I have been thinking about my fears lately. Not intentionally or strategically; the fears, large and small, are a part of one’s everyday existence, at least for those brave enough to admit it. Most of the time, fears come and go, largely unnoticed by our consciousness and obscured by techniques we’ve developed in dodging direct interaction with those fears. At other times, though, when the daily demand on our time/energy/resources becomes too great, fears make their insidious appearance in the stream of our thoughts, disrupting the flow and disorienting the internal compass.
I am not one to wallow in helplessness; in fact, my response to a crisis is to immediately stage a tactical assault on the culprit, to dismantle it, systematically, logically, to talk myself through it or out of it. I gather facts, I outline, I make lists of pros and cons and of potential remedies. I look through my books, returning to trusted sources for advice, seeking new ones; I revisit my old journals; now and again, I talk to a friend (or, more often than not, my mother), I write, I do some yoga, I go for a run. Problem solved. Fears conquered. Moving forward.
This time was different. I thought I’d seen it all before: fears would well up, I’d work through them in my own established way and then watch them dissolve–a trusted pattern, been there, done that. But this time–this time was something else. Maybe it was the autumnal cold, or the crazy pace of my professional life and its demands, or the lack of rest, or maybe the aftermath of the hurricane. Unaffected, I found myself worrying about my loved ones, about strangers who have lost everything–or anything, about people I used to know in places I have visited. Are they OK? How are they holding up? and somewhere in the middle of this whirlpool of concerns about others, I realized that I wasn’t holding up at all.
That was unexpected, and I found that my trusted techniques were no match for the intensity of my feelings and the depth of my fears. They seemed so great that I could not even bear to open my eyes, figuratively speaking, and assess the issue. I muddled through my days, feeling the grit of anxiety just beneath the surface of my Self yet unable, unwilling, incapable to even breathe into it. I felt choked up on my run; I felt agitated in yoga; I felt my shoulders around my ears, creeping up slowly until there was pain. I felt incapable of opening my journal and picking up the pen, lest a monster appear. I felt paralyzed.
One thing I know for sure, and that is the impermanence of things. I knew that eventually fears would crack under their own pressure–that they would explode and rain on my head, and that I would have no other recourse but to acknowledge their existence and get better acquainted. I did not know what I would find in the debris.
Somehow, a pen found its way into my hands, and then the journal. I opened to the last entry and wrote down the date. And then: “I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” asked something inside me.
“I’m afraid of… I’m afraid that…”
And slowly, the words started to flow onto the page. I surprised myself with the extent of honesty: I did not realize just how much I’d been avoiding thinking about a particular issue. The issue itself is not important. Important is the fact that I have managed to avoid articulating the whats and the whys for as long as I have. Yes, I’ve identified that issue and have even shared it with a few trusted friends… Actually, I take it back. I have never shared it with my friends as a fear, but always rather as a “choice I’ve made.” Not quite the same thing, is it?
But today I took the opportunity to have an honest conversation with myself. I wrote of my Fear, in all its gripping details, in the words I would not share with my closest confidante. Unedited, raggedy, stream-of-consciousness words. Suddenly, I was overcome with compassion. It is as though I’d stepped outside myself and saw a person in need of comfort, of reassurance, a need for acknowledgement that yes, these are rational concerns that are something to consider and address. This alone made me feel more at ease, and suddenly still, I realized that I was less afraid. At least I now know what I’m dealing with; and although there are deeper layers of details to work out, at least now I’m in a position to get the facts and to ask the right questions of myself and others, when the time comes.
The tidal wave of words started to retreat, and with it, my sense of uneasiness. My fears, some fears, will always be there. I’m OK with that. I feel very lucky to be able to contemplate these things, to be able to write about them, and now that I know how, to be able to honestly finish the sentence “I am afraid that…”–if only to myself.