Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fear: And Other Thoughts From a 35-year-old Woman

I was 13 years old the first time a flew in an airplane alone (without my parents), and less than five minutes into the flight we had to go back to LAX for a semi-emergency landing. Sitting in the last row of that jet, I put down my Ray Bradbury Martian Chronicles book and contemplated the utter agony of being scared shitless. As the Northwest (Delta) DC-9 banked a hard U-turn back to LAX due to unexplained loss of engine power, I remember being so scared that it physically hurt in my chest. I'll never forget what it felt like to hear a pilot get on the loudspeaker and say, "....Ah...folks?..." in that classic-calm-pilot voice. 

Sixteen hours later (no idea why it took that long) I was finally re-routed on an airplane back to Minneapolis, only to learn that my Dad, upon seeing CANCELLED for my flight status was convinced it had crashed. My Aunt and Uncle in California had waved my airplane off from the gate (this was back in the 1990s when you did not have to have a boarding pass to walk with your loved ones to the boarding gate). My mom later told me that when she and my dad when to MSP to pick me up and my flight said CANCELLED, my dad got "weak-kneed" and almost fainted. So both father and daughter were experiencing fear so bad it physically hurt on a random air traffic control Monday...

Fear. It drives us, it saves us, it inhibits us, and it makes us want to puke. Although it has been useful for our reptilian survival, Fear, my friends, is a shitty travel companion that is only messing things up for us, left and right.

I turned 35 last week, and on my birthday, Fear was being a soggy wet blanket that just kept making me feel colder and colder. I was supposed to go out to dinner and then on to a Walker Art Center After Hours Party but I felt so exhausted by hanging out with my friend Fear that I could only handle pizza and a movie at home. Why was I feeling so afraid. I don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter. The point I'd like to suggest is that, overall, Fear is not helpful and it's time to do a toxic friend audit on it.

The other day I attended a chronic pain clinic at The Marsh and learned some stuff about pain that blew my mind. There is a bunch of new research coming out based on the Fear-avoidance model that basically states that Fear makes us hurt. 

Stop stressing out about your torn ACL 
you'll only make it worse.

All of us in the audience started nodding our heads when the Physical Therapist explained that 

The more you fear your pain, the more you will feel your pain. 

Yeah, so. I do not have chronic pain. But I have other chronic conditions (as most of us 35+ do, and if you don't, well, good job) and those chronic conditions light up as soon as I start to worry about them. 

I have to admit, right now as I write this post sitting next to a gently flowing river listening to wind chimes, I am struggling to tap into the eureka moment I had on this Fear topic. But I do know that it is important.

I think the important point - my aha moment - was that it really is true that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Afraid of pain? It's just pain. Afraid of failure? It's just failure. Afraid of dying? Spoiler alert, we are all going to die, too.

For FDR's First Inaugural Address, he did not have a whole lot of good news to preach in 1933 when the United States was in the depths of the The Great Depression 
"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. 
In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days..."
 Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933, as published in Samuel Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume Two: The Year of Crisis, 1933 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16.

And then he went on to serve four terms through WWII all while managing (and often successfully hiding from the American public) a significant physical disability (polio) like a Boss. So, the point here is, FDR kicks ass and we should listen to his wisdom regarding Fear being a complete waste of time.

This week I met up with an old friend who told me something I found so freeing. She said that no matter what she does, be it sex / drugs / rock n' roll, she has never EVER hid or - more importantly - apologized for who she is and the vices she chooses to keep near and dear. I loved hearing this. It is essentially the "no fucks given" mentality. 

The hills are alive with not giving a shit about 
what other people think.

The people who figure out how to be themselves, do what they wanna do, and not second guess are the people pushing society forward in tech, art, science, etc. These are the Badass Innovators who won't take No or one thousand failures as reasons to stop trying. If they sat around letting Fear get the best of them, there is no way that the Badass Innovators would float around in Space or fight Ebola. 

I want to be a Badass Innovator. 

But I think it is hard not to be afraid. I usually get pretty afraid once a month and that's when I think that everything I am doing is wrong and when all I want to do is stay in bed. As I said mentioned earlier, this happened to me last week, and I am sure it will continue to happen over and over and over. I've noticed that when I am in the thick of it, no matter what I do it can be hard to snap out of it.

But let this post serve as a reminder to us all, the next time Fear shows up with no appetizer and a lousy attitude at the party, show Fear to the fucking door. Let's not let it get the best of us. Because, let's be honest, the only thing we really have to fear is zombies. I mean - no. There is nothing to fear. Just our own fear.

Happy Halloween and Happy Birthday, too.


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