Hi, my name is Tiffany, and I have adult anxiety. This is despite the fact that a lot of my friends will call me “fearless.” In some ways, I am fearless. I go after what I want. I do things that challenge me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do take risks. But I will also admit that I am pretty terrified of some seemingly mundane things, too—crowded movie theaters, being surrounded by people, shark attacks in beautiful waters of San Diego, freak accidents, flying…and that’s a short list.
I’m not entirely sure where all of these fears come from, but I can hazard a few educated guesses.
First, the ubiquity of news broadcasts and the horrible style of fear mongering…I mean, reporting…that’s the standard these days. I haven’t paid for cable or accessed local TV channels for over year. For a while there, I was pretty good at avoiding sensationalist reporting, getting most of my news from NPR broadcasts or online articles, which I researched and read with caution. Now, there’s a big screen TV in our apartment building’s lobby that broadcasts news around the clock and which I have to walk by to get out of the building and to my car. Same thing at work, a TV screen near our break area. It’s hard to avoid the headlines vying desperately for my attention. And those headlines suck. It’s usually bad news. Or Donald Trump, which also makes me worried and depressed for all of us.
Additionally, I worked for an insurance company for about eight years. At least one of those years was spent transcribing the statements of people involved in accidents. Most of the time, they were small public transportation or freight truck accidents. But there was a 9-1-1 call once that shook me to the bone. And another statement from someone who’d witnessed a horrific drunk driving fatality; the guy was completely in shock and kept talking about how the horn of the mangled car wouldn’t turn off in the aftermath of the crash. Once you work in insurance, assessing risk and hoping it doesn’t happen, you realize it does.
Age is probably part of it, too. When we’re young, we don’t know as much and so we’re up for damn near anything. Of course I want to go paragliding into the sea and then scuba dive into a reef no one’s explored before and the paddle board my way back to shore five miles! And then we’ll go out for drinks! Now, I make lists of everything that could go wrong with every scenario.
I went to see Magic Mike with a group of lady friends about a month ago. Halfway through the movie, this dude walks in, sits down, turns around a few times to survey everyone in the theater, and then walks out. I freaked. I had to go to the bathroom to calm down and convince myself that this guy meant us no harm; he was just popping in to enjoy muscled dudes dancing? I calmed down, went back in the theater, and had nearly recovered when the dude came back! By then, I realized he was just theater hopping, but seriously, my heart started racing, I had a hard time breathing, and I was just uncomfortable.
It’s completely irrational, but this panicky anxiety-riddled situation is a common occurrence for me, whether I’m walking the dogs or boarding a plane. And I truly hate it. I try to control it as much as I possibly can. Deep breathing helps (thank God for yoga). Strangely enough, being a horror writer is amazing therapy, because many things are a lot less scary to me after I write about them. Reading is also a beautiful distraction for me. Regular exercise keeps my body and my thoughts healthy.
And now, I can add archery to the list of activities that increase the zen in my life. You heard me right, shooting arrows helps me to calm the hell down.
Yep, this is when you’re allowed to say, “Say what?”
It all started about a month ago when my boyfriend and I noticed an outdoor archery range near Balboa Park, full of bullseyes on bales of hay, which quickly escalated to my beloved saying that he thought he might like to take up archery, because he’d enjoyed it in his youth when he’d taken some classes in archery in middle school. And then a gorgeous recurve bow showed up at our house, followed by a trip to a local sporting goods store to buy arrows. Then, our friend Laci came out to visit, brought her bow, and next thing I knew, I was getting a beginner’s lesson on rented equipment at Performance Archery in Mira Mesa last weekend.
I, too, had experienced those middle school archery lessons, replete with drawstrings that carried so little weight you’d have to send your arrow off into the sun to get any kind of power behind its trajectory. The arrows had these little rounded tips, too. And you better believe our PE teachers were militant about everyone putting down their bows and clearing their arrows at the same time.
My experience at Performance Archery was much different. A beginner’s bow requires 20 pounds of draw weight, which means your arrows leave your bow with a bit of heft. So, I was told to look through my sight (a nifty little gadget that sits on your bow and helps you aim) and go directly for the bullseye. The arrows were extremely sharp – like you really don’t want to touch the tips. I got way more instruction from the fabulous employees of Performance Archery than I ever did during the month-long PE offering of archery in middle school. My fingers got raw and sore from pulling back the drawstring (and my biceps were tight the next morning). An adorable four-year-old completely schooled all of us with her incredible form and ridiculous cuteness. The only thing that was the same was the militant caution for safety, which I was completely okay with.
The beautiful thing I discovered last weekend, and the thing that you don’t hear often outside of archery circles, is that shooting a bow and arrow accurately requires forced relaxation. You have to actively rid the tension from your body, because rigid muscles can lead your aim astray. You have to steady your hands and concentrate on where you want the arrow to go. You have to sync up your breathing with your actions. You have to let go of your arrow with as little motion as possible and have faith it’s going to hit the target. There’s a lot of patience and practice and calmness involved.
I had no idea how soothing it would be. I left Performance Archery feeling happy and light and refocused. It was lovely. And when my boyfriend suggested we go back again this weekend, I immediately agreed it was a good idea.
I think I’ve found something that’s fun, that’s active and won’t wreck my body, and that will help me to calm down and focus on the now.
To be clear, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in using a bow and arrow to hunt anything other than plastic balloons and paper targets. I’m not a huntress at heart. But I do enjoy a challenge. I like practices that make me check myself, that make me pause and assess how I’m feeling, that make me concentrate on something other than all the messed up things going on in this world. And archery does that for me. I’m so grateful that my boyfriend and I saw that archery course from the bridge of Balboa.
Soon, my boyfriend is going to help me conduct some research so I can buy my very own recurve bow. I’ll delight in adding arrows to my quiver. We’ll have something we can do together that will help us stay centered, connected, and calm. And every time I go to Performance Archery or Balboa Park for a little target practice, I’ll be letting go of a lot more than arrows.