We’ve heard it numerous times before: A recent grad moves to the Big Apple, hoping to “find” herself. She walks arm-in-arm, Sarah Jessica Parker style, with her besties down a cobblestoned street where not a single heel meets its demise. Everyone’s head is simultaneously tossed back in genuine laughter.
They surpass the line at the trendiest Village clubs and speakeasies. They only “get tipsy,” but never out of control. They never consume entire pizzas alone, and they never consider mason jars of loose pocket change their most prized possessions because money just isn’t an issue.
Then, there’s me. The only things I seem to “find” on a daily basis are the closest bars after work, Pinterest recipes that produce “healthy meals” that are far from edible or up to New York’s sanitation code and myself, sprawled out on my minuscule bedroom floor, in tears while listening to indie music. Although I have two human roommates, it seems I have a third roommate most of the time: an incessant and omnipresent fear of never feeling completely together, content or myself in a city chock full of diverse identities.
So, I did it. I took the leap. I hate needles, but I opted to get them plunged into my bare skin twice a week by a stranger.
I began getting acupuncture in my desperate, but honest attempt to become more centered, balanced and in control of myself. I was tired of those debilitating emotions as a result of stress and anxiety about the future. Just a few weeks ago, I had an honest and unexpected epiphany.
I was lying on the treatment bed, in a dark room with the needles, the ones that were supposedly meant to totally alter my life for the better. They were in 15 different places, including my forehead, which I’d just like everyone to take a moment to picture.
To be honest, I’ve never felt a real connection with porcupines before, as they aren’t quite in my list of top favorite animals. Frankly, as I mentioned before, I despise needles in any form. But in that moment, I sympathized with what I’m sure can be a brutal lifestyle to be born into.
In my porcupine role reversal, I was attempting to clear my mind and meditate, which is something I've profoundly struggled with over the last six months especially. Truthfully, prior to this experience — and prior to cursing every film I’ve ever seen that shows Millennials high-fiving and eating croissants in Manhattan bakeries without ever gaining even half of a pound — I would guffaw in the face of anyone who told me that meditation actually worked.
It’s safe to say I was a skeptic. But, there are times in life when you’re on your knees, and you find that conversing with that very skepticism might actually elevate you to places you initially found unfathomable.
Let me break this down for you: I basically can never seem to calm myself down and be alert enough in my situations. More often than not, my mind travels. It travels not just at a stunningly rapid pace, but it also additionally travels in 45 different directions. These directions, which, of course, seem entirely rational at the time of their initial appearance on the scene, tend to get me into a real mess. They leave me totally hopeless and overwhelmed.
Most people tend to fear words, or at least the concepts they represent. But there are just two words that consistently stop me in my tracks — albeit briefly — before causing my brain to go into complete panic mode.
I, for as long as I can remember, thought I was most afraid of terrifying concepts such as rape or murder. These situations can diminish and demean an individual's state of being. They can haunt and ceaselessly control someone's memory for years and years after they transpire.
I'm certainly fearful of those words and of what they stand for. I’ve bore the burden of those very words. I have seen the power they've had, both over myself and over those whom I hold the most dear.
But it is those other two words, those six seemingly unassuming letters, that can cause a 23-year-old college graduate with a (hopefully) bright future in the entertainment industry, a steadfast support system of friends and family and a real hunger for life and all it offers to disconnect entirely. Yes, that "what if" phantom found me the other day, during a session of acupuncture, of all places.
I realized I had been in the dark, peaceful place for far too long. A jovial Buddha nightlight was emitting every hue of the rainbow in a rhythmic cycle, sending the glowing rays dancing on the walls of the warm, lavender-infused alcove. But suddenly, the warmth, the scent and the Buddha seemed shady.
Something must be up. I was honestly enjoying myself. I was feeling like I was making progress with regard to clearing my mind and letting go of my insecurities about the unknown. But then, I realized that the session had to be winding down.
I felt my muscles tense to the point of discomfort. I froze in place and entered into "fight or flight" mode. What if Iris, my acupuncturist, comes in now? What if this joy I'm feeling ends?
What if I have to get up and go into the cold? What if I have to face work tomorrow and plans this weekend? What job will I have five years from now, and whom will I marry?
Then, it hit me. I released the tension in my shoulders and ankles, carefully shaking out the discomfort of my irrationality without losing the slender needles to the floor. I realized that, in all of my panicking about the parts of my life I have absolutely no control over and will never be able to truly regulate at any point, I was missing out on enjoying the time I had left in this quiet, peaceful place. I mentally apologized to the cute little Buddha light.
It took a moment as simple as lying vulnerable and naked in a dark and tranquil place for me to realize this intense parallel between acupuncture and the way I’ve been living my life for a long time. But most prominently, I'd been living like this since I had made the move to New York.
It wasn’t the needles themselves, per se. They didn’t feed any mythical strength rooted in dark, ancient magic into my veins. I wasn’t hypnotized during my sessions or approached by a prophet in a dream.
It is through the acupuncture itself — the courage it took me to show up to that appointment and get on that table — that I found my power. In my susceptible, defenseless state, I realized and confronted my completely joy-hindering obsession with having a plan.
I wanted to have a plan so that I would never get blindsided. I wanted to have a plan so that there was no possible way — at least under any authority of my own — that I could get hurt or face discomfort of any kind. It's through that paralyzing compulsion that I found myself that day. I was completely aware of my presence in a place I definitely didn’t want to inhabit for much longer.
But how do we combat this? I've discovered that we can't quite combat that loaded “what if” question. The concept will always exist.
But, we can challenge what we let the words do to us. We can answer back when we encounter that two-headed monster, as it's attempting to melt us into a puddle of despair.
We can negate what it stands for. We can stop it dead in its tracks for once.
What if I lose X, Y or Z?
Well, I would answer, what if you don't? In fact, what if you never lose it at all, but have it for years to come? Or, even more poignantly, what if you do lose X, Y or Z?
My new answer is, you might. It might cause you heartbreak. It might make you lose your faith in humankind. It might make you question your religion.
But, you haven't lost it yet. If you do, you need to understand that you are equipped to handle it. You, even in your most vulnerable and imperfect form, will get through it. After all, it could be in that very vulnerable and imperfect form — like being naked on a table with needles all over your body — where you may actually find your most authentic strength.
I’m not saying that acupuncture saved my life. I didn’t instantaneously become Sarah Jessica Parker or Kendall Jenner. I still eat pizza at 4 in the morning, and I still get sad sometimes while wondering if I’ll ever become all that I’m working toward.
But, I attend acupuncture much more infrequently now. While I do find solace in that half hour to an hour of total quiet and vulnerability, I more often find myself getting antsy after a short amount of time on the table because I’m ready to get up and get going. I become overwhelmed and tense, but solely with the excitement to live my beautiful and unpredictable life.
It isn’t always easy, but all we can do during the short guest appearance we’re granted on this Earth is to not ask, "What if?" from a place of paralyzing fear. Instead, ask it with the promise of striking an opportunity that could be just around the corner.