Monday marked six months since I started this blog. I came up with the idea while driving between Virginia and Ohio visiting family after a very long fire season, though it is a project that I have been talking about taking on for close to a decade. My passion for it has certainly waxed and waned over the last six months, vacillating between periods of prolific writing and long dry spells. I have deepened my knowledge of hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening immensely, and this project has helped to give me something to hang onto during what has been a very difficult time of transition for me. Today, instead of talking about my experiences learning to gather sustenance from the earth, I will talk about myself and my journey.
As is mentioned in my bio, I recently left wildland fire. I worked in fire for six years and am deeply grateful to the individuals that I worked with for helping to shape me into the person I am now. I was a sad and broken person when I took my first serious fire job. A very serious relationship had just ended in a way that really shattered me. I showed up in Colorado to start a new chapter in my life and it was clear from the first minute that people here treated wildland fire very differently from those on the east coast. I was not prepared. Everyone I worked with took this job more seriously than anything I had done before. When I showed up I was out of shape and under-educated relative to everyone I was working with. The first week of training was perhaps the most difficult thing I had ever done. I was as anxious and as sore as I have ever been. I had just moved to Colorado for this job but I considered quitting every night when I went home to my little apartment. For whatever reason I stuck it out. I made it through the first two weeks of training and then I spent the next four years of my life focused on being the best damn firefighter I could be.
I focused hard on my fitness. I read books about fire ecology and tragedy fires in my spare time. I made sure that my life and my gear were organized at all times so that I was ready for anything. I built myself up from a sad, lost, and broken-hearted boy into a respectable firefighter. I am proud of the person I became, but there is one thing, one weakness, that I have never been able to put away: my anxiety.
I have struggled with pretty severe anxiety as long as I can remember. Throughout my schooling I was never able to speak in front of people, even something as simple as answering a question when called on. I never volunteered. It held me back as a student and has held me back in every job I’ve had. I am not comfortable reaching out to people, often even my loved ones. Moving into fire I could work my butt off to be the fittest guy on the crew, to have tons of knowledge, to be the most organized, but I was never going to be the best because I am simply incapable of putting myself out there in the way that a good leader must. I have worked as the incident commander on several small fires, communicating with dispatch and coordinating a few firefighters, but this is an enormous burden for me. More than once, after clocking out for the night, these feelings left me overwhelmed and crying in my tent.
And my anxiety certainly does not limit itself to my professional life. Anxiety makes the world small. Some days it is only as large as my house, because the outside world is just too much. Other days it shrinks further, and the only safe space is my bed. There have been months of my life where the only place I truly wanted to be was fictional, and my security depended on burying my nose in a book or logging into a virtual world where I could be someone else for a while.
In spite of this ever-present anxiety, I’ve been drawn to writing since I was a child. I have always loved books. I remember reading Jurassic Park in third grade, which was incredibly difficult at the time, but I labored my way through it and finished with an enormous sense of pride. As I grew older and fell in love with authors like JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling I was certain that writing was the path for me. But it has been a very difficult one. My anxiety is perhaps at its peak with writing. It is a strange paradox in which I have always felt that I should be a writer and yet the act of writing for me is pure anxiety and pain. Like all things that you work at, it is becoming easier. My therapist tells me that it is very natural for someone to pick a career that is the antithesis of their comfortable state. She tells me that I chose writing because the work is a balm for the parts of me that are damaged. The more I work at it, I am starting to think that she is right.
I am putting in the work and it helps. I see a therapist every week to do EMDR therapy and sort through finding my voice. I tried for years without professional help and never made a lot of progress. I spend a lot of time and money on therapy and some days it leaves me completely wrecked, but it is working. I still struggle on a daily basis to put words on paper, to post on instagram, even just to visit the garden, each of those tasks requiring me to face down certain demons, but that too is getting easier. And every person reading this blog or following me on instagram helps.
So, thanks for reading.