I’ve been working with a social worker for the past six weeks on a kind of macroeconomic dig into my life, and where I take things from here. It’s been helpful in the same way that working with a psychologist was last year, but further up the stack, so to speak.
One of the things she mentioned at our appointment this week, more of a casual aside than a suggested plan of action, was, to paraphrase, that personal growth only requires taking on 7% more risk.
My friend Bob has a different way of putting this: “humans are lazy and weak unless they do differently.”
Frank Zappa said “progress is not possible without deviation.”
I’ve realized that one of the side-effects of my being a caregiver for so long has been latching on to workable routines with ferocious tenacity. When things are falling apart, finding something that works reliably, and then sticking to it religiously, offers salvation. This has made me disinclined to take risks at all, and my willingness to take them has plunged off a cliff in recent years.
Which is not to say that I haven’t had personal growth thrust upon me: the last half decade has kicked me in the ass in innumerable ways, and I am only now realizing the extent that I’ve emerged a changed person. Singed. But stronger. With a greater capacity to feel, a greater capacity to love, a greater awareness of my limitations and my strengths.
But this growth hasn’t been voluntary: it’s been the result of innumerable in-the-moment reactions to meltdowns and overdoses and broken hip sockets and ceaseless anxiety. Growth by a thousand cuts.
The notion of taking voluntary risks, risks that might have rewards attached to the other end, that’s something my muscles for which atrophied some time ago.
Having realized this, I found myself in need of a sudden burst of voluntary, uncharacteristic risk-taking.
So I signed up for the Bumble dating app.
The mere thought of doing so cause my stomach to twinge in a most unfamiliar way, something I recognized as nervous anticipation, and I figured that was a river I needed to follow if I was going to get to the base of 7% mountain.
The thing about Bumble is that it’s a closed warehouse that you can’t see inside unless you offer yourself up. Having been otherwise spoken-for since the early 1990s, I’d never seen inside the warehouse, and so some of the nervous anticipation was simply about the unknown.
Add that to what amounted to going on the not-entirely-private record as saying “okay, I’m single now,” and a possibly-imagined-but-very-real feeling that the world might think I’m meant to quietly mourn Catherine for the rest of my life, or at least another decade, and that’s a bountiful basket of risk.
What I found surprised me.
Not so much the swiping and the photos and the profiles, nor so much that a large proportion of the people Bumble first offered me up were friends of mine, or friends-of-friends, or sisters-of-friends (I do live on a small island, after all).
But rather that all of the prompts Bumble was giving me were about me. Prompts like “The quickest way to my heart is…” and “I’m hoping you…” and “What makes a relationship great is…”
It seems absurd to admit this, but this “tell me about yourself, and what you’re looking for” thing caught me unaware and completely unprepared to offer up cogent answers.
“How can I help?” (or its cousin “how can I keep you from being overwhelmed?”): that I’m good at; the idea that I would be allowed to have the agency to spell out my tastes in other people and other experiences, that was surprisingly novel.
I took a little griefy detour at this point: while, intellectually, I know that I’ve been a caregiver for a long time, in my heart of hearts that’s never rung completely true, and heretofore I couldn’t figure out why.
The reason why hit me over the head the other day, in the car while driving home from dropping off Oliver: my caregiving didn’t work. Catherine died. I didn’t prevent that. Therefore, what kind of caregiver could I possibly be other than a failed, good-for-nothing caregiver.
This makes no sense, of course, none at all. But the mind conjures up crazy shit and that’s what my mind was conjuring. Merely realizing this went a long way to allowing me to let it go.
With that realized–whew!–I was able to return to the notion of thinking about possible futures, my wants, my needs, etc. And that, man oh man, that is where the risky territory starts.
I got no idea.
So, I switched off my Bumble and I’ll hang out in this voyage of self-discovery part of the river of risk for awhile.
I gotta say, though: that butterfly-upside-down-cake roller coaster twist in my insides when I took a little risk, that was amazing, and gave me hope for what lies ahead.