I’m Afraid Of Everything

After returning home from Costco Wholesale, the place I’ll no longer be employed at in a weeks time, I walk into the kitchen to find a chalkboard mounted on the wall that reads “25 days till the AT”. My mom wrote the words. She’s quite nervous, and understandably so, about my upcoming departure for the Appalachian Trail; a 2,180 mile stretch that crosses 14 states from Georgia all the way up to Maine. It takes the average hiker 5-7 months to complete such an excursion, and the magnitude of such an undertaking is only beginning to sink into my consciousness.

25 days and I’m gone. A part of me gets a rush of excitement when I envision myself backpacking up a mountain, reaching the summit, and wiping the sweat from my brow as I gaze over the temperate forest below; clearly a romanticized picture of things to come. But as the date looms closer, an unsuspecting feeling of trepidation has begun to creep up behind me.

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” My part time coworker and full time friend Rich asked me with a chuckle. This was a couple weeks ago, a time when this question made me smile, and I could easily reassure him with words of optimism. This was his idea, after all. It was about nine months ago, in the Costco bakery, our shared department, when he laid another one of his ludicrous ideas on me between packaging bagels and baguettes. “I want you to walk the Appalachian Trail with me dude. Come on. Let’s do it.” I scoffed at the absurd notion. “Hell no” was my first response to such an endeavor.

But I let the idea really sink in over that fateful shift. At first it seemed like something I’d never do, since I’m someone who plans everything and setting 6 months aside to walk in the woods wasn’t in the plans. Then I got to thinking about what my plans actually entailed. I had recently dropped out of community college to pursue a career in Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA. I had always been a fan of the sport, about the only sport I’m a fan of, and it had always been something I wanted to try my hand at. So screw it, I thought. I’d quit school and train now while I was still young and physically fit. I had been at it for months, and I was loving it. It was grueling yet rewarding. My first MMA practice was the hardest workout I’ve ever done. My body soon adapted to the rigorous training, but getting punched in the face always sucks no matter what shape you’re in. It sort of feels like bumping your head really hard, over and over again. You get used to it.

With over a year of training under my belt I had no amateur fights set, only a few bronze and silver medals won at Jiu Jitsu tournaments. I began to wonder where I was going with this career in MMA. I wanted to fight, to push the envelope, but was I really ready? Uncertainty pervaded this question every time I asked myself, and being someone who can’t help but meticulously plan everything, I asked myself where I might end up with MMA training. Would I make it to the UFC? Could I make enough money fighting to be able to focus on training full time? Was this the type of dangerously intense lifestyle I wanted to cultivate? Suddenly I felt as though I had one foot in the door and one foot out.

Why had I begun this MMA pursuit anyways? Well, it appeared to be for the same reason this Appalachian Trail question began to look so inviting; it terrifies me. Just the thought of it gives me chills. Physical confrontation or hand-to-hand combat is terrifying to me just as living and hiking in the woods is. So what do I do with my fears? Usually I run away with my tail between my legs, but sometimes I muster up the courage to face them. That’s what I wanted to do with fighting; the idea of doing it scared me shitless, but maybe if I actually learned how it wouldn’t scare me so much. So I signed up at Ground Control BJJ/MMA gym in Baltimore and started learning how. With every humbling experience in the gym my fears faded, and I began learning about what my body can do when put under the immense pressures of sparring. But now a new fear was beginning to manifest, an existential fear of what a future in this environment might mean. I visualized myself twenty years down the road with dementia and a myriad of other injuries, caused by traumatic concussions and a brutalizing work out regime. Would I have any money in the bank? Fighters in the UFC, where the highest caliber of MMA fighters compete, are paid notoriously meager wages when compared with the salaries of other professional athletes. Now I had to ask myself how much I really wanted to pursue this thing if it could potentially lead to a real dead end. I knew I loved training, but did I love it enough to dedicate my life to it? Uncertainty pervaded.

But what did it mean to walk the Appalachian Trail? Why did dropping everything and venturing into the woods seem so enthralling? The fear and excitement it instilled in me, for one, but also because it would give me something to focus my attention on. Aside from fight training, I hadn’t had anything to dedicate myself to. I find myself dabbling in various areas of interest without having a singular vision. Being away from everything I’ve been working on may help me to find some solidarity, I thought. I began talking myself into it as Rich pestered me to join him, and before the end of the day, I was all in.

Now here I am, almost ready to embark and a wave of fear hits me. A few months ago I met this girl named Katie, and I’m absolutely crazy about her. People usually don’t plan on falling in love, the feeling just happens and you find yourself wrapped up in it so tightly that everything else seems like background noise. That’s how I felt soon after I met Katie. Ignorance is bliss when you’re madly in love. On our first date I told her I’d be walking the Appalachian Trail in a few months, and she nodded and said something like, “that’s really cool.” At the time, neither of us knew what would come of our first date, and neither of us could’ve expected how crushing the thought of saying goodbye would be. On that first date neither of us knew we were going to be falling head over heels for each other, but it happened at quite possibly the most inconvenient time.

Recently we had been arguing more, about inconsequential things, and I couldn’t pinpoint an underlying reason as to why such bickering had become so prevalent. Almost unbeknownst to my conscious thoughts, I had been on edge for quite sometime, like any little thing could set me off. I began asking myself why I’d been feeling so tense, so angry. It was bothering me tremendously. My underlying anger and anxiety would manifest in me saying something rude or shitty to her when we were hanging out, and she would rightfully become upset. And at the end of every argument, there I was, wondering why I had lashed out on her for no other reason than me feeling shitty about myself. What was I doing to this relationship? Why did I say rude things to the person I’m in love with? Why do I always feel so anxious and angry? When I began to ask myself these things out loud, in front of Katie, I started to feel tears coming. Is this really happening? Then I had a nervous breakdown right in front of her. And she let me cry on her shoulder like the big fat baby I am.

I’m afraid of losing her. I’m afraid to leave home. I’m afraid of giving up fight training for 6 months and losing sight of techniques I’d been learning. I’m afraid I won’t be able compete in an MMA fight. I’m afraid to compete in an MMA fight. I’m afraid to quit my job. I’m afraid I’ll go broke while I’m out on the trail. I’m afraid I won’t be able to endure what the trail may throw at me. I’m afraid of what the future holds when I return. What will I do? Where will I go? The weight of all of this fear had been piling up unchecked and unaddressed for quite sometime and now I was pouring it all out as I cried to Katie. And she listened, comforted me, and told me not to worry. I needed to hear that. I needed to cry to someone, and she was the one who I chose to confide in for that cathartic moment. I felt lighter afterwards. I need to work on living without fear and trepidation, or at least confronting it when I notice a change in my character. Anxiety seems to pervade my existence, but for those fleeting moments with tears running down my face, I was liberated.

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