my mind, is kind of life-changing.

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”
― Richard Feynman

Anxiety tends to be about the future. Mine manifests as a tireless, persistent little train of thought choo-choo-chugging its way through my brain on a daily basis. Recently, it’s become more of a roaring high powered concord than a sweet little steam engine. The thoughts are loud, the words are powerful and they’re not all that easy to silence. Here’s an insight, skip over the italics below if you’d rather not read through the coo-coo cray cray.

Whilst doing chores/walking back from nursery/driving/at the gym:
“So what are you doing with your life again? And how exactly are you going to make money doing that? No but that would never work in terms of picking Maia up from school. Oh but you’d love to do that. What if I never reach my full potential? What does full potential even mean and how will I know when I’ve reached it? Do successful people always know what they want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?! Do I even know my own values? Do I not know myself at all? Am I present enough? Do I practice enough gratitude? How will I juggle motherhood and a job I actually enjoy? Oh but that’s so far away. But it’s not. Is life really as awful as people make it look? They seem so miserable. Is it wrong that I’m not? Am I in denial? Am I ignorant? Am I doing everything I can to be of service within society? Will I always feel this guilty as a mother? Will I always swing between beating myself up and thinking I am some kind of ninja-Mummy-Goddess? When will you have a five year plan? Do you need a plan? Fail to plan, plan to fail Angie. Life is like a game, be strategic! When will you learn to embrace uncertainty? Oh but it’s all so scary. Oh ffs. And will you stop being so perfectionist; shut that shit down.”

Shutting the shit down is hard.

Tell yourself something enough times, and you start to believe it is real; you start to see it as the truth. – Your truth. And it therefore becomes your truth because it becomes your reality, because your thoughts; THEY MANIFEST.

Sometimes, I actually find myself getting excited about all the uncertainty. (On a physical level; anxiety and excitement aren’t all that different..) “Who knows where I’ll be in 10 years time?! Who knows what I’ll be doing! How amazing is that?!” Other times its: “OH GOD WHERE WILL I BE, AND WHO WITH, AND DOING WHAT?! TELL ME SOMEWHERE PRETTY WITH SOMEONE KIND, DOING SOMETHING AWESOME…”.

So trying to figure everything out and beating myself up when I don’t reach a nice neat answer, a simple conclusion; is pointless. I am aware of this, but then you always are; you know you’re doing it but you haven’t quite worked out how to stop, it’s just always so tempting because your mind says you absolutely can reach an answer if you think hard enough. Your mind can be very convincing. It knows how to play you. So you allow yourself to go down these spiralling never-ending paths, you go round and round, the same old maze with the same old thoughts. Nothing is achieved.

Being present, living in the now, is the only logical thing to do. (Do read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, it is a game-changer). It doesn’t make you ignorant. It doesn’t mean you have to be in denial of your problems, or the world’s problems. Yes, be responsible, be practical, think ahead, make plans, be aware of what’s going on in the world and do your bit etc etc, do what you need to do but don’t make yourself miserable ruminating to no avail. You know the difference between productive planning/problem solving/ focused goal-setting and plain old overthinking.

“Rather than being disheartened by the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it and relaxed into it? What if we said, “Yes, this is the way it is; this is what it means to be human,” and decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?” – Pema Chödrön

There is hope. It lies in acceptance, mindfulness and in the doing. Acceptance can be seen as quite a passive term, but it’s quite the opposite with regard to uncertainty. Acceptance is one of the most powerful states there is because you are coming from a place of love as opposed to fear. Accepting uncertainty doesn’t have to be hard, we resist it, but we don’t have to. Your mind wants all the answers, but it doesn’t actually need them. You don’t need to always know what is going to happen in order to function, to live a fulfilling life. It’s scary, petrifying even, but it’s also what makes life so exciting, so full of wonder and unforeseen magnificence.
And anyway, answers don’t come to an anxious mind. Answers and insight come when you are doing as opposed to thinking. They come when you are in flow, in a state of clarity, of sheer presence, maybe out in nature… or doing something you love. And by in flow, I mean when you’re so into what you are doing, so in the moment that you lose track of time, the hours simply melt away.

I’ve slowly realised that it’s insane to try and figure everything out all at once, because life changes every single day. Opportunities, people, events, seem to prop up out of nowhere that can change the course of things entirely. It’s virtually impossible to even attempt a “five year plan” – or any kind of plan that might make me feel more secure- when I cannot pin-point exactly where I want to be in five years’ time. I just can’t, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be any less successful or happy or fulfilled. It doesn’t mean I don’t have direction. Because I know, in my heart and head, that I do everything I can each day to get me closer to where I want to be, I give my all. I do the work, the inner and outer work. I take one step at a time and I know I am moving forward. I am enjoying the journey even if the destination isn’t always clear. Sometimes it’s shitty but I trust that part of it too, because there are lessons to be learned, experiences to reflect upon. For the most part, I trust myself. And really, that is all one can do; give your all, trust yourself, and enjoy the journey.

“But I have my life, I’m living it. It’s twisted, exhausting, uncertain, and full of guilt, but nonetheless, there’s something there.”
― Banana Yoshimoto

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