On Being A Scaredy Cat

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I’m scared.  

It’s January 3, 2018, and I’ve spent the first few days of the new year in a fear cycle. The specific context almost doesn’t matter because I’ve been caught up in this very same cycle so many times before, but this one has to do with waiting for medical test results. The wait—for imaging results for one of my young-adult children—has been prolonged by the New Year’s holiday. These three long days and nights have not been pleasant, but nor have they been spent in unmitigated fear. There have been respites. Moments of lying on a dry island in the warm sun—until the tides of fear suck me out into the choppy seas again. Those moments of peace have been hard won.  I’ve been working my ass off, employing all my tricks, using all my tools, every method I know for cultivating wellbeing. And they work. They swim me back to shore. 

But what I keep noticing is the lure of fear. The lure, and the lore. As in: the compelling pull of fear, as well as the falsified evidence, the what if’s fear uses to suck me back into its current. I remind myself that the worst case scenario is not happening right now, is not—at least not yet—real. I repeat the acronym for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.  

“But what if it’s not false,” Fear says, arguing its case.  “What if it is real?”  Fear has a very good point: the evidence could be real. The lump in question could be a malignant tumor. It also could be, and most likely is, a benign cyst. But for now, in the present moment, we don’t know. And for now, in the present moment, I have a warm cup of tea, a fire in my fireplace, and writing—a medium through which I can explore the machinations of fear. For now, in this moment, all is well. 

“What you’re doing is not safe,” Fear interrupts. “Hanging out in wellbeing without all the evidence that everything’s going to be okay is reckless. Dangerous.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I challenge Fear. “How could this state—my heart rate steady, my belly easeful, my system at peace—not be safe? How could it not be good for me to feel this way?” I drop the mic. I’ve called Fear’s bluff.

Fear tries again, telling me I’m setting myself up to be blindsided. “Come with me,” Fear lures, “I’ll help you be prepared.”

I marvel at Fear’s stamina, and relentless techniques. But even though I see through its BS—and I know, in this moment, that even if the news isn’t good, we will manage, moment by moment—somehow, the riptide keeps sucking me out again. I find myself thrashing in choppy waters, panicking with vivid images of the worst case scenario, my system coursing with adrenaline and cortisol. And then I employ 1:2 breathing, move through mindfulness exercises, use Hoffman Process tools, do some yoga, to swim myself one more time back into the now, the warm dry shores of present time.  

*   *   *

It’s January 5th, and I am fully back on terra firma, humbled yet again by the complete workout provided by fear, one that would still be going on if the news had not come in as the blessing that it did. Benign: sending gratitude and relief humming through my system in the form of oxytocin, endorphins, all the feel-good hormones. I am fully aware that more workouts await. The earthsuits we live in get lumps, some benign, some malignant. Calamitous destructive events happen. Eventually, one way or another, mortality claims every one of us—the lure and lore of fear can do nothing to prevent that. Not all of us are prone to anxiety. Not all of us have an EZ pass straight to the open ocean of worst-case scenario thinking. But for those of us who have neural networks like mine, I send compassion, companionship, and championing for our mass swim, again and again, back to shore. And the prayer that maybe one of these days, no matter what happens, we can learn to stay ashore the entire time, on the warm dry land of the mindful moment til death do us part.

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