When was the last time you tried something for the first time?
After living in Canada for 21 years, this weekend I finally had the chance to go skiing for the first time. Despite my initial reluctance – i.e. that I dislike the snow, winter and being cold – I had such a good time. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun doing anything! I genuinely really enjoyed myself and generally felt like I was fully present moving my body and enjoying the sun with some great people. This time last year, even some months ago for that matter, I couldn’t have even imagined that this would be possible – physically OR mentally. It just goes to show that things can turn out better than your anxiety tells you and even if you’re sceptical, sometimes just taking a chance proves to be worthwhile, but you’ll never know unless you try.
I get that this might come off as an overly-sentimental post for someone who just slid down a few *small snowy hills for the first time, but as someone who’s life was only the size of their bed a short few months ago and could hardly make it out of the house, let alone to school, this means more to me than many might understand. As someone who is learning to feel again, and who often thinks it might be “too much”, I’m letting myself feel the good stuff too, and boy is it about damn time.
I’m using this weekend to reiterate everything I’ve been working so hard at recently. So, here are some of these little lessons I’m trying to embrace.
I don’t have to be so hard on myself.
First and foremost this was an eye-opening opportunity for me to see just how hard on myself I actually am. Interestingly (and maybe even fortunately) however, I was able to recognize this almost from a distance – almost. (I think my counsellor once referred to this as de-centering – an important step to recognizing and subsequently even choosing responses to things like intrusive thoughts or triggering situations etc.) I say “almost” because only when I sat down for a breather with my wonderfully-patient, ski-coach-for-the-weekend boyfriend, were we able to reflect on my harsh attitude towards myself.
I knew coming in to this weekend that I was going to have to try and go easy on myself as a first-time-skier because my usual expectations would undoubtedly set me up for failure, which I tend not to deal with very constructively. In fact I even reminded myself a couple times during the days preceding, that I shouldn’t hold unhealthy expectations of myself and that I should try to have patience when we finally hit the slopes. Unfortunately, somewhere between this passive thought to my own expectations and actually stepping into skis for the first time, the objective knowledge that I am expected to make mistakes and that it will take some time to learn, apparently went out the window.
On our first few slides down the baby bunny hill, my frustration with myself came out and occasionally misdirected – towards my poor boyfriend as well. I think part of the reason I get so frustrated when I can’t succeed at something (while, among other things, it makes me feel conceited and entitled) actually comes from the fact that I tie my self-worth up into how well I “do” at things. I interpret any failure or mistake as owing to my lack of ability, effort and consequently – worth. Obviously I can objectively acknowledge that this isn’t true, and I certainly don’t impose this view on anyone else, but when it comes to myself I can’t help but let this erroneous intuition of sorts take over. It feels almost intuitive at this point because it has so often been the path my brain takes that it happens almost automatically, and having experienced the effects of trying something for the first time, I’m not surprised that when I make mistakes at something else (say something familiar for that matter!) I really struggle to let myself off the hook and not to take it as a blow to my sense of worth.
That being said, this weekend I was able to actually see my mind going down the old path – maybe not in the exact moment, but pretty close (and a lot closer than I used to think possible). I was reminded of that seemingly-elusive moment between what we experience and what our brains are conditioned to do – the moment of choice. The opportunity for change. It seemed to keep slipping out of my grasp yesterday, but nonetheless I’m glad I at least caught a glimpse. I almost feel like a thirsty desert traveler, walking in search of water, finally seeing a lake in the distance and while I’m desperate enough to allow myself to fill with hope, I’m also not entirely convinced it isn’t just a mirage.
One thing at a time
I also realized that, much like in life, I was eager to keep “progressing” and while I might benefit from striving for more on the slopes and elsewhere, it also prevents me from fully realizing all the benefits of my current situation. Not to mention that I can easily get ahead of myself, not only passing up opportunities, but also pushing towards potentially dangerous situations that I don’t want to admit I’m not ready for. Regardless of the multi-faceted reasons for this nagging feeling that I need to do more, I was reminded yet again to appreciate the steps forward, no matter the size, and to accept things for what they are – the mistakes, falls, and everything in between – because it’s about the journey (whether it’s the act of skiing or life itself).
In addition to trying to accept where I’m at, it was actually a nice respite to realize that I didn’t have much chance to let my mind wander or get caught up in my thoughts when I was hurtling down an icy hill at full speed. It was an unusual experience to feel like my mind had an off switch – I didn’t think sliding down a snowy hill during my least favorite season would be where or when I found some mental clarity, but I am so glad I gave the experience a chance. For a day my anxiety was replaced with welcomed adrenaline and concentration. The few occasions when I did get tangled up in my thoughts I immediately observed the consequences and ended up losing control and tumbling down the hill. My response to which was frustration, but as I carried on and kept going, the (almost peaceful) focus returned.
Lean in to the discomfort
One aspect of skiing that is unintuitive to a beginner (or at least to me) is that you have to lean forward onto the ski that is farther down the hill in order to steer. When you start picking up speed your immediate reaction is to draw backwards, but if you do, you lose control. It was interesting to have to recognize this urge and consciously fight it and was satisfying when you could do so successfully. I made a cheesy (but relevant) remark to my boyfriend that this ironically reflects the other aspects of my life that I have been struggling to embrace recently.
Go easy on yourself
You are allowed to make mistakes – in fact there’s nothing more human than messing up. Children fall hundreds of times as they’re learning to walk and you never hear them say that “maybe it just isn’t for them”. Sadly, somewhere along the way our souls get weary and our bodies get tired and we feel like we don’t bounce back as fast as we used to physically or mentally. Remind yourself of this youthful enthusiasm we all hold within us.
Ty to allow yourself the space and time to just be – not striving to be elsewhere, not regretting where you’re aren’t or feeling bad about where you were. You are entitled to being unsure or afraid. There is grace in this space of discomfort and uncertainty.
You are learning and growing – not failing. Mistakes don’t define you. You exist beyond your various abilities, activities and successes or failures. Move at your own pace and try to focus on your own journey – don’t compare it to anyone else’s. There are infinitely many vagaries of the individual human condition that render these comparisons moot anyways.
For what my body can do for me when I fuel it properly
For having a patient, and compassionate boyfriend to teach me.
For friends who are willing to try new things and enjoy themselves in the process.
For having access to facilities and the capacity to afford them.
For the the experience to try something new.