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  • Nicki Claeys

When Fear Wants to Take Over

I just got home from a visit to a local Women’s Medical Clinic. I’ve been having some physical problems which concerned my OB/GYN. She sent me in for two types of ultrasounds, along with my annual mammogram. I let my family know about these tests and it was interesting to hear their responses. My husband didn’t say much but I can always tell when he’s inwardly worried but wants to appear calm. My youngest daughter, a senior in high school, is quite a bit like me with respect to situations like this. She asked some questions and will just wait for news and decide how to react then. My oldest daughter is the worrier. She immediately went to the worst-case scenario and let her anxiety take over. I did my best to quell her fears about it. It could be something easily taken care of with medication or surgery, stuff like this happens all the time. I’ll go over the test results with all of them tomorrow.

I really wasn’t too worried about it, more just anxious to get some answers and get on the fast track to feeling better. But when I had the tests done, I found myself listening to the technicians for some sign of it being good or bad. I watched their eyes and mannerisms, but of course, they were still and silent. Ever the professionals. But maybe there were too silent? Wait, she just squinted her eyes, what did that mean? Were they seeing something that made them be silent in concern or was this just their normal behavior? Did they just glance at each other? I found myself allowing my fears to get the better of me. Now I have 26 hours before I go see my doctor and hear the results. I’m hopeful it’s something we can tackle head-on and get me back on the track to health. But my mind can’t help but think, what if?

Fear. My favorite acronym for fear is Fantasized Events Appearing Real. Ain't it the truth though? When you break it down, fear really is our own imagination getting in the way of reality. Apparently, there are three ways we deal with fear. Fight, Flight, or Freeze. I see many people react to fear depending on the type of fear they are facing.

During Halloween season we decorate our homes with blood, spiders, gravestones, witches, and zombies. I am amazed at the gruesome and malevolent décor items found in the popup Halloween shops. You can literally make your home so scary some kids won’t even come near it. People pull out the scary movies and there is a plethora of options; paranormal, evil, serial murder, and the basic the psychological thrillers. Some head out to haunted houses where they literally pay someone to scare them (my imagination runs wild enough on its own without the help of a teenager dressed up as an ax murderer thank you very much). Yes, we love to be scared.

Phobias are a whole other level of fear. Debilitating fear. Fear of snakes, spiders, closed spaces, flying, drowning, the list goes on. There are some very bizarre phobias out there too, such as one my daughter talks about, Trypophobia: the fear of clusters of small holes. There’s Chirophobia: the fear of hands, I don’t know what a person does when that is something literally stuck to their body, Pupaphobia: Fear of Puppets (poor Elmo), and my personal favorite (but hell if I can pronounce it) Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: The fear of long words.

When I was a kid, all the 9th graders in the district were invited to go to the local amusement park for free as an end of year celebration. I attended with all my friends and they convinced me to go on a few big rides. Two roller coasters and a big swinging ship ride. I hate heights. I hate the feeling of falling and imminent death. They kept convincing me the more I rode, the more I would like it. LIARS! I could only fake laugh for so long. The screams were coming from actual terror and the cuss words escaping my teenage lips would have made a sailor proud. Apparently, their theory of doing it more will make it better wasn’t the case for me. And yes, I am a white-knuckle flyer. I have gotten better with airplane rides over the years but why is it that every flight I ever get on has turbulence? And Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” inevitably goes through my head when the turbulence hits, specifically the line about the guy who was afraid to fly. Again though, here I am making my fantasy a perceived reality.

Most of what we have seen over the last seven months has been rooted in fear. The what-ifs have taken on a life of their own. We've seen fear come in so many forms it's hard to keep up. Fear of the virus, fear of food shortages, fear of other people, fear of government, fear of hornets, fear of war, fear of wildfires, fear of economic collapse, even the fear of not having enough toilet paper (or in my house fear of having to actually use the bidet that was purchased).

There are other kinds of fear. Triggers that can take us back to a terrible event in our past. The bad news we were afraid to hear. The things we are afraid to do or act on. The fears we have for our kids, the what-if’s we have when we give up control. Fear of rejection, fear of being hurt, fear of failure, even fear of success.

But when we live in fear we truly rob ourselves of joy in life. When we refuse to take action because we fear the unknown, we can never know what our true potential is. When we become rigid in our belief that we know best, it’s impossible to see the wisdom of others. When we live in the land of what-if, we stay in our old comfort zones and can’t grow. All because of those Fantasized Events Appearing Real. But they aren’t real and haven’t even happened. Yet there have been studies done that show our brain can’t tell the difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat. Hence the fight, flight, or freeze reaction.

The actual rattlesnake we saw on our hike.

A few months ago, I went hiking with Stef and her daughter. We came within a foot of a rattlesnake, in fact, her daughter is the one who spotted it because she nearly stepped on it. The temperature was beginning to hit the 90’s and was already a dry season. Perfect conditions for snakes to come out of their dens. The rattler was obviously as unhappy to see us as we were to see it. After jumping back 20 feet we stood and stared at it, unsure of what to do (freeze). We discussed our options. Do we back up and not do our hike? Throw a rock at it? Wait for it to leave? The snake was obviously analyzing it’s options as well because it sat and watched us with equal trepidation. It was like a game of chicken. After what felt like an hour, the snake moved across the trail and down the side of the hill, at which point we ran past the area and kept moving (flight). But the rest of the hike we were full of F.E.A.R. Every stick was a threat, every bush and large rock we passed was certainly hiding another serpent enemy. We were unable to get any joy out of the hike because fear took over. We ended up choosing not to hike on that trail anymore this summer as the reports of rattlesnake sightings increased.

But there were plenty of other people who kept hiking those trails. They saw rattlesnakes too. But they were willing to take the risk. They felt if they were smart, kept watch, and respected the snake territory that chances were it would be ok. I started thinking about my life. How many times in my life have I abandoned “the trail” I was on because I was scared of what was on it. Or worse, how many times did I quit “hiking” altogether because it was too hard, too scary, or too long?

When I was young and well into my twenties I was filled with fear. I spent a good amount of life in the “Not Good Enough Club”. Not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not cool enough, not smart enough. I know we’ve all been there. The fear and lack of confidence that these thoughts left in me were at times debilitating. Luckily, I began my studies in bodywork and learned very quickly that I had to work on myself first. Over the last twenty-five years, I have spent countless hours reading, studying, listening, and learning about how to get past fear and doubt, especially when it comes to my personal growth.

When I lay on that exam table earlier today and felt myself giving in to the fear, I took a deep breath and focused on the ceiling instead of the technicians. I started going through my mental gratitude list and sending love energy to the world around me. I told my body (especially the lady bits) I loved it and thanked it for producing me two beautiful daughters. I thanked God for the advances in modern technology. I sent loving energy to my husband, daughters, mom, and friends. As many positive things as I could think of for the 30 minutes is what I focused on. It’s so easy to sit and think about the terrible possibilities, but why? If we focus on what beautiful things have been and what beautiful things could be, there is no room for anxiety.

I can still find myself going back to those not-good-enough, and what-if thoughts sometimes. But I remind myself that I am the example for my girls, and I want them to remember that even though their mom has faced some pretty big mountains in life, I faced them head-on. Even if it’s a slow climb, is the best thing I can do for me. I suppose that’s the “fight”. But I look at it as standing my ground, facing fear with eyes wide open, and navigating it to the best of my ability. I will face my fears with strength, optimism, laughter, love, and MOXIE!

Helping you face the mountains of life with passion, strength, optimism, and fun!

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