When I was a kid, all the way up to when I was 16 or 17, I didn’t walk through doors first. It wasn’t because I was just being friendly and letting everybody go ahead of me, no, because if someone did want to let me go first I would argue with them until they relented. I didn’t want to go first. I hated uncertainty. I hated when I didn’t know what to expect. I was scared of whatever was behind those doors, even if I was walking into somewhere familiar. It didn’t matter. I didn’t go first.
Thankfully, I outgrew that and I’ll walk in doors first without thinking twice now. I’ll charge ahead if I’m walking with my family or a group of friends and not worry about it at all. I am still, however, uncomfortable with uncertainty. Even more than that, I’m afraid of the unfamiliar. I live a pretty routine life, which doesn’t bother me most days, but every now and again I get an inkling of the person I could be if I’d try new things more often.
When I was younger though, and I tried new things, I either gave up quickly (guitar) or I felt embarrassed for even trying (I can’t think of a specific example that won’t require its own story here, but I know there were LOTS of times this happened. The feelings still linger). So, my brain built up an association with new things. New things = bad. If I try something new, I’ll give up. I’ll fail. If I try something new, I’ll be mortified.
My past self would slather herself in negative self-talk about anything new. Why even bother? I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter. I’ll fail anyway. No wonder I didn’t want to do anything new, it was exhausting battling those thoughts. No wait, I didn’t even battle them. I just let them live inside my head. Also exhausting. I didn’t realize that I was talking like that to myself until I got into some counseling and confronted the part of me that hates myself and is so relentless about it.
Those negative thoughts still creep up on me from time to time, but I had a new experience that shed light on just how much progress I’ve made in the war against the mean voice inside my head.
Besides going into doors first without even thinking about it now, I’m also more willing to try new things. I might be resistant. I will be nervous, but I will try. Most the time. Usually I’ll try if I have my sisters or my husband or some friends to try the thing with me, but this week I did something all on my own. I’ve been wanting to take some kind of work out class, and I wanted something to build not only my strength but my confidence, so I dropped in on a kickboxing class.
At least, that’s what I thought it was.
The class was called “Cardio Boxing,” so I thought it was just a variation of kickboxing.
When I got to the gym, it was pretty immediately clear that I was in for something else, but I was trying not to get too hung up on all the tough guys boxing it out in the corner. I told the woman at the desk that I was dropping in for Cardio Boxing. I paid my $4. I went to the locker room. I sat on the bench and got a little panicky for a minute, but, there was no mean voice in my head! I didn’t even have to battle it. It just wasn’t there! Sure, I felt a little silly for my misunderstanding about what the class was and I told myself that, but the overwhelming voice was kind! I told myself I was just as worthy as those guys to be at the class. I told myself I could do it. And I did.
When I left the locker room, there were still five minutes before the class started and I sat and waited near the class. Then, after watching the guys spar for a while I went and told the woman at the desk that I was feeling nervous. Was that the class? She went and told the instructor my name and got me started.
My past self would have never thought to admit to being nervous. I would have been too ashamed. I would have been paralyzed with fear and I wouldn’t have even moved from my spot at the table where I was waiting. My mind would have been going crazy with negative thoughts. My past self would have been too afraid to leave, but too afraid to go into the class. My present self took charge and was all the better for it.
The coach came over and introduced himself. He got me a jump rope, which is what I attempted to do for the first 15 minutes. It was rough. I’m miserably out of shape. I honestly thought about going up to the coach and saying hey, I can’t do this. This isn’t for me, but I kept at it. The voice in my head said, “I can do it.” Even when I had to stop, which was a lot, the voice in my head remained kind.
After that, he fitted some gloves on me and showed me some basic moves on the bag. Then we (which at this point was just me and two boys, both related to the coach) did some bag work. Again, I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I had to sit down. My hair was a sweaty mop. There was a puddle of sweat where I sat; sweat that was both anxiety and physical exertion. My stomach was a little upset because I hadn’t eaten too well that day and because of the anxiety I’d felt going in, but I kept at it, even when I had to stop and sit down, I didn’t let myself give up. I made it all the way to the end. After the class, I joked with the coach about how I’m so out of shape and he was nothing but encouraging. The boys were encouraging. They said I better come back next week!
I felt so fucking proud.
I am so proud! I’m full of tremendous joy that I was kind to myself. It might seem so small, but it feels huge to me. Now that I know what my brain is like and what I’m capable of in the absence of negative self-talk I can really understand how bad it was before, how much I used to beat myself up verbally. My past self would have felt hideously stupid for not making sure I knew what the class was going to be. My past self would have tried to shift the blame and get mad at the gym for not making it clearer to their customers. My past self would have berated herself for w e e k s about it and taken the mistake and the embarrassment as proof to never do anything new ever again.
Just like, at some point in my life I decided that I can walk through doors first, I can also decide that trying new things is fun. It's worth it. I know I will always have anxiety about new things, that’s normal, but I know that I can face them by being kind to myself and in turn being kind to others. I know that I can face new things, and even if they aren't what I anticipated, I can come away having learned something. I can come away feeling good about myself for trying.
Today, I’m confident. I couldn’t jump rope for very long, I couldn’t keep up with a lot of the bag work, but I’ll catch up. I’ll be able to do it in time.