I’ve been good with words since I was a kid. When I was five, I wrote a letter to Senator Ted Kennedy wishing him luck in his Presidential run. That summer I wrote back and forth with my kindergarten teacher, Sister Roberta. She thought it’d be good for us to be pen pals. Words don’t usually fail me when I can hunt and peck from a remove, and more often than not they provide the comfort of distance and perspective…
Maybe I’ve been good with words, but I’ve also been pretty good at being afraid of life for just as long. Sometimes this has manifested itself in relatively harmless ways, but during other periods of my life, it’s been like a rock on my fucking chest, like I’m not sure I’m going to make it another day.
I remember being six or seven and absolutely terrified that my ride, five minutes late for pickup, would never arrive–and that would be it, school would close, I’d be left in the parking lot by myself, and I’d just sink into hell through a crack in the pavement. I remember being twelve, going to a new school, and sitting in Latin class every morning for six months thinking about whether it’d be better to die before or after my parents died, whenever that would be. Every morning. Being sixteen and afraid to drive, being eighteen and afraid to drink, being twenty and afraid every second of the day my college girlfriend would leave me for someone smarter, better-looking, whatever.
Twenty-five, delivering wine in New York city, convinced I was being followed by scam artists and creditors, catching my reflection in a store window and being horrified by what I saw: hollow, dead, wide eyes. Like they couldn’t see anything but debacle. So many long, shitheaded nights in a big empty city, because the morning fears wouldn’t abate until after supper and it was like I had this window of four or five hours to attenuate by any means necessary.
And being forty-two and convinced I was dying, for a good six months. Standing at the computer on the worst morning I hope I will ever have in my life in July 2016 and writing my family goodbye letters. My sons were 7 and 5 at the time. Jesus. I had a doctor’s appointment and thought I wouldn’t make it home. Thank goodness I was wrong.
And yet, I am more than that. I have to be. I am a husband and father and I love my wife and sons more than anything. I am a brother and a son. I am a business owner. When I think of all of the things that I already AM, it reminds me that I don’t have to have all of the answers; I don’t have to be afraid of life anymore or all of the time but I can wake up every morning and resolve to let my ACTIONS define who I am in this world. I don’t have to control all the minutes of my day or every interaction on the docket. I can countenance worry but I can move forward. I can respond instead of react. I can do the next right thing. I can run the next play, and let that be enough. I can be movement and strength and kindness and let those things tell my story.
And I am a weightlifter because when I get under that bar and take it into the hole, it doesn’t matter how much weight there is, or what face I make, or anything really other than this:
Will I stand up?
To read more of Justin’s writing check out his blog, A Lifetime of Strength: Thinking Things Through, One Rep at a Time.
If you would like to share how you are more than your mental struggle, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a Writing Guide.
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