I clutched the handle of my black suitcase and tried to navigate my way through airport security. Took off my shoes and placed them in a plastic bin and slid them along the conveyor belt. As I stepped through the metal detector the TSA agent barked at me to hold my hands slightly above my head, and asked if I had anything metal on me. As the machine scanned, I could see a couple through the opaque glass. The woman was around 25 and crying; her boyfriend, I assumed, was around the same age and crying as well. They kept kissing; I got out of the metal detector and began to put my shoes back on. They kissed one last time before slowly parting; one on their way to a terminal, the other back to the car.
I couldn’t shake the image of them throughout the flight, couldn’t stop thinking of their tears as my plane landed in New Jersey from Florida to begin a new life. I told everyone I was following my heart by uprooting myself, yet I couldn’t stop wondering what that really meant. I couldn’t help but feel like I’d told a dirty lie to secure my flight here. Clearly the couple at the airport did understand what it meant to follow their hearts. They were separating even though it was challenging; they were feeling the cold isolation of making the right choice even though emotionally it hurt.
I don’t know what it means to follow my heart. I don’t know how to respond when people tell me to do so. As I’ve written previously, I have OCD. And no, not all OCD equates to someone counting out how many times they have to open up the refrigerator door. Like any mental illness, there is a spectrum. Mine boils down to being so wrapped up in the “what-ifs” of life that I can’t really enjoy the moment. Every instance of my youth slipping through my fingers as I try and navigate through it. Every life choice seriously calculated—every risk and potential outcome carefully taken into measure.
When people say, “follow my heart,” I feel a sting of indignation. “You’re so foolish, don’t you realize how much there is to plan?” I know my anger isn’t justified, and should be able to feel past what might happen in six months if I lose my job even if in the moment it’s going well. I should be able to enjoy a few beers out with friends.
So let’s consider what following your heart really means. Do you translate that into being wildly reckless and free? I like to think it means staying in your pajamas all day watching Gossip Girl and eating Ben & Jerry’s because you feel like it. I think it means kissing someone in the rain. I think it means knowing all the calculated risks, and pushing them aside.
How can I follow my heart when I don’t know how to listen to it? I’ve tried yoga, I’ve tried drinking chamomile tea while sitting on my couch alone. I struggle with how worriers like me can set aside all their planning and just live in the moment. How do I experience things in the now when I can’t stop thinking about the past or the future? How can we kiss someone at the airport and feel how much we’ll miss them while also knowing it is time to move on?
Maybe I’ll never be the type of person to throw caution away. Maybe I’ll always doubt my love for someone, or talk myself out of it, but I’m listening. I’m listening every single day I lay on the floor with all my lights shut off, my phone unplugged. I’m listening when I’ve turned off my music and try to push away all that has haunted me throughout the day, hoping to hear anything other than the soft pattering of my pulse and the silence of uncertainty.
—Follow Shawn Binder on Twitter: @ShawnBinder