My bout with anxiety is ludicrous when you consider the traits that make it so extreme: vanity and egotism. I feel like a total horse’s ass that I haven’t been able to conquer these embarrassing characteristics–that I still allow them to fill my head with unattainable dreams and expectations. It’s not for lack of trying; but I can’t seem to kill the idea that I should be doing way “better” than I am. People should be saying about me: “Wow, Andrew White is successful.”
I know that I shouldn’t care too much about what others think. That I should stop comparing myself to others–that I should drop out of the “race” up Society Mountain–that I should peel off and find my own route. One that I enjoy every step of the way–one that I can follow with confidence that it is the way for me–and one that brings maximum happiness, which, honestly, may or may not involve fame or fortune but probably doesn’t.
Ironically, one of the few things these days that helps me momentarily step out of the “rat race,” is running.
These past few years I’ve run thousands of miles, and, I’m telling you, there’s credence to that whole “human-beings-used-to-run-nonstop-as-subsistence-hunting-nomads, so-we-should-still-run-lots-because-we-were-born-to-run” theory. Sure: running hurts at times, but only if you’ve been going real long and hard, which you really shouldn’t be doing all that often unless you’re my penis.* And even when you do feel pain at the end of a tough run, it’s possible to go into a meditation of sorts, and cruise for miles without even noticing. If you can get to that state while running–and I know you can–your runs can become like vacations from your anxiety.**
Last week, during a hectic day at work, I learned that one of the senior leaders in my division thought I’d been rude in a presentation I’d given a few days earlier. It worried me to hear that. I wondered what damage I may have caused my career. Meanwhile, my emails were piling up; and my already-Shaq-diesel “to do” list was getting even more jacked. I felt like I might not be able to cut the mustard. I closed the door to my office, determined to get things done–to develop a plan of action–to focus on one thing at a time. But it was useless.
Thirty minutes later, I was outside running.
I started the run in complete train wreck mode–worrying about the work issues mentioned above. But somewhere between miles 3 and 5, I moved on to fretting over my artistic struggles of late. “Why the Hell can’t I write anything? Why can’t I just freakin’ succeed as an artist?” Before too long–per usual–this led me to musing about my feeble attempt to “make it” in Hollywood. How nothing had clicked for me out there; how fear of failure prevented me from putting myself out there and trying.
And, of course, how–lucky me–got to meet Ashton Kutcher. (Seriously, whenever I start thinking about my time in LA, my thoughts always cycle back to meeting Ashton Kutcher. It fucking sucks.) I remember it like it was yesterday.
(SCENE: A SMALL PRODUCTION COMPANY LOCATED ON WARNER BROS STUDIO LOT, BURBANK, CA)
I was photocopying shit in the mail room when I heard a big commotion in the lobby. I poked my head out to see what was going on. The producers, the producer’s assistants, and the producer’s assistant’s assistants were flooding the lobby like a pack of zombies, practically puking all over themselves, to tell Ashton how great That 70s Show was. The big boss, a top producer in Tinsel Town, respectfully called me over (“Hey intern!”) and told me to run and pick up his and Ashton’s lunch order. I didn’t shake Ashton’s hand or anything, but I’m pretty sure he said “Thanks, dude,” which was nice. Anyway, as I walked across the studio lot to the cafe, I felt like like such a horse’s ass. “Could it really be that I am destined to be ordinary?”
(BACK TO: A PICTURESQUE CHAMPLAIN-VALLEY, VERMONT COUNTRY LANDSCAPE, CORNWALL, VT)
“I really am pretty ordinary. I couldn’t make it in the film industry, and my career doesn’t exactly feel like it’s gonna blow up here anytime soon, either… Fuck, I need to do better… But I can’t start over… I’m already so far down this path… Oh, Jesus: fuck, Andrew–stop whining like a little bitch! You have a loving wife and daughter, and a baby on the way. And, look at you now: running, bro, on a beautiful country road. This is where you live, man: Vermont. And it’s a gorgeous day. Now pull your head out of your ass and start enjoying it all.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I studied the jagged Adirondacks in the distance. Then I took in the grass fields laced with purple, yellow, and orange wild flowers. And the birds singing. The insects buzzing through floating dust particles in golden light. Tall grass lining the road, swaying in the wind. With each step, my shoes crunched against the gravelly, dirt road. The warmth of the sun, and the breeze, on my face.
I don’t know: maybe running won’t work for you.*** It does for me, but it’s certainly not the end all be all. I still have my issues. But, honestly, even if you have no legs or something: the point is not merely about running, but about finding whatever it is in this world that can calm you down and help you enjoy, and simply “be” in, the present.
*Sorry to be crude. Really, I am. But this mindless reference to my wang is a badly needed workout for my “I don’t give a fuck” muscle. Purely an exercise in not censoring myself.
**And a wise friend recently told me that even brief moments of respite from your anxiety can be a foothold to longer and longer stretches of contentment.
***The most important thing I do to get to a Zen place while running is simple: I run slow. Honestly, I run a hair faster than walking pace. Try it–it should feel way too easy. If you’re going to push it, push the amount of time you’re out running, not the pace. Also while you’re out there: allow your mind to wander, but every once in awhile, when you think of it, check in with the sights, smells, and sounds around you.