That Thing About Fear

I’ve lived with my old pal fear for a very long time. I don’t know if I struggle with fear more or less than the average person (who, by the way, has ever met this mythical average person?), but I do know that I’ve endured seasons in my life where I thought fear might ruin me, where the anxieties felt so overwhelming, so deafening, that I could no longer imagine a day when I would feel hope or lighthearted again.

These experiences attack your personhood. They make you feel weak and ashamed because you know you’re supposed to be able to handle your life, you’re supposed to be able to do basic stuff like have coffee with a friend or cuddle with your kids or drive your car to work without thinking you’re about to lose your everlovin’ mind.

There’s a lot to be said about all this, but for those who are in the midst of this dark hole, you must hear me: there’s lots of help. Our lives don’t have to lock into this debilitating cycle forever. A few good friends make a world of difference – and if you haven’t entrusted your story to someone, take that leap. It’s not that having friends makes the noise go away, but it does mean you’ll have someone to go grab a taco or see a movie with you when the noise hits an unbearable decibel. Also, doctors and therapists are your allies here. I know therapists can be expensive, but don’t let that stop you. Exercise and being outside does wonders. Sometimes your biochemistry is off, and meds do the trick. And sometimes, you have to just gut it out, at least for a little while. You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking, choosing to believe that the crazy circus show that’s camped out in your head will not stay forever.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned about my fears. Maybe this will be helpful to you, maybe not. Whenever I fear something in a compulsive, runaway train kind of way, I’ve learned that I have to step into the fear, not away from it. If I fear an interaction with a person, I step toward them. If I fear a certain social setting, I move into it. I don’t do this all the time, creating some whole other loony compulsion. Rather, when the time seems right or when my action is required in order for me to be present with those I love, I buckle up and do the opposite of what my fears tell me.

There’s psychological language for what I’m describing, but for me, it’s merely my refusal to allow my fears to control me. Whenever I enact this courage, it doesn’t mean my fear immediately evaporates (I may still feel anxious energy pulsing or I may still have wild chatter in my head). It only means I’ve decided that how I feel (fearful) does not define who I am (bold and hopeful). And I choose, in those moments, to act on the truth of who I am rather than on the lie of what I feel. This is a battle, and if I’ve made it sound easy, I lied. But it’s a good battle, and over time, the skirmishes lessen in frequency and intensity.

Here’s the thing: Fear’s gonna do what fear’s gonna do. We have to just keep on living.

11 Replies to “That Thing About Fear”

  1. If when I stepped toward the fearful thing I found that it wasn’t so bad, or if there were other feedback indicating clearly that stepping forward was the right thing to do, it wouldn’t be such a difficult thing. But in the absence of such feedback, the fear (or other negative emotion(s)) tends to just increase, as does my sense of uncertainty, and it is all just very messy still. I wish I were better at interpreting, or trusting my interpretations about, when a fear is a reasonable one or a distorted one.

      1. Thank you. It’s not so bad with momentary things. What’s harder is, say, stepping into a new leadership role, or something else more ongoing — it’s weird to still be weeks or months in and still not have any surety. Maybe that’s normal for most folks, or maybe it’s just me. It makes me worry that I am missing the signs one way or the other. I try to just listen to both (or more) parts — the fearful part, in case there is some real threat I need to be ready for, and the go-ahead part, in case the fear is mistaken… etc. Friend fairly recently pointed out that sometimes the information you need is just not there, and no amount of boot-strapping will produce it, and in those cases all one can do is move and trust, and one need not worry overmuch about the information gap somehow being one’s own fault.

  2. Nice, Winn. As always, thanks for the honesty. I especially liked this line:
    “I don’t do this all the time, creating some whole other loony compulsion.”

  3. There seem to be a lot of acronyms in the recovery community. The one for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. Usually, the false evidence is stories we’ve made up in our mind of what the outcome or reaction will be. I’m well versed in fear and its stronghold. Your words ring true and add to the rational part that must be employed.

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