A couple I know has a son who was recently diagnosed with Turrets Syndrome due to certain behavioral ticks he developed over the last few years. At a Fourth of July barbeque, the father described to me with noticeable relief a conversation he’d had with his son’s neurologist. The neurologist explained that no one really understood why children developed these ticks nor why these ticks often abated; he explained the predictable pattern of symptomatic evolution, how the symptoms begin around age five, increased in severity through preteen-hood, and then usually taper off around age fifteen. As an afterthought, he added that anxiety likely plays a part in the onset of the syndrome as much as any chemical or neurological factors.
I am not a doctor, but I would suggest that anxiety had everything to do with the onset of this syndrome, that anxiety, in one form or another, is at the root of all odd human behavior. It is certainly true for me, and I came to understand it was true for my son Sawyer. Sawyer was prone to some odd behavior, all of which was the product of him trying, in his young way, to cope with anxiety. When, as parents, we stopped focusing on the behavior and started focusing on the anxiety, the behavior—albeit very, very gradually—began to change naturally.
Yet it wasn’t until recently, as I looked more closely at my own anxiety, that I came to see that all anxiety is simply the belief in or the attempt to solve problems that don’t exist. The human mind is incredibly resourceful. It can turn anything into a problem. It can turn rain into a problem and sunshine into a problem. It can turn sex into problem and it can turn abstinence into a problem. And by a problem I mean a circumstance that I believe stands between me and happiness. I cannot be happy if my son keeps talking to himself and so it is a problem. I cannot be happy unless I sell this book and so not selling it is a problem. I cannot be happy unless everyone at this party admires me or thinks I am attractive. The list is quite literally endless.
As I describe in No One Is Broken, being Sawyer’s father taught me that nothing actually stands between me and happiness. Love and happiness are one and the same, and love is always unconditional. No event or circumstance can cast a shadow across the light of love, only the story I tell about those events or circumstances. The doctor changed the story my friend had been telling about his son, and he – the father – was no longer anxious himself for his son’s ticks were no longer a problem, just a process of life. So it goes.
I would like to tell you that, having come to this understanding, I have stopped telling shadowy stories about life. Unfortunately, I tell them daily. No matter. I am a storyteller by nature, and every story contains by necessity a little shadow so that it’s light is that much clearer. I become anxious when I believe my story has ended in shadow, that I am condemned to dwell forever in a valley. There in the darkness, full of bitterness and disappointment, I try to manufacture light with the meaningless pieces of the world. It is only when I have exhausted these that I decide to travel on anyway, despite what I had called an end, drawn by a light I cannot actually see but only remember—until remembering and seeing are the same.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.