99U, artistic exploration, creativity, Gut churn, Into the unknown, Jad Abumrad, Maria Popova, Mental Health, MIlton Erickson, Mind-body divide, Panic, Radio Lab, Self-doubt, Stress response, This American Life, Vulnerability
What have I done? My heart is pounding, my ears are ringing, my hands are shaking, my palms are clammy, and my insides feel like they are literally fermenting. I keep bending over my knees to put my head between my legs; I think because I am still under the mistaken impression that this position will keep me from hyperventilating. I am also sweating so much I am beginning to worry that my shirt will dissolve. This is really happening, and I caused it.
I chose to expose myself, but I am not remaining calm. I’m a wreck. My body clearly does not agree with my mind about the benefits of sharing my intimate thoughts publicly. I am experiencing full-blown panic and all of my instincts are telling me to retreat, run, and hide far, far away. But none of those things will change what I’ve done—there is no going back.
With no way for me to flee, I am going to try making the best of my present circumstances. I suppose that means thinking and writing about what purpose all of this is serving. So, for starters, I need to clarify something. Yesterday, several people very generously used the words brave and courageous to describe me. I am so NOT brave. Honestly, what I am is nauseous, exhausted (I haven’t really slept much in the last few days), and bewildered. (Yikes, I apologize for breaking a number of This American Life‘s “7 Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About” rules).
Seriously, though, the best way to describe what I did and what I am doing is blind desperation. I don’t want to diminish the kindness so many of you have shown me. It has been thoroughly heartwarming. I am grateful for your words and more than that I am truly encouraged by the number of people who have been willing to share their stories too. That is really the point of all of this. Still, instead of calling my actions courageous, how ’bout we say that I am a reckless and frenzied explorer? I think I am okay with that description. It makes me feel like I am just another creative person trying to find my way, experiencing all the attendant physical and emotional repercussions.
I remember hearing a perfect way to describe the crazed state of an artist in the throes of real experimentation. What Jad Abumrad the host of Radio Lab calls “Gut Churn.” I discovered this term after reading one of Maria Popova posts “on diving head-first into the unknown.” She was inspired after seeing Abumrad’s talk at a 99U conference. Popova describes Radio Lab as “sparking a singular kind of magic,” and Abumrad’s lecture was about how his show has managed to be so successful.
Abumrad prepared for the talk by interviewing the show’s co-creator, Mikel Ellcessor to try to get a sense of how they were able to persevere and develop the show into what it is today. When asked about “the beginning,” Ellcessor barely hesitates before he confidently says, “gut churn.” That was what he remembered–“years of being sick to [his] stomach” and a head that “just hurt.” Abumrad described it as “that radical uncertainty that you feel when you’re trying to work without a template.”
Their descriptions match my experience right now. Although I am not a MacArthur genius with a wildly successful radio show, and I can’t imagine sparking anything, much less magic. I am just a nobody with unrelenting self-doubt. I have no idea what I am doing, my gut is “churning,” and I don’t feel brave. That said, I am trying to focus on something that Abumrad says about 20 minutes into his lecture. He quotes Milton Erickson‘s theory about how we can choose [emphasis mine] to think about something. He says Erickson believed that “you can take the worst feeling in the world and you can reframe it and suddenly that feeling becomes the solution.”
I like this idea. I don’t think I have “chosen” to believe in it exactly, but there might be something to it. Breathe, feel, think, write—tolerate living with all the ambiguity and apprehension—that’s about as far as I can see, for now. I haven’t reframed anything yet, but if this post helps me sleep a little better, sweat through fewer shirts, or best of all connect with people despite my embarrassment or theirs, then things might be heading in the right direction.