Thursday, February 11, 2016

F Is For Fear

As a girl, when I would get scared, and I mean really, truly terrified, an equally frightening response occurred. Rather than be able to scream, cry out, or even run away, I would become paralyzed--literally rooted to the spot--and unable to make a sound. In my mind, I would be trying desperately to run or shout or do something, but it was no use: my body would simply stand there, stiff and immobile. The most I was ever able to manage was a steady stream of tears until someone, usually my mother, would notice and grab me, breaking the spell.

As you can imagine, this was pretty Inconvenient. I couldn't scream or try to surface when my dad accidentally knocked me off the fishing pier at my grandparents' cabin when I was a kid. I couldn't run when the wild firework came right at me. And the evening some weirdo pulled up on our street and called me over ostensibly to ask for directions but decided to show off his Attributes instead--I think I was fifteen--I just stood there. Crying. I have no idea how that all resolved itself to this day. I do know that, from then on that summer, my brother and all of his friends escorted me to my girlfriend's house half a block away whenever I walked over. And back. The Knights of East 38th Street.

That Fear Paralysis eventually resolved itself, I guess, because since then, I have run away from bad-tempered geese at the duck pond (with children in tow) and more than one ugly snake at the lake. Having children to protect probably inadvertently cured me, taking me outside myself, like those stories you read about mothers lifting cars off their babies.

Now my fears are less concrete and less definable. I have an almost irrational fear of Being Sick. A conversation like this in our house is not unheard of:

Rick: (sneezes or coughs) Ugh.
Nance: (sits up, alert) What was that? Are you sick? Are people at your work sick?
Rick: No. And No. It was nothing.
Nance: (severely) Are you sure? You better not be sick.
Rick: (calm, but knowing it is hopeless) Nance. I am not sick. All I did was cough/sneeze. It might just be allergies or sinus.
Nance: (resolutely) Rick, I am not getting sick. I mean it. I am megadosing Vitamin C, just to be safe. Stay over there. Don't touch anything.
Rick: Okay.
Nance: I mean it. I'll unload the dishwasher. Do not touch anything. If I get sick, you're in big trouble.

Also, since I have retired and no longer bring in The Huge Teacher Bucks (ha!), I have periods of Obsessive Concern that we may, one day, be poor. Rick has offered approximately eleventy billion times to Show Me The Money (i.e., our Financials) so that I will not be so overwrought. We have visited with our Long-Suffering Financial Advisor (and wonderful former student, so he knows me), who has patted my hand and dabbed my tears and recommended a therapist. (Okay, not that last thing. He actually recommended that Rick take me On Vacation and that I Drink More.) Everything is Really Okay. But sometimes I cannot help myself, and I start getting afraid of money all over again. This all stems from being poor at the start of our marriage. As in rolling change for expenses, plus eating meals and doing laundry at The Parents twice a week.

Finally, I'm afraid Something Really Bad Will Happen. I'm not too sure exactly what this means. After all, lots of Really Bad Somethings have already happened in our lives, and we've made it through all of them pretty much okay. And Really Bad Somethings happen--inevitably--in the course of people's lives all the time. That's Life. It's lumpy and full of Unexpected Somethings.

Most people who know me are surprised that I have any fears at all; they think I am bold and brave and stride purposefully through the world with determination and limitless confidence. To a large extent, that is true. But everyone, I think, has Fears. Everyone has those small, nagging tugs that shadow their joys and deepen their sorrows; those sudden and rare down-hard clenches that make your breath ragged and your stomach lurch and your heart almost batter your ribs. "Fear," said Frank Herbert, "is the little-death."

"What are you afraid of?" a psychology professor once asked me. "I mean it. What are you most afraid of in your life? That you'll die, right? Now, whenever you're really afraid of something, ask yourself, 'What are the odds that this will kill me?' If the odds are less than even, then do that thing. You'll be glad you did." I think of that more often than Dr. McKinley probably ever imagined.

I am not Ashamed of my Fears. Why would I be? Everyone is Afraid Of Something. The shame would come from Not Doing Something About Them. I like to think that, by acknowledging them, I face my Fears and Do Something About Them every day. And I push them away, little by little, every chance I get. I've vanquished other Fears before. I think I can smack these down, too. To paraphrase another author, "Fear is a story we tell ourselves, and so I tell myself a different story." In My Story, I want to be the Hero.



