Fear. Fear. Fear. Are you scared yet? Probably not. But for me, this word strikes a dark chord. It dredges up bad memories, causing dread to climb into my throat. And for once, I’m not being dramatic.
Now let me explain. I’m nearly thirty, and I have found a good place in life. However, that was not always the case. When I was sixteen years old, back in the day of the dinosaurs, I lost the woman who helped my mother raise me. As a disillusioned teen, I bottled my grief up. I pretended losing her didn’t really matter. I would be fine. Everyone else would be fine.
But I wasn’t fine. I was barely surviving the emotional turmoil eating away at me. However, I wasn’t about to tell a soul. I wasn’t going to show my fear. That would allow people to see my weakness, and I didn’t want anyone to suspect that I was fragile—in any way, shape, or form.
A year after losing the person who meant the world to me, I had my first panic attack. It wasn’t anything like what I would have expected. I didn’t need a paper bag to hyperventilate in. I didn’t need to put my head between my legs. No, I needed a trip to the hospital. See I didn’t know what was going on with my body. The sudden choking sensation, the numbness and tingling, the out of body feeling, and the inability to catch my breath didn’t make a lick of sense to a seventeen year-old version of myself. All I understood, all I could process was the pure, undiluted panic pouring through my veins. And of course, the more scared I became, the worse the attack became. After hours in the emergency room, the doctor told me what had happened then he sent me on my merry way. But I was forever changed.
Flash forward a couple of months, I’m sitting in my freshman anatomy class in college, and it hits me—again. Fear. Terror. Total panic. And that was it. I raised my hand and made some pithy excuse before rushing out of class. Yet again, I didn’t understand what was going on. I do have a thick skull, after all. I had been through the panic attack before, but I was still at a complete loss. My rational mind took a vacation for a short period of time. So of course, I wound up visiting my doctor. And he told me exactly what the ER doctor had. You’re having panic attacks.
By now, I was starting to get the picture. But I didn’t like it. Not one bit. A control freak with a panic disorder? A Kabuki-mask wearing almost-woman with a panic disorder? Me with a panic disorder? It was horrifying. So guess what…more panic attacks started to bombard me.
Over the next two years, I had so many attacks that I lost count. It got so bad that I feared everything, and I truly mean everything. I eventually developed agoraphobia. Yep, more fun stuff for me. The agoraphobia prohibited me from even leaving the house. Unless someone forced me to go somewhere, I couldn’t do it. Even then, the trips were few and far between. The fear paralyzed me that much.
So you might be asking how I conquered the fear. Well, here it is. I talked myself out of the panic. Sound strange? It kind of is.
With two years of debilitating panic attacks under my belt, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t live like that anymore. I wanted to go places. I wanted to be a real person with a life, not someone who lived and died in my own home. Yes, that fear crossed my mind—more than once. But that is another story.
For the next few months, I found a way to fight the fear and win. As Susan Jeffers book says, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Well, I did. It wasn’t easy to feel the fear. Hell, it was downright hard. But I did it. Whenever I felt the panic attack coming on, I would let myself feel the fear. I would allow myself to think as rationally as possible through the terror whipping through me. I’d think about being strong, about overcoming my problem. I’d talk myself through whatever fear plagued me at that moment in time. Yes, the fears changed—constantly. I’d even rationalize why I wasn’t dying during the attacks. Yes, that was one of my most prominent thoughts. “I’m dying” was one of my favorite fears. I can’t even tell you how many times those two words spilled from my lips or plagued my thoughts when I was having an attack. It was probably in the thousands, and that is not an exaggeration either.
Once I regained control of my panic attacks, I had another problem—a huge one. How do I go out in public? How do I leave myself that vulnerable? Well, that was something that took me a long time to work through. Each day, I would force myself to do something I hadn’t before. I started small with trips to the mailbox. Then I branched out. Let me tell you, fear became my constant companion all over again. But I forced myself to feel the fear then do it anyway.
Now here I am…twelve years later. I rarely fear things because I did that enough for ten lifetimes during those two years. I won’t say that I feel no fear because that would be an outright lie. I’m still scared of spiders and heights. I still fear the big things in life, the things everyone fears. But, and that is a big but, I can now feel the fear without panicking. I can experience fear without having to hide from what I feel. I no longer seek shelter in my home for weeks at a time. I can drive and go wherever I want. I am who I am. I am who I want to be. And I’m grateful for that.
Sometimes I think about how much fear controlled my life, and it breaks my heart to know that I wasted so much time. Other times, I think about how much fear changed my life, how much it taught me, and how much it transformed me and my life path. So I have to say that in an insanely twisted way fear is my friend. Strange, I know. But guess what, I’m a very strange girl.
Have a happy Tuesday, 69ers! XOXOXO!
Love and cherries,