“What kind of a sad freak are you?” Inner monologues that start like this are never good. I press my face into my yoga mat and cry.
There is nothing as ugly and frustrating to encounter as your own limitations. Barriers you watch yourself approach, then skitter away from, fully aware that they exist only in your own ruthless imagination but equally unwilling to breach them.
I place my forearms on the ground and lightly kick my legs up above my head. My feet come together at the top and I stay there, still and calm. Impressive, no? Eighteen inches behind me is the living room wall. My body doesn’t know that because my legs never swing far enough past center to touch it. But my brain knows. I try the same exercise in the middle of the floor. Legs go up. I feel the familiar hug of my stomach muscles tightening to hold me upright…then a flood of panic-induced adrenaline bursts through my innards and I immediately hurtle my legs back to the safety of the firm floor. I curl into a ball, face planted on the ground.
This is the part where I berate myself and cry. I held myself back! For no good reason! I was there, I was fine, but my brain yanked me back like a jealous friend, “you think you’re so superior, don’t you?”
I think about other moments in my life when I have recognized my ability to do something, but turned away instead. Afraid of failing, afraid of succeeding. They are both terrifying because regardless of what happens you are different afterwards. The road splits ahead of you, the path changes. Curling up in a ball and crying only buys you so much time…
I’ve always been a timid decision maker, a master in the art of deftly side-stepping the activities that make me uncomfortable (how do you think I’ve gone this long without a driver’s license?) I mask my shortcomings well by making a show of plowing ahead with the things I am comfortable doing. In yoga-land this means I can use my flexible back to distract from my tight hamstrings. In commuting terms it means I can boldly bike through the rain so we don’t have to talk about how I’m not allowed to drive a car without a licensed driver in the passenger seat. Interacting with other creatures? I’ll happily pick up a snake or spider, but let’s not discuss the fact that talking to people I don’t know kind of freaks me out. What to do with my life? I’ll just sign up for a Ph.D. (the academic equivalent of individually plucking every one of your leg hairs) so no matter how aimless I am you’ll still have to call me Doctor. (You know, eventually.)
Deflection. Smoke and mirrors.
I’m not alone in this little game. We all play to our strengths. We all cling to the safe and familiar like a chunk of garlic to ward off the soul-sucking doubts.
I don’t remember how I did it, but a few years ago I managed to start doing headstands (mechanically different from the forearm stand that reduced me to blubbering, but still an upside down pose). I wish I could go back and examine that process, figure out how I finally managed to force myself past the blockade of trembling misgivings to hurl my legs skyward, far away from the comforting wall.
It’s doable, but now I find myself on the other side of that accomplishment. Now begins the rest-of-life when I have shown myself capable of something and must therefore follow through. I think this is the part of holding back that we forget: that our fear of succeeding and who our success makes us might be reason for hesitation as much as our fears of failing. If I can do this crazy cool yoga pose I’m throwing myself into this pool of crazy cool, confident yogis. I’m an imposter! Just because I have some trifling arm muscles doesn’t mean I’m ready to be seen as the kind of person who can do these neat tricks (shh, fellow yogis, I know it’s more than a trick, I plead artistic license to hyperbole).
Just because I have finally learned how to drive a car doesn’t mean I’m 100% OK with the responsibility that comes of operating one without my husband’s watchful gaze. Just because I can pontificate articulately about a variety of interesting topics doesn’t mean I’m ready to trade in my wallflower camo for a social butterfly’s wings. Just because I’m reasonably smart and have done years of research doesn’t mean I’m prepared to be viewed as an “expert” in anything.
As it turns out, I’m just as afraid of getting up as I am of falling.