  1. I can't imagine having fear paralysis. I am the opposite--I run. I have horrible night terrors where I dream I am halfway to the next life or whatever. I want to either stay here or get here, because the in-between is awful and scary. So I scream and start running for my front door. What is interesting is that I always remember to put my glasses on so, sorry, I guess we still have crappy vision in the afterlife!

    1. TeacherPatti--Hi! Nice to see you back in Comments. Perfectly understandable to grab your glasses. I used to do the very same thing, no matter what; it was such a habit and a crutch. Now, after aeons of bifocal contact lens wearing, my glasses only serve me when I (without contacts in) need distance vision. On NonContact days, I wander around the house rarely using the specs.

      Night terrors--you have my sympathy. What a horror. I thought they were a childhood thing that one grew out of. Apparently not. Bless your heart.

  2. In my dreams I have fear paralysis. It's awful. Having it in real life would be worse. I know what you mean about the money fears. We started with so little, the only thing going for us was our educations. We've done well, but that memory of having next to nothing lurks in the shadows of my mind, pulling my thoughts into a dark place.

    1. Ally Bean--I have the fear paralysis in my dreams only when I'm driving. I used to have a fear of driving, one long since conquered, but it shows up now in this way. I dream that I cannot stop or steer the car, and I simply go headlong into whatever is in my path. Shudder.

      Probably it's good that we are always a little concerned and wary about money. It keeps us from being too profligate with spending, and makes us practical. As a friend of mine used to say, we won't be buying any ten thousand dollar diamond tiaras, so everything else will look perfectly fine by comparison.

  3. Right now my biggest fear is that one or both of us will lose our jobs. Not that this seems particularly imminent, mind you. But I LOVE my job & would be so very very sad if I had to look for something else. Plus it would probably bankrupt us; since Mike was in school for approximately eleventy billion years you can imagine what our debt looks like. I calm myself by plotting out strategies if either of us did get canned (1. move in with my father...).

    I don't mind getting sick (and I swear it has happened so much less frequently since I started taking multivitamins every day), but I'm afraid of getting cancer, or kidney disease. Whenever I get a mammogram I'm magnificently stoic, but inside I'm FREAKING OUT.

    But, one of the most fabulous parts of my personality (and most annoying, if you're my husband), is my ability to keep everything in separate rooms in my head. So I don't open that door, if I know something scary is in there. I just crochet, eat chocolate, and carry on :)

    1. The Bug--Because he is in The Trades, I almost got used to Rick's frequent bouts of unemployment. We got married in 1981, during the First Big Recession. No jobs for builders/carpenters or teachers anyplace. His work was always a sort of question mark in our lives. Once I got entrenched in a school system, things were a bit better. I carried our health insurance and afforded us some stability. I completely understand your anxiety about Losing Your Jobs. It's a breathless and huge Concern.

      My hat is off to you (even though I don't wear one!) for taking a vitamin every day. Tried that, but kept forgetting to take it. Sigh. I know. Don't say it.

      Carry on.

  4. I recently found out that I am very afraid of heights. I got stuck in traffic on a very high freeway overpass (about six stories high and at an angle, mind you!) and I had to deep-breathe my way out of a panic attack. This was never an issue, and now it apparently is. I'm not that pleased.

    When I was a child, I had what I now know was a night-terror dream, but damn did my seven year old self think it was real. Slept with a pillow over my head for the better part of a year so that I wouldn't see the scary person with the glowing eyes that was coming toward me from the doorway. Ack! Scares me as a 44 year old!

    1. Gina--It may be that you aren't really afraid of heights, just afraid of a loss of control. You couldn't get out of that situation, and that was what caused your panic attack. You were stuck with no way out. If you were under any other stress, like a time constraint or had lots on your mind, that may have brought on the attack. It sounds very frightening altogether, and I'm sorry it happened to you.

      Did you ever tell your parent or a sibling about the nightmare? I always told my kids that telling a bad dream out loud helped it to go away and not come back. Or were you too scared to even talk about it? Poor Little Gina. How did we ever manage to grow up at all?

    2. I never breathed a word to anyone! I was afraid they would think I was crazy! You would think that my parents would have asked why was sleeping like that, but nope.

