What does safe look like? Last week, I wrote about agoraphobia and how a daily routine that involves travel can spark apprehension and anxiety. It seems like “safe” is impossible. But I more or less got there in 2014. In October 2014, I started working at UVic. The co-workers respected me. The environment was easy to survive in: I was able to drive to campus. I could walk at lunch time. I was working near my life-long partner– my wife. We could drive into work together. We could have coffee together. The income was okay but it was stable. When I didn’t work, I didn’t need to suffer– I could just ‘be.’ Nothing triggered me. I felt safe and as a side effect, my life started to click. My weight started to drop. I had time for friends and family. Safe felt pretty good. Safe felt like the storm had passed and the sky was blue. I was safe for two months and then some big revelations pummeled me and my marriage.
The revelations were regarding events that had been going on for years. In other words, throughout the years I was in turmoil and the time I felt I was safe, I was actually unsafe. My new partner, told me about the time she worked for a really aggressive property development firm. She remembered a handwritten letter from an elderly investor. The woman thanked the developers for the stable return on investment and how much it meant to her. It make her feel safe. That developer went under– taking $370-million including the life savings of this kindly old lady.
Safe is an illusion.
Lack of safety is both realistic and terrifying. We’re not safe. In a universe with viruses and asteroids, we cannot have a lock on being safe. My struggle: if my period of safety was a brief illusion and the reality is paralyzing, what do I do?
I accept that I am unsafe.
That statement has two meanings.
I have to learn to be okay with both of those statements. I am not safe. Any building could collapse. Any car could crash. Any blood vessel could give out. In the next 100 years, there is about a 100% chance one or all of those will hit me. Between yesterday’s 0% chance and the 100% chance these have happened before 2116, I’m hovering about 0% chance with an increasing chance of these happening. So today’s safety is not long term safety.
Likewise: being safe and predictable isn’t ideal. People can anticipate me. They can border me. They can reinforce the walls I don’t want. So: I have to be okay with exceeding safety limits and ask that people understand that I will exceed safety limits while trying to keep the negative consequences from happening.
I shouldn’t play to be safe. I should play to be unsafe short of frequent or severe negative consequences. I should test my limits, not keep back from them. The man who I thought was my Dad had a dud heart and a string of heart attacks before he was 40. He’s not my Dad. I didn’t inherit a bad heart from him. If I push, I may not break. I should push to discover what my boundaries really are– maybe they are far enough out that my arena isn’t a tiny foosball table, but a massive soccer field. Maybe even bigger than that.
Agoraphobia sparks anxiety. Anxiety manifests in two ways: fight or flight. I’ve been running. I’m tired of running. That trick is played out. What if I started to use fight as my outlet for anxiety? Instead of running from what strikes fear in my heart, what if I turn and stare it down? What if I listened to my spirit animal, the wolf? What if I understood what unsafe was and behaved like a predator and not prey? What if I rode the wave of unsafe and accepted that unsafe is the way of the world? The world is unsafe and still millions live quiet asteroid-free lives. Instead of living in a little box and tricking myself into thinking it’s safe, I’m going to work on strategies for thriving in unsafe places. I’m going to find way to thrive by pushing myself outside of safe, predictable and played out.
Photo credit: Flickr