The Magical Power of Doing the Opposite.

say yes tattoo

I wake up every day terrified of something. Whether I’ll meet that day’s work deadline. Whether the last thing I wrote was crap. Hell, I worry about getting the girls to school on time. You’d think that since I’ve never missed a deadline and never been fired by a client and consistently arrive at school so painfully early that we have to cool our heels in the parking lot so I don’t have to pay extra for before care – you’d think that I’d get over these worries. But history of success is no match for my brain’s ability to envision the worst case scenario.

This is what it’s like to live with anxiety disorder.

I used to crave a day when I would wake up calm and reasonable – what I imagine life is like for people who seem to ease through their days unscathed by worry and fear. But I’ve given up hope of that. I’ve accepted that anxiety will by my constant companion, my fellow traveler through life. And so I manage it like one might manage diabetes. With medications, yes, but since the only real “cure” would be to mainline benzos or smoke a ton of weed, I manage my anxiety mostly with thought control.

Over the past two years, since a nervous breakdown left me unable to shower on the regular, what I’ve learned to do is the opposite of what my brain tells me.

Now, if my brain tells me to stay under the covers, to not bathe, to eat Eggos and chips for breakfast instead of real food, here’s what I do instead: I force myself to get up, to make the bed, to wash myself, to fry an egg.

And if my brain tells me to stay timid, to not raise my voice, to give up at freelancing and seek a day job that would be much easier on my nerves than this constant hustle, then I send out more pitches, reach out to more contacts, dive into new projects.

Because to hunker down is to die. At one point, that death could have been quite literal, as suicidal ideation was my mind’s favorite hobby. Today, giving in to worry would represent more of a figurative death: Death by letting anxiety keep me from living a bold life.

And in 2017, my goal is to live the boldest life possible.


Just this week, fate-like, a friend from twenty years past reached out to me with an offer to fill in for a drop-out on her Grand Canyon rafting trip at the end of March. A trip that will end with me hiking ten miles out of the Canyon with a mile gain in elevation.

I’m not a hiker, not a wilderness camper, and I’ve never rafted. I can’t tie knots, I don’t cook, and I cannot overstate how out of shape I am. “Irregular yoga” would describe my exercise routine for the past year. As in, sometimes when my back hurts from writing all day at the computer, I’ll do child’s pose on the mat behind my desk for like thirty seconds.

I said yes.

I mean, I have a tattoo on my wrist that tells me to do just that: Say yes. To do things even though they terrify me, even though I absolutely hate doing things I’m not good at, hate the thought of letting people in a group down, cried through a humiliating ski trip years ago with experienced skiers, broke my foot getting out of the bathtub, and passed out at Universal Studios and spent the rest of that vacation in the Disney World hospital recovering from heat stroke.

I said yes. Even though I spend my days anxiety-ridden about the smallest of small stuff, even though I battle imposter syndrome on the daily, even though I don’t particularly like being wet and/or cold, even though I make a thousand decisions every week simply to stay sane.

Because I will not let anxiety defeat me. I will do the things that scare me – the big things and the little things. And I will no doubt wake up the next day still terrified of something, and I will do it all over again.

About Cindy Reed

I hate pants.
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14 Responses to The Magical Power of Doing the Opposite.

  1. I have hiked out of the Grand Canyon when I was young, much younger than you. It is no joke. Right now get yourself some hiking shoes. Lands End is a good place to look. Wear them everywhere now to break them in. First thing, be able to walk ten miles flat without collapsing. You should have some energy left at the end. Find the tallest buildings in town. Walk the stairs to the top a couple times a day. There is no way out of there except walking.

  2. Sarah Buchanan says:

    So, Carolyn is right: you should prepare yourself physically. But don’t let the urgency of her message get to you. I am proud of you for saying yes. You can do this! You will do fine and perhaps even have a great time! What a great adventure! Plus, you will be with good friends who will support you if/when things get hard. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  3. Patricia Eagle says:

    Go bold, girl, go bold. Thank you for your ongoing honesty. It helps this human 🙂

  4. Dorry Bless says:

    Cheering you on. Egging you on too (I’m a fan of fried eggs, eggs over easy, poached…..). Yes Cindy YES!

  5. Cris says:

    This is going to be SO EPIC! I am so proud of you for taking on this great adventure. You answered the call, Cindy. I hope you write about all the steps along the way so we can be your support crew and cheering section.

  6. ellenbehm says:

    This could be me only you’ve been so much more successful at saying yes than I have. I have it down in theory, but have not tested it out too much in reality. I’m inspired by you!

  7. You rock! And as you climb mountains (real and figurative), I am cheering you on.

  8. Georgina Merry says:

    Well done you for saying YES! So much of your post resonates with my own experience. I too struggle with anxiety disorders and have come to accept them as part of who I am. Like you, I do the things that scare me. On my fridge I have a Neale Donald Walsch quote on a magnet to keep me motivated. Every time I see it, it reminds me: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Wishing you all the best.

  9. innatejames says:

    I love the determination, Cindy, but it sounds like your fear isn’t holding you back from doing this trip so much as your disinterest in the activities. You don’t like being wet or cold, you don’t like letting people down. Would you feel remorse if you didn’t go? Does your friend know you’re not in shape and have never rafted before? Is your skill level going to hinder them or are they novices too?

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  11. Kris C. says:

    Your days sound exhausting, like mine. Not physically (though that will be in your trip!) but mentally. So much going on in my head – discussions, decisions or not, choices, arguments, negotiations, yelling, etc. – that it wears me out and worst of all, sucks up time that could be used being productive. I feel your frustration. You seem much more determined than I am, and definately more productive. You’ve inspired me, so thank you.

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  13. Cindy says:

    A-D and I are old frenemies as well. Sorry to hear you’re acquainted. Not sure I’d do EVERYTHING that scares me but showering is good. Eggs are good. Adventure is good. A little tip: To take the pressure off, change the thought process from “I hope it goes well” to “I wonder what will happen.” That way you release expectations (and the accompanying anxiety) of things being a certain way.

  14. Yeah, this is pretty much the best anxiety advice ever (other than to remind yourself to breathe, which always becomes a struggle for me when I am deep in the middle of it).

    A long time ago when my kid was really little and I got sick of always being the one who said “no,” I would take a day every now and then and say “yes” to everything she asked. I never told her what I was doing, but those days were some of the lightest days I ever had parenting, and it wasn’t so much harder or more expensive or ___ than the others.

    When her father, my husband, died in a car accident in 2013, leaving me a widow at 42 and her fatherless at 12, we took the entire year and said yes to everything. Yes to speaking at a tiny house conference about the tiny house we were building together; yes to two TEDTalks; yes to exhibiting the tiny house at the White House for the Maker Faire; yes to a five-week road trip. We said yes to everything big and small, and it was one of the things that helped us get through that first year.

    Some days I have to remind myself that it’s just as easy to say yes as it is to say no, especially when It’s just anxiety or sheer inertia that makes me want to stay on the couch.

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