I don't remember how old I was when my parents got me my first bicycle.
I remember that it was red and black, had thick foam wrapped around all of the bars, and hard plastic training wheels. I remember my mother adjusting my bright yellow helmet a dozen times before letting me ride for the first time, and the almost crippling fear I had of falling off.
The road that we lived on growing up had a high speed limit, so my sisters and I were never allowed to ride our bikes in the street. There was a parking lot across the street that we learned to ride in after all the cars emptied out in the afternoon. With my dad walking behind me, his right hand holding firmly onto the back of the seat, I cautiously pedaled. I gained confidence fairly quickly, and it wasn't long before my Dad let go and I was pedaling away on my own.
Throughout that first year that we had our bikes, my sisters and I made hundreds of endless wobbly circles as the summer sun beat down on us. I fell off plenty of times at first, scraping my knees and roughing up my palms against the hot asphalt. I remember listening to the rhythmic whirr whirr whirr of the rubber tires as I pedaled, contrasting against the harsh dragging sound the plastic training wheels made. The insects in the field behind the parking lot buzzed and droned on almost unnoticed as the warm summer air rushed past my face.
Riding my bike was my first taste at freedom. Granted, my freedom was limited to a 50-foot square parking lot, but when I was riding my bike, it felt like I was flying.
I rode my bike as much as I could that first year, so much that I wore down my training wheels to the point where they barely touched the ground. Little by little, and unknown to me, my dad raised up the height of the training wheels so they were no longer assisting me. When I noticed that I had been riding my bike for a couple of weeks with essentially no training wheels, I had my dad remove them. That night, I fell off and gashed up my knee pretty badly. As I walked my bike home, struggling to hold back tears as blood trickled down my leg, I learned that no matter how confident one can get with something, they can always fall and need help getting back up.
I'm writing about this today because I can relate my experience with learning to ride a bike to the problems I'm having controlling my anxiety. I know the "falling off the bike" metaphor is cliche to say the least, but I find it very fitting for my situation. I manage to get by with my "training wheels", to learn how to adjust my daily life and deal accordingly. Just when I think I'm getting better and think I can manage without my "training wheels", I realize just how unstable I am without them and I fall down. Just like I did when I was a kid, I continue to make these wobbly circles, and I'll keep making them until I finally just get better at it.
I say that I've learned something important, and what I've learned is this: I can't be tough about this. I can't be ashamed of letting my emotions show. I can't and won't get better or back to normal unless I'm willing to get used to these "training wheels". It is okay to fall down, and it is okay to need help getting back up. I am human, and it is okay to fail.
It has taken me a month to learn that.
I'm getting there, albeit slowly, but I'm getting there.