This morning, like most mornings, I awoke short of breath, with a tight chest, a sick feeling in my stomach and the unsettling sensation that something wasn’t quite right. If you also suffer from anxiety, you know exactly what I’m talking about-that inexplicable feeling that something is wrong, yet you just can’t figure out what-aside from the terrible, sickening nervous feeling that has risen from the pit of your gut and up towards your chest-it is. To combat my anxiety, and in lieu of Zoloft, I have taken to walking, and, surprisingly, it has worked. The terrain around my home is very hilly, and, as I begin to pump up my first hill of the morning, I actually feel the anxiety begin to dissipate. My breathing becomes deep and steady, my thoughts settle and I find a bit of peace. Up until quite recently, this forty-five minute morning ritual has relaxed me enough so that I can get through my days without any major anxiety. But, a few weeks ago, things changed. Ginger, my four-legged walking companion, was attacked by a German Shepard who busted through his electric fence. A week later she was bit again on the neck by another savage mongrel, who was left to wander loose on his front lawn because, according to his owner, their electric fence wasn’t working properly. On each of these occasions, both Ginger and I were fortunate enough that the owners, once they heard my screams, scurried out of their homes and to our rescue. Unfortunately, my walks no longer have the calming effect they once did; rather, they have become angst inducing.
What I want is rather simple. I want to be able to take a walk without dodging, and rerouting and worrying about being attacked by neighborhood dogs. I want the freedom to just pick a direction and go. This walk situation has me feeling rather fenced in, literally and figuratively speaking. So often we are deterred and forced to shift directions because of outside forces and influences. So often we are told we can’t. So often we are told we can only go so far. I look at my own life and am appalled by how often I am blocked, not only by outside influences, situations and people, but also by myself. I have plans and dreams and ideas, but I allow fear and the nagging voices of others as well as myself to stop me from following through with what I truly want to do. I want to travel, but I don’t because I am afraid to fly. I want to contribute to conversations, but sometimes I don’t because I am afraid that others will disagree. I want to move away to a place with more land and fewer people, but I am afraid to break the hearts of those family members who would be left behind. Actually, I want the freedom to make lots of decisions and head in lots of metaphorical directions without feeling fenced in or forced to revise my original plans.
I started to think, “How can a writer have so many inhibitions?” As a primarily non-fiction writer, so much of what I have to say is drawn from personal experience, yet, because I don’t want to hurt or offend or steal the history of others by weaving their experiences into my greater narrative, my stories never get told. I am not at a loss for words or ideas; I just don’t feel free to say what it is I want to say. And I think that for this reason, I have begun to find fiction writing so liberating. I am in no way implying that fiction writing is merely “fictionalizing” real people and events by changing names, dates and settings to present true stories as a creative works. No. Fiction writers use their accute awareness of the human condition to craft artistic works. The beauty of ficton writing is that writers can face their fears of flying and dogs by having their characters confront that which frightens them (the writers). Fiction writers can, through their characters, confront pompous asses, narcissists and psychotics who loosely resemble the pompous asses, narcissists and psychotics we must contend with in the real world. Fiction writing allows the writer to face worse case scenarios and realize the possibility that for every situation there are options and alternate solutions. Even better, fiction writers can create characters that speak the words, do the things and travel to the places we are too afraid to go. In fiction we can find freedom.