Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them. In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin. It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry. The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.
A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions. The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants. A good point, for sure. But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen? I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me. All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies. My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest. She’s right. Ants in my home will not result in World War III. So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?
I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear. But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets. An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer. All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them. She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times. So, what’s the worst that can happen? My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again. But that is not the worst that can happen. The worst that can happen was what she started to do. She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park. That’s the worst. She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.
These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced. But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?
Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public? Or being seen without make-up? Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy? We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair. We worry about imagined judgments being made on us. And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech. We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.
Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials. When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone. I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her. I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came. There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her. Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her. Then the time came and my Mom passed away. My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior. I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life. However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith. After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed. Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur. What was the worst that could happen? It happened. My Mom died. But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.
I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend. It didn’t ruin me. If anything, it made me stronger. As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.
I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived. I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding. What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation? It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up. Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.
I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size. I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still. But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.” And she’s right. I CAN do hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.