      On that overpass, I had a bit of a time constraint, but it wasn't too bad. I recently also went up on a ginormous Ferris Wheel and had a bit of a panic attack on that as well, but I knew that it might be coming and was prepared. Interestingly, it was only when we were doing the loading and unloading thing, when you stop and start. When we were simply going around and around, it wasn't too bad.

      It probably is a control issue. Which is weird because you would think the older I get the more I would realize that I can control absolutely nothing!

    3. Gina--Your last sentence says it all: The older we get, the more we realize that we have less and less control. That's the key. When we're young, we are so full of ourselves and confident: we can take over the world, or at least our corner of it. And we're naive and wide-eyed. As we age, we have to give a lot of that up--either because we have other responsibilities, we learn the way the world works, or we have experiences that disillusion us. But we resist and don't want to relinquish all of our control...not yet! I think that desire for control will manifest itself here and there, at random points in our lives; who knows why?

      As to your childhood night terrors, I'm still so sorry. During the times of our childhoods, we weren't really raised to share a lot with our parents, like our kids are now. Kids had a sort of creed of childhood: we only shared with each other, if at all. And parents left kids alone more in a sort of Free-Range Parenting that now would be grounds for prosecution. Times have changed.

  5. Fear of failure, fear of change, and fear of speaking about what really matters. These would surprise anyone who knows me as we all learn to hide our fears, or at least I know I did. The most interesting thing about this list as that the first two occur every day in my career! Funny how we practice overcoming fear in so many ways.

    1. Rose--I hear you. I hate to fail and I resist change in a lot of cases, too. It's funny, isn't it? We are a lot like our students in those areas. They have a huge fear of speaking out because they fear Being Wrong. It was always a major discussion-killer in my classes. Finally, I instituted a two-minute Wrong Answer Discussion Period. I'd ask a battery of questions on the story/novel, call on people at random, and they'd just answer wrongly on purpose. I'd respond with, "That's WRONG!" and the class would clap. Everyone loved it, and it took the sting out of being incorrect. This was with Honors, however; never had the guts to do it with my regs.

      Rose, if you can hide your fears, I bet you can overcome them! How about that?

    2. That sounds like an awesome strategy! I will have to try it with my honors class soon. When I was divorcing I had to keep this quote in sight a great deal of the time: "Speak your truth, even if you voice shakes". Again, no one who knows me would believe this about me, for I'm outgoing and quite free with my thoughts, but to really stand up and demand my needs takes a lot. And lo and behold, I'm finding myself in that same position again with my marriage as we approach the ten year mark. Won't be putting anything about that on the blog but that's where I am at this point. No matter what, I know I'll be fine, but it's no fun being here again.

    3. Rose--Oh, dear. I understand. I really, really do. Marriage is an evolutionary process, I think, and in order for it to move and develop in the Best Way Possible, a lot of communication is necessary. And, usually, this falls to the women. We have to at least start things. I use a lot of "we" and "I feel like" and "Can you help me understand..." when I start a discussion. It's hard for me not to obliterate anyone in a discussion/argument with vocabulary, so I purposely keep things simple and direct. I pause a lot and try to keep things from getting emotionally charged.

      I try to remember that Most Men Do Not Enjoy Discussion About Feelings And Want It All To Be Over Or Just Want You To Tell Them What Will Fix It.

      Sigh. But that is not the answer, so there is work to do.

    4. Thank you. You know the funny thing about this post was my initial response: "I don't have anything to say about this topic"
      Turns out it was extremely thought provoking, so thank you again.

  6. We drove into the city in a whiteout last evening for a pre booked anniversary celebration with the family and I was in a full out panic attack most of the way, even though JG was driving and he is excellent in snow. I think I was afraid because I figured I could not handle the driving myself, far fetched as that may seem. The older I get the more I am afraid of things that I can't manage - things that I used to manage with no sweat.
    This seems to be the fear of Something Bad that you identified. I have no clue as to why. All I can think,of to do,is to hide the panic as much as possible and carry on, heart racing, stomach churning, hating myself a lot.
    You have no idea how it cheers me to read your description and know I am not alone.

