When the Future Frightens Us

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By. Becca Carucci

This spring, after a long six months of acclimating to a full time job at a mental health clinic, moving on from a summer heartache and adjusting into the realities of life outside of college, I found myself on a therapist’s couch consumed with feeling alone in struggling through the complexities of life during this time... “I am half-way through my twenties, alone in the decisions that I have to make, and overwhelmed by the fear of the implications of a wrong choice if I can even find the courage to make one.”

I felt even more alone and stuck while I watched my friends seemingly advance their lives in the directions they wanted to go. These feelings were deeper than mere discontent. Outwardly, my life was fine, but inwardly I had constructed a wide gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. In my curiosity to understand what was going on, I went into layers of old fears that were internalized long ago. I discovered the feelings of loneliness were actually a reflection of how I handle the parts of my life filled with fear. In my efforts to contain it, I handed it power, and with its power, I found myself isolated on a proverbial treadmill.

The question I had to ask myself as I stumbled on the treadmill was this: Is this your current truth or is this an old narrative from long ago that is no longer needed?

We feel the most lonely when we lose sight of our true self. And when our self-concept becomes distorted, fear magnifies everything we see. And what’s the best way to stifle fear? Just get busy. Of course, when we’re busy, our true selves get even more lost in the things we think we have to give our attention to. The cycle self-perpetuates when our worlds become bogged down by the busyness of work and the tediousness of errands. When burnout settles in and you just don’t want to make that trip to the post office. Then, we face a major intersection in life and become paralyzed. We feel the most lonely when we must make big moves and decisions that feel life altering, but by then, we’ve completely given the steering wheel over to fear. And when the fear overcomes truth, we sink deep into self-doubt.

For me, this cycle played itself out as I approached the choice to go back to grad school. Once again feeling stuck and isolated, a feeling of being all alone in a very big world crept in. It felt like when I was five, in a mall, and I turned around and I no longer had sight of my Dad. I wandered store to store calling out for him. A little girl, in a massive space, calling out for someone to be with her in the fear of being all alone. A lot of post-grad and early twenties life feels like that. But that feeling is often too much to bear so I cover it up with busyness. We are so talented at drowning out the cries of our souls when the starting point of tending to them feels unclear. And when we can’t tend to our own soul’s aches, where do we look? At others–And that brings us right back to the top of the cycle: feeling stuck, then feeling alone, busy, more fearful, more stuck, more alone, doubting everything you’ve known, and then sealing the deal by comparing your world to how much better everyone else’s seems.

Comparison is an easy trap to take the bait from when your life feels stuck and you feel alone. I look up ahead and I see all my peers seemingly doing ‘just fine.’ They are succeeding, doing exciting new things, and moving forward. I convince myself that their lives never feel mundane. I bet they never feel like they are aimlessly wandering–just hoping that they are making the right next move. And of course, they never feel lonely or afraid. As the cycle continued to play itself out, my loneliness intensified and that’s when I found myself on my therapist’s couch. She responded to my fear with this question,

“How old do you feel as you talk about these things, Becca?”

“I feel young and I feel so scared.”

For many, their twenties are like losing their parent in the mall. In our twenties, the structures that held us in for our entire lives are ripped out of our hands– school regimens, home and family routines, and so many others that seemingly made our choices for us. We are forced to form new realities that fit with who we’re becoming. We skip the step of grieving those structures that were so formative and secure, and wonder why we find ourselves grasping at anything (usually unsuccessfully) for a sense of security and new identity.

For me today, it’s the decision of grad school. For you, it may be staying or leaving a job, who to be with, who to leave, what lease to sign–our twenties are filled with these choices that feel like absolutely everything in the moments we must make them. And in that everything-ness, it is so easy to feel alone, unsure, stuck, and in comparison to others, inadequate.

Of course we know, we were never made to be alone, and most likely we are not. Yet when well intentioned people try to comfort us with trite reminders, it leaves us frustrated, not soothed. To feel soothed, we must believe we are surrounded by people, who are, for no better reason than us, afraid to say they feel alone too.

There’s only one way to break this cycle of fear and isolation we hide our pain behind–by doing the one thing your soul is signaling not to–be honest about your experience and internal world. I have found that to stand up to the beast that speaks the lie of loneliness, you must offer your truth and the reality of your pain to those who know you best. And that’s the only healthy way to move through these difficult times. Share it with those who will pick up the pieces of your heart when you cannot, with those who will champion you on in growth and with those who will remind you of who you truly are when you forget.

I was recently on a walk with my roommate discussing a big change she is approaching in her life. Teary eyed, she said, “What if I make the wrong decision?” As her best friend and someone who knows her well, I know that that, yes of course this will be a difficult choice but because she has everything she needs within her already, without a shadow of a doubt–she will be okay. I told her I wish I could swap my eyes out for hers so she could see the absolute brilliance I see when I look at her ability to create art that is poignant and stunning. Who else can do that but her?! In her vulnerability, she offered her truth to me. And in safety, I reflected back to her the true version of herself that fear and loneliness had muddied.

When your eyes cannot see the truth, may you dig deep in courage to ask someone to reflect it back to you. “I so badly wish I could give you my eyes in this moment, to see your true self, to take in the beauty of existing with you in this moment.” We are not the twisted criticisms we make up in our head when we feel discouraged. We are not the lies that resound in moments of shame and loneliness. We are not alone even when we do a fabulous job at convincing ourselves that no one could possibly ‘get it.’ Life, and who we are in relationship to it, is so much more complex than the one track narrative of inadequacy we tell ourselves. We are millions of memories and stories, living and breathing, surviving and thriving, dreaming and moving, and the most true of all is that we are completely capable of making it through the times of life that feel too scary or lonely to navigate.

As long as we do so with others at our side, exchanging our fears and false comparisons for each other’s eyes to see the truth of our stories unfolding, we will find our way. And in your courage to invite others in, the feelings of loneliness and stuck-ness, and the allure of comparison, will fall through your fingers like grains of sand, one by one. What remains are open hands, ready to embrace the joy and goodness of a living a life from your truest place.

Becca Carucci works as a therapeutic specialist at a mental health clinic in Southern California. Her passion for equal access to mental health care was fueled by her work in the developing world in multiple countries where she saw the challenges of mental health go unaddressed for those without resources. She can be found most often with an americano in one hand, a book in the other and The National playing in her headphones.

Megan Febuary