The Worst Has Already Happened and It’s Going to Be OK

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Failure, rejection, isolation: these are just a few of the things I fear on a day to day basis. Perhaps I don’t even take the time to reflect on what I fear the most. Fear can simmer in the back of my mind.

In our work, in our relationships, and in our spirituality, we often fear the worst happening.

I fear that no one will care about my next book.

I fear that the people I respect will reject me or, worse, ignore me.

I fear not having close friendships while everyone else has tight-knit communities who rally around them and cheer them on.

Writing has pushed me to face these limits in so many ways on a regular basis. On many occasions the worst has happened. I’ve faced all of these fears, and without a doubt they have left me devastated, sad, and despairing about the future.

Then something unexpected happened: the sun rose on another day, and another after that.

I didn’t really have any choice in the matter. I had to figure out what to do next.

I may have endured some of these struggles quietly, but don’t mistake that for handling them gracefully.

Facing failure, seeing my worst fears come to life again and again, and staring into the vast expanse of loneliness for long seasons pushed me to also see all of the unhealthy ways I’d relied on flimsy crutches to keep myself standing. Things such as the validation of the crowd or of specific authors and editors were given far too much weight in determining the value of my work and my progress in my calling.

Rejection today does not mean it’s inevitable for next year or five years from now if I keep working and try something different.

Most striking, the perspective I’ve gained after facing my worst fears revealed to me that so many of my worst fears were already realized long before I thought I was facing them. In many cases I lived in either delusion or ignorance, and it took falling on my face dramatically to finally remove my own blinders.

I saw the hard truth: while I feared that readers would be apathetic about my work, I could finally see in hindsight that very few people cared about my writing when I started out, and rightfully so. I needed a lot of time to work on it and to build deeper connections.

I don’t know how to avoid starting off so fragile. I know that the number one fear of bloggers is that no one will read their posts. So many don’t start because of this fear. I worked at my blog for several years without seeing much traction. It was the worst.

Then the sun came up again and again and again. I tried something different, and things finally started moving forward. I could point to several different factors, but perhaps I most needed to fail before I could figure out the right way forward.

With so many things in life we have to ditch the narrative of steady progress. Writing has showed me that it’s more like a series of wrong turns, crashes, and stretches of progress. I’ve been all over the map, and I don’t think I could truly move forward until I finally felt stuck, lost, or banged up beyond usefulness.

I had to be jarred from my daydream. It took failure to make me realize just how tough things were at the outset. And yet, once I saw how bad things were, I finally saw that things could may be OK if I kept moving forward.

I have no doubt now that the bad days will come again and again. I also know that there will be good days and even days of slow, incremental progress. I know that I have a calling to write, but that doesn’t guarantee a smooth trip forward.

Writing has served as a kind of lab for living. It has given me a much higher tolerance for pain and failure in other areas of my life. I am learning that I may fail others at times in relationships, but I can make progress in being more considerate or less controlling. I may really hate the first three months of running, but at a certain point I’ll start to crave my weekday runs. I may really struggle to focus for five minutes during prayer, but if I keep failing and trying month after month, I can build myself up to 20 minutes of quiet meditation that feel far more natural—and needed.

I still fear plenty of things. Worry is a lifestyle or habit that I’m learning to break. Some days I fail dramatically at trusting God with my worries and cares. I’m grateful that I’ve failed enough to know that tomorrow promises another day to take a step forward.

Two Years Ago I Had an Anxiety Attack And Then We Had a Baby

Ethan birthday with Ed CyzewskiTwo years ago I was losing my mind. Fifteen years of dreading my (limited) role in the labor process and exponential fear about parenthood culminated in an evening when we wife walked into our bedroom at midnight and told me, “It’s starting.”

“Dear God, help me,” was about all I could pray as I writhed in the grips of an anxiety attack. My chest tightened and I puffed out my breaths, the prospect of sleep all but gone at that point.

This moment was the culmination of many, many anxiety attacks and public faintings.

Learning about the birth process in college?

Out cold in my desk.

Talking about having a baby four years ago?

Panic attack.

