I am in the Center of the Bullseye. But it Doesn’t Feel Like Winning.

If the matter at hand is darts or archery, it is very exciting to be at the center of the bullseye. But if you think of those concentric circles in a different context, being at the center brings an entirely different meaning.

Pretend the circles represent the size of the life you are living. A person who is fully alive and healthy and enjoying life to the fullest would be in the outer rings. A person who is the opposite of all that would be in the center.

And that’s where you’ll find me. Chronic illness put me there. As my illness dragged on, my life became correspondingly smaller. Then when the hellacious anxiety hit three years ago, my small world turned into a micro world. Bullseye. But not in a good way.

I’m not a good enough writer to find the words to tell you how difficult it is to push outward from the center, but I will try. Picture a baby in the fetal position. All tucked in and safe and warm. That’s what the center of the bullseye feels like to me. Safe, small, controlled. I can breathe.

Now picture yourself stark naked in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City. My guess is you would feel exposed, raw, vulnerable and possibly afraid. Maybe you would find it hard to breathe.

That’s how I feel every time I try to make even a microscopic move from the center of life’s bullseye. Just thinking of it makes it hard for me to catch my breath.

Here’s the rub. Just because it’s hard and feels awful doesn’t mean I don’t do it. I push toward the outer circles as I’m able, because not doing it means not growing, not progressing, and forever condemning myself to a life inside the smallest circle.

Over the past few months, I have made more moves toward the outside than I have in the past year. And it started to feel really good. Until it didn’t. That’s where I learned a hard lesson. I equate it to over eating. You are loving it and feeling great while it’s happening, but about an hour later you are miserable and wondering why you did that to yourself. That’s what happens to me when I reach for the outer rings. I often find it tolerable while it is happening, but then I find out I over did it much too late.

That’s where I find myself now. I have been living a little outside the bullseye for the past two months, and now it has caught up to me. I’m feeling naked. Raw. Exposed. I went too far. So, now I have to retreat back to the center to regroup. Sadly, my forward progress has resulted in a few steps back. 

I’m very frustrated by this latest development. I feel as if there’s some magical algorithm as to how far and how fast I can move out. The only problem is the algorithm seems to be a secret. I just can’t figure it out. Staying safe in the bullseye 100% of the time is not the answer. Pushing out should be the answer, but I haven’t found a way to do it that doesn’t set me back. 

I should probably give you an idea of what pushing out means for me. It means meeting a friend for coffee or a walk, going to a social event, going to a restaurant or church, or doing something that’s not in my normal routine. Those things all seem pretty basic, but for me, doing them feels like being naked on Fifth Avenue. To do any of the above, I have to mentally prepare myself for hours or days, and then I often need to come home to the safety and silence to recover from being out in the world. Sounds like Hell, doesn’t it?

In that light, if you see me out somewhere, while I might look perfectly calm on the outside, the odds are I am dying on the inside and am paying a price for being there. 

Yes. This is what I live with. Every day. This is the corner chronic illness and anxiety have backed me into. I know I will get out one day. Maybe I will never get to the far outer rings of the bullseye, but I have to keep believing I will get farther out than where I stand today. 

The path forward is not exactly clear at this point, but I am blessed with a strong faith, a supportive family, and a wicked smart therapist. Somehow, those three forces will guide and restore me and help me enlarge my world. 

Until then I just have to hang in. 

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