    1. Mary G--Oh, my dear. Never, ever Alone. And I am so glad to have been any source of Comfort.

      I think we, as women and managers and moms and former workplace Managers in our careers (whatever they may have been) have always had a Firm Measure Of Control. As we age and leave those pieces of our lives behind, so goes part of our Control. I know that, at times, I am honestly uncomfortable and a little At Sea with so much Freewheeling Relaxation. It feels almost Chaotic. It sounds Crazy.

      That's when I try to find little spots of Occupation so that I don't, as St Patsy used to admonish me, Think Too Much.

      I'm still, I think, recovering from living such a tightly controlled life as a public school teacher in a Big Urban District.

      You are often busy and doing and outdoorsy, but there are still moments when the sheer vastness of Things In General Out There Beyond Your Control may seize you now and again. You are strong and steely; you can Stand Up With Grace.

    2. Maybe what I am afraid of is the day I can't. Thanks, though. Hugs!

  7. Fear is a huge issue for everyone every day, whether they admit it or not. Learning how to live with those fears, or being able to overcome them, is a struggle we all deal with.

    I have a number of fears. Physically, heights nauseate me and literally make my hands sweat, even if I watch it on TV or film. It’s not quite as bad in a tall building where I KNOW I won’t fall, but it is still extremely unpleasant. I have no control over this reaction, so I try to avoid heights as much as possible. I’ve worked on trying to overcome this to very little effect.

    Other issues are emotional/mental. I am a nervous flyer, simply because it’s so far down, and statistically speaking, if there is a real problem, you’re going to die. I am also afraid of unexpected confrontation, as I grew up with a lot of criticism that felt like I was being attacked. When those situations occur, I freeze up and have little or no ability to defend myself. Fear over losing my job and income (big issue), as well as the health and well-being of my daughter and horses, are also things that weigh on my mind a lot. But what I have found to be the most true about these fears is that I anticipate problems with these things and ratchet up my own dread.

    My current day job is in the mental health field and we help young adults get their lives together with a multi-dimensional approach. One of the skills they teach is how to change your thought processes from extreme (very black and white) to much more realistic thinking. This has helped me to realize that although you can’t change what is true right now, you can change how you choose to think about it. This allows you to develop a plan on how to change what you don’t like, and learn to live with what can’t be changed in a less fearful way. This approach has made a real difference in how I feel about the fears in my life, and allowed me to stop conjuring up bad outcomes and let go of much of the dread and anticipation of an overwrought mind.

    So now it’s not that I don’t have fears, I’m just more comfortable knowing I have some new skills on how to deal with them. It’s made a big difference to my peace of mind.

    1. LaFF--I applaud you. The phrase "overcoming your fears" includes, in my mind, a strategy for dealing with your fears. I still have a phobia of snakes, but I have finally gotten it managed to the point of not being overcome with nausea or panic each time I merely see one on tv or in a magazine. Finding a good coping skill is a way of Overcoming Fear in my book.

      I was always astonished--as I'm sure you are in your work--by the way young adults think. It is so very different in many ways from the way a more mature brain thinks. It made my job as a highschool teacher not only exciting and fun, but also challenging and frustrating. Realizing that there is A Big Difference was critical for me. It was apparent especially in cause-and-effect; I had so many students who honestly saw no relationship between studying and doing well on quizzes and tests. They thought it was all a matter of Luck. Even then, it was Lucky That They Had Studied The Right Things.

      For so many of them, Life was a series of Gotchas that they had to avoid somehow. They saw themselves as Victims, that life was Something That Happened To Them. The idea that they had some way of steering their lives was alien to them. I hope that you are helping with all of that.

      I used to have the fear of heights thing, but mine was looking up at very tall things. It faded away on its own (probably replaced by something else!). I continue to work away at my aversion to escalators (after seeing a woman drop her infant on one--horrifying consequences).

      Thank you for working with young adults in mental health. That it helps you manage some stress, too, is terrific.

