The scarlet letter

I know of only one way through life and that is forward. Not so good at standing still or moving backward. But it has not always been so.

As a child, I was a tiny slip of a thing. Pale, bookish and shy, an anxious observer of life rather than much of a participant. If I was moving forward, it was reluctantly. The world moved too fast for me, people spoke too loudly and expectations were my nemesis—not because I didn’t perform but because I felt I must exceed them.

In my house, love was offered for performance. Talk about incentive systems. I’m sure my parents were unaware this is how it appeared to me, but nonetheless, there it was. If all A+s on my report card, but for one lonely little A—the praise was not to come. Instead, “Why not a plus in this class?”scarletLetter

And so, I jumped through hoops. I also went home “sick” a lot which was less true illness than my anxiety becoming so unbearable that I felt ill.

As I became class vice-president, gave speeches, won scholarships and seemed to be doing all the right things, I felt ill. I had to resist the urge to throw up before starting my first real job, turning in my first real newspaper feature, going on my first real date.

I did not realize that not everyone felt this way. That some people thought such things were not a big deal—not determinants of their worth as a human being. That some people knew how not to put it all on the line.

I wish someone had taught me this early in life.

And yet, I’ve been able to learn this lesson as I’ve aged.

Which makes me a keen observer of those who have not.

I have friends who suffer from acute anxiety and they don’t even know it. They don’t realize that what they feel and put themselves through is excessive. They tend to raise children with the same issue. This may be a chemical thing or it may be environment—but either way, it’s not healthy.

I wish more people were open about the scarlet A they carry around, secretly. No need to suffer alone and in silence.

I was lucky enough to grow out of my anxiety issues. Or maybe, better put, I just faced them. I soon learned the only way to true peace was to face my worst fears. It was hell leading up to whatever I had to face but sweet relief on the back side of the event. I guess the professionals would call that behavioral therapy, but it was self-induced. It worked, which is really all that matters.

As I watch my children navigate a world that throws far too much information, adult content and unfiltered muck at them, I talk to them about taking time to just be. Meditation, deep breathing, zoning out while unplugged—and yet, I feel I’m fighting an uphill battle. Against a world that is anything but unplugged and ready for meditation.

If life were fair, I’d win this one .

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Cindy Tartz Dadik says:

    I’ve got to remember all your good advice blogs!! You’re boys are so lucky to have you!!

  2. Kudos to you and the progress you’ve made. I was one of those students who strived for straight A’s and usually had a few B’s thrown in. I was very shy and full of anxiety. When my son was in first and second grade, I was all hung up about how he did in school. Then I realized that the way he is wired to think and the way schools teach kids are not in concert with one another. I got a big lesson in not worrying so much about grades. His grades are all over the map. Some things he gets and does well, getting an A or B. Other things just do not compute (even with the extra help he gets) and he’ll pull C’s, D’s and a rare F. Am I worried? No. I’m more concerned that he’s learning something and making progress, which he is. He is very bright, is very social, has the kindest heart I know, and is creative out the wazoo.

    1. candidkay says:

      I think there are a lot more students out there than parents admit. And amazingly, I think many of them do well in life if their parents can relax and help them tune into their talents. Book smart was big in my house growing up–and some people just don’t learn well through books. They learn hands-on. I am sure your son will be successful because he has you!

  3. Chris Edgar says:

    Yes, recently I’ve realized that so much of the persona I present to the world is really about avoiding situations in which someone is trying to shout and insult me into submission. I’m determined to look at this and be more willing to welcome those scary experiences because I know it is the next step in my growth.

    1. candidkay says:

      And who wouldn’t want to avoid those situations, right? But they’re powerful learning.

  4. I think the world is more open now about anxiety, certainly more than I was a kid, throwing up before camp every single day I was so scared. (and my mother thought that was normal?) Recently there has been a lot of open talk about Anxiety, I also write about it in my blog. Thank goodness it is talked about, it’s certainly about time. But, I wish young me had some help. It probably would have changed my life and made it easier.

    1. candidkay says:

      So many bits I think we all wonder why our parents didn’t question. But you’re right–so much better now than it used to be–thank God.

  5. Excluding the last two years (ie: divorce mud); I have always inherently been a calm person. The area where it has been hardest and a clash with my family (previously my husband and now two of my four children) is being late. I am always on time when it counts; but when it doesn’t count I am not (therein lies the clash). It is great to now live by myself and not have to worry about the two hours of anxiety before an event in the vain attempt to try and be on time to their standards. Now I can relax and take my time because it does not matter if I am late – and interestingly now I rarely am late and I swear that it was them stressing about me being late that made me late.

    1. candidkay says:

      That relaxation must be a wonderful feeling for you.

  6. What a helpful post to read when I’m struggling with anxiety myself, thank you Kay for reminding me to slow down and smell the roses blooming outside the window

    1. candidkay says:

      You’re entitled to it when you’re publishing a book! But it sure does hamper the creative flow, or as I like to say: messes with my mojo:)

  7. Ned's Blog says:

    I couldn’t agree more. And perhaps it’s because I wasn’t an overachiever that I am more aware of the prevailing anxiety level in my own kids (and kids in general). I really do think it’s a product of overload in brains that haven’t caught up to the technology that is constantly prodding us, reminding us to move faster and steadily sapping our patience levels to near empty. It really concerns me, and you post makes me feel more justified — instead of just a cranky “old man.” 😉

    1. candidkay says:

      Isn’t it funny, Ned, that our positions on opposite ends of the spectrum make us more aware with our kids? I wish more parents were tuned into this!

      1. Ned's Blog says:

        You and I both 😉

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