On Being A Scaredy Cat



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.

21 thoughts on “On Being A Scaredy Cat”

  1. So well-written, so well thought-out. Thanks, Hilary. And yay for benign results!
    As someone who’s waited for those tests (and had some crummy results), I understand all too well how vigilance somehow feels like safety. It’s not.
    It’s so hard to be somehow comfortable with uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. One of the hardest things to do. The other shoe will drop or it won’t. You still get to live your life in the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so well said, Diana. Vigilance is not safety: it’s in fact a thief, robbing us of the present moment. Which as you say so well, we still get to have. It’s our birthright, the present moment. Even if, as it sometimes is for me, it’s a major workout to claim that birthright! I send you compassion for the times you’ve gotten crummy results: I hate those. I love your wisdom and your sharing, thank you.


  2. Hi Hilary, Why do your blogs always strike a chord? I, too, am awaiting results of an MRI… So happy that your child’s is benign!! Thanks for the images. Very helpful. Love the emoji! Happy New Year! Love, Carol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad, Carol, that my blog posts resonate with you. Good luck with your MRI results, and may you claim your birthright to your present moment, no matter what. That is my prayer for you, me, and all of us. Amen.


  3. Hilary – Well I can certainly relate! I’m prone to anxiety and the very sort of thinking you describe. We had a VERY similar scare a few months ago and I was in worse-case-scenario land the entire time, and similarly relieved. SO happy that was your outcome as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think part of being mortal is learning to navigate these scares—some of which will thankfully be okay (as I’m so glad yours was), and some of which won’t—without getting sucked out into that total fear. Even when the news isn’t good, not totally succumbing to the ocean of fear, because it is just SO TAXING (#1), and (#2) when we are out there swimming for dear life, we miss out on all the other blessings we could be enjoying. Life’s work, this one. My life’s work… THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENT.


  4. So happy benign. So sorry. I did not know this fear/worry was at your door. We got the it is real – but all the more important to stay in the breath – in the exact moment. Fear depletes our resources. We have no time or energy for fear. We breathe in. We do. We love. We grow. We exhale. We breathe in again. If we’re lucky enough. Love you for your raw honest expressions. Much much love. ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry for the major workout you and your family are undoubtedly in, Lisa, with the news not being good. And I am so admiring and supportive of you staying in the moment and in the breath. Our breath comes in and out in present time; when we remember to focus on it that is one sure portal into the Now. Into the blessings of the mindful moment. I send you and your family bottomless blessings. Infinite love and prayers.


    1. Happy New Year to you, too, and thank you for commenting. I think this post might be all too familiar to anyone who thinks they might be a SIX on the Enneagram… Love Love and more love, Hilary


  5. Your blogs do indeed resonate! I’m glad he’s ok. Thank you for sharing. Employing the fear acronym is something I try to do often, too. Last night when my children’s father was unreachable on the road —the freezing, possibly treacherous highway into Quebec–for hours and hours after his planned arrival time, fear had swept me up into logistical and emotional defcon 1. It is such a *workout* as you so perfectly describe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I wonder if I looked back over my lifetime (of 53 years so far) and calculated how much time I’ve spent in these “workouts,” how many years it would total? I think it would be humbling and harrowing to face down that calculation…. Thank you for sharing your story. We really are all in this mortality soup together. Love love Hilary


    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. And YES good news is so good. Soooo deliciously good. And also news is not always good. I am continually working on the muscle for dealing with that, too. I think it all might boil down to mindfulness, to taking life moment by moment. Happy New Year and LOVE, Hilary


  6. So glad to hear his results were benign Hilary! Nerve-wracking as you so well described. All the best to you and your family in the new year! Love Curt


  7. I needed this today. Riptide’s caught me but I will swim with the current and know that I will make my way back to shore no matter what news comes tomorrow. Maybe further down the shore, spent and out of breath, but still breathing nevertheless. Xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sending you blessings and love as you await the news—one of life’s most anxiety-provoking challenges. Have you listened to Regina Spektor’s lyrics in “No One’s Laughing at God”? There is a line, “No one’s laughing at God when the doctor calls.” Prayers, Hilary


  8. Hilary, great insight on fear. More than 60 years ago my mother use to tell me “the things you worry about most never happen”. As a dutiful son I worried the daylights out of things. At 75 I now know that premature worry does rob time that could be put to much better use! No wonder my daughters SAJ hold you in such great regard.


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