We often hear of growing pains; of the achy knees and throbbing legs that mark an ever-changing childhood. I can’t quite recall the sensation, only having a faint memory of the sore legs of summer, yet a quick text to any of my friends will give me an array of adjectives to describe it: Agonizing. Distressing. Uncomfortable. While these specific growth spurts in childhood are expected and come with a physical change that can be easily seen, what is to be said about the rest of the growth we experience throughout our lives; about what we can’t see, but can feel?
As humans, we are always growing, always changing, and always adapting to new situations; the events of the last year alone speak to the versatility of the human spirit. Some growth is easier than others but, like the nagging beat of childhood knees, it can be quite painful, and there is no other way around it except to go through it. There is an air of intimidation surrounding growth for me. It’s dense and I must admit that I have let it choke me up in my past. However, if we’re being fair with ourselves, we must admit that the intimidation, the fear, is normal. Agonizing, distressing, and uncomfortable are how people would describe physical growth, so emotional or mental growth is expected to come with the same challenges.
So what do you do when you are faced with growth that you are not ready to accept yet? Let me tell you about a dream I had recently: things fade into an open field, a blue sky kissed with clouds, birds singing through the trees. The field is brimming with flowers of all kinds and colors; they stain the air with their florid scent and attract little, fuzzy bees all around. Everything is beautiful, serene, but I can’t fully enjoy it because I am too anxious to relax. I try to pick flowers or listen to the birds under a shady tree, yet nothing is fulfilling. Something feels off, like I am being watched like I am not alone although there’s no one else in sight; still, true bliss escapes me as my stress grows. My breathing is quickened, palms sweaty, vision blurry when the ground begins to rumble. It starts with a quiver in the flowers; a giddy shake that gives the ground a bounce. Things quickly rev up, though, as the trees start to shiver, and then jump, and then boom! A massive mountain cracks the ground open as its peak emerges amongst the trees; initially, I am afraid. The noise, the sudden change in scenery, is all too new and overwhelming; but when the mountain, now standing high above the treeline, has finished its spurt and settled I finally feel like I can breathe.
What really stuck with me when I woke up was the anxiety I felt; how uncomfortable everything was before the mountain revealed itself. Those nerves were all too familiar and regardless of whether I relaxed or not, the mountain still emerged. I was so focused on distracting myself from the discomfort, instead of facing it, that when something finally happened I did not feel prepared for it. Facing the anxiety and fear associated with growing and changing takes the same amount of effort as distracting yourself or pushing it away; facing those emotions allows you to control the narrative of your own growth and take on challenges or opportunities head-on. It is the difference between being a bystander in your own life and having the lead role. My dream also comforted me in a weird way because it reminded me that to worry about myself, my future, and my competence, is to be human; that it is natural to worry, so much so that my brain has learned to process it.
The message that is to be found here is not that growth is impossible or scary; it is that things will be uncomfortable, but you can breathe through it and try to prepare for the greatness that awaits you on the other side of that spurt. Facing your growth, accepting your change, and taking advantage of the flow of things in your life are all hard things to achieve and that is what makes it so rewarding to make it out unscathed-- elevated. Staying calm is not all you will need to face your growth; however, it is the first step, the foundation, and it sets the tone for how you will handle any obstacles from there on out.
With an emphasis on human emotion, memory, and reliving experience, Nubia is a Chicago-based short, fiction writer. As a working-class, black woman their life experiences within hegemonic academia have informed their writing, pushing their interests towards the representation of the Other while capturing the varying perspectives of those deemed unworthy of empathy. @nubiapharah