I have not been honest with you and, as I realized yesterday, I have not been honest with myself either. For years I thought that I was relatively happy; I love myself (most of the time), I like the way I look (most of the time), I like the people around me and I am grateful for all the chances I got in my life. Those things are all true, but I never realized that they were overshadowed by something else. Some ever-present companion, that just will not leave me alone and keeps on whispering scenarios of doom in my ear; a companion most will call f-e-a-r. Yesterday I realized that for the last 8 years I have struggled and fought with fear. Every single day.
From day one …
You might be wondering how I did not realize that fear is an ever-present companion in my life. Hell even I am wondering how that is possible. Let me try to explain it, to you and me both. I think that fear is in our lives from day one, everybody has fears and everybody needs to be able to be afraid sometimes, though in my case I believe it has always been a bit stronger than usual. For example, when I was around the age of 7 there were a few months in which I washed my hands dozens of times a day. When I touched something, even though I knew it was harmless, my head found a way to convince me there were dangerous germs on it and I should wash my hand before something terrible happened. Sometimes I would lay in my bed fighting the urge to get up and wash my hands after I touched something as simple as a doorknob. My urge to wash my hands was beginning to look a lot like mysophobia, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder that manifests itself in a fear of germs and the excessive washing of hands. To make a long story short, I found a way to help myself get over this neurotic tic and today I do not have hand-washing urges anymore.
… until now
Though I do not struggle with mysophobia anymore, it goes to show that fear has always been a very present part of my life. It will find a way to manifest itself in my life and since mysophobia is out of the picture, fear found another way. The last 8 years I have been struggling with fear in the form of panic attacks and hyperventilation. It started after I had seen someone else experience hyperventilation and that freaked me out so much that I started being afraid it would happen to me. I started to pay close attention to my breathing and by spending so much time trying to actively control my respiration I actually created a panic attack with hyperventilation. I know this was my own doing, however, even though I might have created the panic attacs myself, I never had nor have at this moment any control over it. I really do not want them in my life, yet the panic attacs continue to visit me regularly.
Accepting & ignoring or cooping & dealing?
So why did I not notice that fear has had me in its grasp so strongly for so long? I guess it is because somewhere in these last 8 years I have accepted that fear is always there. I never have stopped doing something because of fear. No matter how afraid I was to be away from the safety of home, I still went to other places. Even if it meant that, after arriving there, I had to call my mum with tears streaming down my face because I was so afraid. I never stopped going to the cinema, even though I feel really uncomfortable in such a big room with so many people and so little ways to escape. I never stopped swimming, though I have to admit to having stopped diving in the water. I really do think that I am lucky that fear had never such a strong grip on me that I stopped doing things completely: this prevented fear of completely taking over my life. However, knowing that fear never controlled me completely has tricked me into believing that I was able to coop with fear. This however is not the case.
I have learned to ignore fear; I have learned to sit out a panic attack in public while never stop doing what I do. I have learned to sit with fear in the cinema and to have it swim next to me in the pool. However, I have never learned how to coop with fear, how to tell it to leave me alone for a moment so I can experience some peace. So for the last 8 years of my life, the times that I have been completely relaxed can be counted by using only two hands. Realizing that I have been relaxed for less than 10 moments in 8 years made me realize that this is not going to cut it any longer. I am no longer satisfied with knowing that fear cannot stop me from doing things. I am no longer satisfied with being able to ignore the presence of fear. I am no longer satisfied with it always being in my near vicinity. I want to start stopping fear from doing things. I want to be able to order fear to get out of the room for a while, so I can relax. I want to be able to tell fear to go swim on its own, go shop on its own, so I will have some peace and quiet. It is no longer enough that fear cannot control me, I want to have control over fear.
A new status quo
So this is where I am right now: the realization that the status quo that fear and I had for so long is no longer good enough. I want to draw up a new agreement, a new status quo, a new contract with fear. So to my fear I say this:
You are in my life and I accept that sometimes you need to be there to help me get out of seriously dangerous situations. However, I have let you run rampant with the definition of ‘a seriously dangerous situation’ and the time has come to turn that around. I will no longer allow you try to take over control in my every day life. You are no longer allowed to whisper doubts into my ear in every situation we encounter. You are no longer allowed to start panic attacks or hyperventilation, because we both know that those are useless behaviours most of the time. But most definite of all, you are no longer allowed to be present at my relaxing time. You will get out of the room as soon as it is time to chill and relax. I will not ban you out of my life completely, because I will need you sometimes as you need me. However I will set the terms and conditions of our meetings and you will respect that. Thank you for your service, but you are no longer needed at every hour. See you later.
Disclaimer: After having written this I see how my thinking was probably influenced by the great Liz Gilbert (as is often the case). Just so you know.