“We are often more frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than reality.”–Seneca
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”–Rudyard Kipling
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. But is it really false? Does the body truly know what is real versus perceived?
Panic, anxiety, stress, depression, lethargy, mania . . . this is the vocabulary that describes very real reactions to F. E. A. R.
Fight. Flight. Freeze. Three words that seem perfectly harmless . . .until linked with the word, fear.
There are other words too: cancer, stroke, heart disease, COVID, Rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, aging, dying, murder, divorce, accident, fire, flood, hurricane . . . and even the word, change–when viewed in isolation–not attached to oneself or a loved one–are words that can seem likewise benign, or at the very least, distant.
What do all of these words have in common? They all have the potential to strike fear in both the recipient(s) and/or the supporting loved one(s) often triggering the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Fear is a four-letter word that is often the king or queen of many minds, including my own, if left unchecked. It can often be the source of increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, racing thoughts, sleepless nights, shortness of breath, tightness in chest or other parts of the body, excessive worry, loss or increase of appetite, fatigue, headaches, and the list goes on. None of us are immune. Sometimes the fear is real and valid, other times, while it is still valid, it is often exacerbated by one’s mind.
Lack. Of. Control. Fear creates a threat, and when the body/mind feels threatened, our nervous systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic) respond automatically in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. Fight-flight-or-freeze is not a conscious decision. It is an automatic reaction for which you have little to no control.
Recently, I viewed the documentary, Robin’s Wish. This short film, a little over an hour long, alternates scenes of honoring/remembering Williams the actor and friend, as well as reflections/responses to his decline. Ultimately, it wraps up with events from his tragic death, and the discovery that what was initially diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease was actually Lewy body dementia, the third most common type of dementia according to the Alzheimer’s Association, shedding new light and greater understanding for William’s untimely death. It concludes with a note of hope: Robin’s wish . . .
“I want to help people be less afraid,”–Robin Williams
As the film revealed, Williams battled various forms of fear his entire life. Thus, learning that he wanted to help others be less afraid struck a heart note within me. Williams brought laughter, joy, and mirth to audiences throughout the entirety of his prodigious career. Through his comedic words and actions, Williams helped many feel less fearful–even if only for a short moment.
Personally, I understand battling fears as I am often filled with many sundry fears. It is hard for me to recall being without them–although I have been told that I was fearless as a youngster. Perhaps, it is my overactive imagination, my sensitive nature, or the unique hard-wiring of my brain, but feeling fearful has been a large part of my life.
Most days, I “fake it ‘til I make it,” moving throughout life as if I don’t possess one single shred of fearfulness; and, it usually works. I am able to take the fearful part of myself, box it, bound it up tightly, and store it far away in the attic of my inner world in hopes that it won’t escape. Days, weeks, sometimes, months can go by, and not a tremor of fear is felt. Then, like unexpected heavy rains in the middle of the night, the drip, drip, drip of fear begins to leak into my life.
It is those very fears that inspired me to write. Beginning in those angsty middle school years, when I was fearful or did not understand something, I wrote. Over those young years of my life, pages of journals and notebooks were filled; and then, I stopped. My writing began to feel meaningless, trite, and purposeless; and therefore, not worth the effort.
Decades later, my fears grew heavy once more, threatening to consume me if I didn’t do something. I attempted to keep boxing them, rewrapping them, and shelving them here and there within the messy recesses of my being, but they kept slipping their binds. Ironically, I could not give them a voice–I could not articulate them–just felt them in my body: deep belly aches/flutters, pounding heart, accelerated thoughts, and worries–constant, constant worries.
Then, at the gentle, but dogged, nudging of a friend, I began writing again. I wrote for no one in particular–just to work out the kinks, find my voice, and learn to once more articulate–at least through the written word. Sure enough, the fears began to loosen–not per se, leave, but at least they were becoming more tame–most days!
Reading Williams’ succinctly summed up quote, I realized that my own drive to not only write, but to share my words with others, is because I, too, want to help people feel less afraid and more focused on the positive. In fact, I realize that was an underlying factor for likewise becoming an educator–to help children feel less afraid. I am not sure if I have achieved either of these goals, and I know for certain that I have not, nor will not achieve to the level of Williams’ success. Still, I can try to make a difference. Even if I am only able to help one reader, or one student, feel they are not alone–reassure someone that they can “do hard things,” they can persevere, and they can live with fear without it ruling their life–then, I have achieved my goal. While my writing, or teaching, will not earn an academy award, nor lead to fame or fortune, if it leaves a small mark within a life or two, then that is enough reward.
Recently, I was making my way down the Ritter Park path. It was riddled with puddles after days of rain. Unless you like mud-soaked shoes and ankles, you had to work with others to navigate through and around the numerous soggy patches of earth. That is what life is about, working with others to get through the sloppy times. Some of us do that on a large-scale, such as Robin Williams, and the rest of us have opportunities and moments in life in which we can help one another navigate through and around rough patches, using whatever gifts God has given us.
Don’t ever think you are alone in your fears, Dear Reader. You are not, and you can persist in spite of them.