Going to Bradley birth class with my pregnant wife?

Panic attacks.

Infant CPR class?

Panic attack.

Thinking about birth?

Panic attack.

I nearly lost my mind anticipating the birth of Ethan. It was nine months of living in fear of what I wanted the most. I really wanted to have a child. I was just terrified of the labor process and of being a parent to a helpless little baby.

The fears kept invading my mind:

I was going to drop the baby, suffocate the baby, or expose the baby to innumerable dangers. I would surely do something to hurt our child.

And even if our child managed to survive my incompetence, I could also be a terrible father. Here’s the thing: I get bored around other people’s kids. I mean, they’re great. We interact and play. It’s a great time for 30, even 60 minutes. But could I survive an entire day of attentiveness to my own child? Would I just end up praying for him to leave me alone or take a nap or something?

My pounding heart aside, we couldn’t stop labor.

So this is what happened, we took a lot of walks. I tried to control my anxiety, and when things got totally insane and my wife went through transition in the car on the way to the hospital, I got my head in the game, guiding her through a calming breathing procedure that calmed myself as well.

We were in this amazing rhythm and kept it going on the way up the elevator to the delivery floor even as a nurse chided me for not “encouraging” her.

It was otherworldly to think that a baby would soon come out of my wife. I was relatively calm, and I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t the one actually in labor. In fact, it helped to remember that I had a role to play as support for Julie.

The closer we got to the actual birth, the calmer I became, more focused, more aware of the moment. Anxiety didn’t have any space in my head to inject worst case scenarios. Soon we had a little baby snuggled against my wife’s chest as she said, “Oh sweetheart, sweetheart!”

When the nurses weighed him, I stood by his side and let him grip my finger, rubbing his head and belly.

Everything in the past two years has been wonderful and exhausting. Having my own child was completely different. It’s always a wonder to see your own child develop and change from day to day, learning and experimenting, improvising in his own ways.

You never know what he’s going to put in one of the pots in our kitchen. He may just as likely help me stir an egg as plunge his hand into the bowl. Some days he’ll throw a ball right to me and other days he’ll turn away from me and throw the ball as hard as he can.

You wonder, what is he thinking?

We’re anticipating our next son any day now. He’s due on July 22nd, but my wife has already had a few strong contractions that ended after she sat down for a while. On Monday she was exhausted and had a few contractions, and the old anxiety returned. I could barely focus on my work all morning.

What brought on the anxiety?

I’m not sure. I didn’t really have any concrete fears that morning. Just the waves of anxiety rolling in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps I feared change and the unknown. Perhaps I had no good reason for all of the anxiety.

I thought of Ethan and how wonderful the past two years have been.

He’s had his bumps and bruises that no parent could prevent. He’s stolen hours and hours of sleep. He pooped on me once. That’s about it. Generally speaking, there most likely isn’t anything to fear at all. It’s just one big unknown cliff I’m jumping off, and I don’t get to say when the leap begins.

When you leap into the unknowns of parenthood, you fall into the wonder of praying over your child and finding that it connects you with the heart of God like nothing else. It’s like getting baptized in the Holy Spirit every time for me. I’ve fallen into the joys of watching him play in his pool where he dumps after from one boat to another, seeing him build train tracks and push his trains around for hours, and reading books together that he later picks up to “read” on his own with crossed legs.

There are many unknown blessings that you land on if you leap into parenthood.

I know that my wife is healthy, the baby is in great shape for a safe delivery, and friends will care for Ethan’s every need. We don’t have much to fear.

Two years ago our life changed forever. Besides the lost sleep and the pooped-on t-shirt I threw out, I learned that the majority of my anxiety has no basis in reality. It’s just an exercise in my mind shadow-boxing, flailing against the impossibility of controlling the future.

After my anxiety attack this past Monday, I stepped back and saw all that has been wonderful and joyful about parenting Ethan. I saw that anxiety may come, but it doesn’t have to stay.

It took the arrival of a beautiful little boy two years ago with a perfect head of hair to show me that fear of the unknown cannot compare with the ever-expanding love of parents for their children.