  8. What I fear more than death is suffering and illness. More of those I love than myself, but still, I fear it. I have a family history of several cancers and get screened regularly for them, but to say that going to the doctor is terrifying for me would be the mildest of understatements. It takes me weeks just to get up the courage to make an appointment, and typically at least one xanax on the day I go to a mammogram (I've had several false positives, including a 2 biopsies - one surgical - which tends to ratchet up the terror factor). I have done every kind of positive thinking and self-talk that exists, read books, prayed, done deep breathing - and I can't get over it. And of course it doesn't help that we move all the time, so I don't have a regular caregiver who gets my little phobias. And it's even worse if it's someone else: if MrL has something wrong - no matter how mild - I can barely sleep. And don't even get me started on my kids. I am one of those people who turns every headache into a brain tumor. I know it probably sounds funny, because I know everyone experiences moments like that, but it is terrifying and crippling for me. I realize it is because the worst *did* happen: my dad's annoying backache turned out to be liver metastases and then he died 18 months later, so I don't have the comfort (as you said about the teenagers) of thinking those things don't really happen. I do worry about all the other things too, but the health thing is like a black cloud over my head, which is pretty stupid since we'll all die of something anyway. I have no problem being dead, but I'm terrified of dying slowly and painfully - or being forced to watch someone I love do so again.

    1. MsCaroline--I'm very sorry for what happened to your father. And then to have your own frights with false positives; that comes far too close. It isn't funny to me at all, this terror that you go through with regard to illness and fearing the worst. I completely understand it, and I sympathize. It's like a conditioned response now for you; you are ready for the worst because it happened when you were caught unawares once already, and you will never let it happen again. Your whole body and brain is defending you FOR you. No, it's not funny at all.

      I have a friend who is exactly the same way and who wishes she were not. Her trigger is due to a son who had birth complications, and now, like you, every headache is a brain tumor, every pain is cancer, etc. It is like a life sentence of Worry Overmuch. If she lets her guard down, Bad Things Could Happen.

      Isn't it astonishing, what our brains can do to us? And not to be flip or glib, but if only we could harness that dark power and channel it to Good instead of Evil. If only some scientist somewhere were working on how to flip that switch from fear to, say, creativity or memory. Imagine the power we all would have.

      In the meantime, dear MsCaroline, I am glad you continue to see doctors in spite of your fear. And that you are Merry and Light in the face of it all as much as possible. Managing your terrors is, as we said above, a way of conquering them. It's good you are in England--the land of St George, the dragon-slayer!

  9. I find as I get older that I have fewer fears. In younger years my primary fears revolved around my children; fear that I might die before they grew up; fear they might die before they grew up, etc. Now my children are grown and successful adults so I no longer have fears concerning them.

    My biggest fears are for the future of my state and our country on many levels. My progressive North Carolina has turned into an ultra conservative state with leadership that cares little about the poor or disenfranchised. The General Assembly passes laws they know to be unconstitutional but do so in order to make Planned Parenthood (for example) pay expensive legal fees to appeal the laws through the court system. Many of our nation's "leaders" profess allegiance to Jesus above allegiance to country. The SCOTUS has given human rights/privileges to political organizations who are rapidly buying our judges and even mayors at local levels and working upward. Too many people in Congress have been bought by big money lobbyists and they are re-paying them at the expense the environment and public safety.

    I know I'm likely "preaching to the choir" here, but that is truly what I fear.

    1. NCmountainwoman--NC's changing demographic politically intrigues me. I was unaware that it was ever very progressive. Has it been gerrymandered terribly, the way Ohio has been recently?

      When GWB was first in office and the Rove-ian tinkering with the republican party was reaching its zenith, I was just beginning to understand what was truly occurring with American Politics. After the Election Of The Dark Times (Bush/Kerry), I finally became completely disillusioned. It was obvious to me that there was a careful engineering--a real courting of the fringe element and the far-right, religious zealot, racist element of the republican party, a genuine targeting of the know-nothings in America--by the republican party. I was hoping that it would all end with the end of GWB's presidency; that being mediocre and a doofus would no longer be the standard for America to live up to. Oh. Well.

      Unfortunately, all the hardlining right-wingers can now pretend that the President is from Kenya, is abusing the Constitution, is trying to take away everyone's guns, land, Jesus, and freedom, when really, for a great many of them, he is merely standing there being a black man who is a Democrat and who is the Boss Of Them. And they cannot handle it.

      Next up may well be a woman who is standing there being a Democrat who is the Boss Of Them. That will go over equally as badly. And she isn't even close to being a Muslim or black. But she does have The Hormones. Let the games begin.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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