Finding inner refuge when things get gloomy
It’s as predictable as sunrise. Every single time I start a new project, I go all in, working with laser focus to create good content and wrap it up in a pretty package. Then I hit the Publish button and…
I. Completely. FREAK OUT.
After posting my first Substack newsletter last week, I felt sick to my stomach. A familiar Launch Day feeling by now, but unpleasant regardless. So I drank tea and cozied up with my family. I went outside to water the garden and started weeping at random intervals. (At least the plants got a little bonus moisture!) Later I found myself so full of agitation that I decided to channel my nervous energy into cleaning the shower, and you can bet I scrubbed that grimy grout HARD. By the evening, all I could do was flop on the bed and lie there with my cat snuggled up next to me.
For most of my life, I have excelled at making myself invisible, at being quiet and unobtrusive. So when I do anything counter to that, anything that pushes me into the spotlight—from speaking up in a group to posting on Instagram to, say, publishing a novel—fear comes roaring in like a thunderstorm, raging so loudly that it blots out everything else.
There was a brief moment last fall, after I had a truly amazing therapy breakthrough, when I thought, This is it! I’m cured! I dealt with the root issue and now I won’t have these problems anymore, I am free to make stuff and put it out there and not care about how it’s received because I’m secure in who I am and I’m proud of the things I’ve made and if people don’t like it that’s not my problem!
Cue bitter laughter. Several launches later, I can now say confidently that… I think I’ll be dealing with this my whole life. There is a core part of my self that will never stop wanting to be liked and accepted. Sending my work out into the world will probably always be painful.
This fear has a purpose, I know. It wants me to be socially accepted and is trying to protect me from rejection, a fate that—ridiculous as it may sound to some—feels worse than death to me (or right on par with it, anyway). But making myself invisible doesn’t get me any closer to where I really want to be, because obviously no one can accept me if they can’t even see me! When I’m stuck in fear’s stormcloud, though, that doesn’t feel obvious at all. Avoiding rejection becomes way more important than seeking out connection.
Sometimes all of this hurts so much and drags me down so far that I wonder why I put myself through this in the first place. Is publishing just my favorite instrument of self-torture? I often wonder if I’d be happier if I just wrote for myself and didn’t share it with anyone else. This whole thing often feels self-inflicted and avoidable.
But that’s the catch, isn’t it? FEAR IS NOT AVOIDABLE. It stalks us wherever we go. Around every corner, every scroll, every click, a new fresh horror might be waiting. Right now I’m feeling the fear of social rejection most acutely, but there are infinite flavors of it. Plenty more existential dread where that came from!
Storms don’t last forever, though, and good things can spring up in their wake. To take a recent real-life example: I’ve been followingand loving every single article writes, so I decided to leave a comment. Easy, right? For me, not so much. I spent a while composing one, then started second-guessing everything and doubting that my thoughts on the topic were worth sharing. I came very close to backing out and not posting it. But I did it anyway. And I’m so glad I did, because the resulting exchange really warmed my lonely little heart and felt like the first step in building a deeper connection with a writer I admire.
Still. I want the classic fairy-tale happy ending, where I conquer fear so decisively that it never returns. For a long time, I thought that was the end goal, the only satisfactory outcome. But the thing is, fear is part of my internal ecosystem. Fighting against it, trying to punch those stormclouds with my puny little fists, just wears me out and accomplishes nothing.
And so I’m no longer trying to get to some state where the clouds never come. Now I notice fear’s arrival and greet it (though not exactly with open arms). My internal conversations with it are less, “I DON’T WANT YOU HERE! GO AWAY!” and more, “Oh hey Fear, you’re back again? Fine, you can stay.” And then I seek out an inner place of refuge where I can watch as the storm rages without getting caught up in it.
This refuge is easier to find if I’m also paying close attention to whatever random comforts my body is telling me it needs. A ginger chew or handful of chocolate chips? A vigorous shaking? A barefoot walk through the yard? A belting-out-songs-as-loud-as-possible karaoke session? Whatever it is, I try to heed that call.
One of my goals, in this space and in life, is to not let fear guide my decisions. I’m getting better at being able to tell when I’m so stuck in the storm that I can’t see clearly, but it’s still a work in progress. This post in itself is proof that I’m getting there, though. (And here I have to pause and thank you all for the warm welcome to Substack—every like, comment, and subscription has given me such a boost!)
So I continue on, with the goal of posting something every week. I know it’s gonna be cloudy out sometimes, but I left a light on so that I can find my way back to my inner refuge, even when things get stormy.