So much of what I do these days, in manage my fears. Not just fears and anxiety about the big things, but the little ones as well. Small tasks, that before would have been so natural I didn’t even think about them, have become mountains to climb. The thing is, all of us feel this way at times. Small or big, a large part of living is to manage your fears. To feel the fear, and do it anyway.
A few days ago I went back to my workplace for the first time in over two months. The last time I set foot there, was when I came back after lunch to grab my laptop, texting my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be back that day as I had to get a blood transfusion. And strangely, I was so scared what it would be like to be back. It was something I used to do every single day of the week, going in to the office, not just for fika like I did this time, but for the full day. But now the thought of being back frightened me. The idea of seeing everyone again frightened me, made me nervous. What would it be like? But here’s the thing: I pulled myself together, went off, and it was lovely. I got to see so many people I’ve missed, and it felt so good to be back, even just for a few hours. That’s the thing with fears - when you face them, and just get on with things, they really don’t hold much weight.
Of course, sometimes they do, but what I’ve found is that the what-if’s are much more dangerous than the things you’re actually afraid of. I have only fragmental memories of the time I spent in hospital when I found out I have cancer. Mostly, I remember lying there in the middle of the night, alone and crying, because of my fears. That was actually the worse bit. Worse than when they told me they found cancer in my lymph nodes. Worse than when they told me they found it in my blood and skeleton. Worst of all was lying in a ward, alone except for two other patients. The what-if’s were the worst.
A few days ago I got a letter, telling me that I had an appointment for a CT scan of my lungs and stomach. It reduced me to tears, I completely broke down because of it, and the what-if’s started wreaking havoc inside of me. Thankfully, my wonderful brother was there at the time, and could talk me out of it before I had a complete mental breakdown, but it made me realise that this is what I have in front of me, for the rest of my life. All those unhelpful thoughts, breaking out for every new appointment, every checkup. Because even if it’s completely unrealistic that they should find that the cancer has spread now, in the midst of chemo, the truth is that one day they will. And, in all honesty, it was completely unrealistic to suspect that I would have breast cancer in the first place. I’m young, exercised (well, sort of) and had no history of breast cancer in the family. So unrealistic to me does not mean that it won’t happen to me. Not anymore. And so the fears go off. What if they found that it’s spread? What if the treatment isn’t working on the metastases? What if… But the thing is, you can’t be ruled by fear, that’s no life at all. And so we feel the fear, small or big, imagined or real, and then we get on with it anyway.
When our kids are scared to do something, we tell them not to be afraid. When Milo was scared of starting school, I was about to do the same. To tell him that there was nothing to be scared of, that everything would be fine. But I stopped myself, and realised that his fears are just the same as my own. And I can’t tell him everything will be fine, because I don’t know that. So instead, we talked through his fears, and came up with a plan what we would do in case they came true, and by the end of that conversation, he was still scared, but he was prepared to do it anyway. And in case any of those fears should come true, he has a plan how to deal with it.
At my therapists, I learned that anxiety is not a feeling. It’s a reaction to disregarded feelings, feelings pushed away and refused the space they wanted to take. In the same way, I believe fear is not a feeling - it’s a reflex, a fight-or-flight kind of thing, a reaction to feelings. And if you give those feelings the time and attention that they need, then the fear doesn’t hold such a strong grip on you anymore. Then you can feel the fear, and do it anyway.