I have always been afraid. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t freak out easily over little things. My responses were common: I either froze in terror, I either babbled and wept uncontrollably, I removed myself from the situation as fast as possible or I fought — spreading my hateful, caustic words like buckshot. I was not rational, not successful, and certainly not equipped to deal with the world.
My fear has deep roots that began their treacherous hold on me over forty years ago. I was a nervous, frightened child who rarely spoke to strangers. I kept to myself and I let few people in. I had night terrors over something as benign as butterflies. I would curl up in a ball in my bed because I was afraid of fire and I really believed that position was the safest place to be.
This fear stayed with me as I pursued my writing goals. While it had always been a natural thing for me to pick up a pencil and write out all my thoughts, it was a very nerve-wracking idea to approach a teacher and request that I might write creatively. They said yes! And I did, and generally speaking my high school writing opportunities proved to be a safe place to write and succeed in writing.
In college? Not so much. The rejection and criticism I faced from my writing experiences forced me to return to those same four responses. (Fortunately, I never lost my temper with an instructor!) But eventually I fled. I left my love, writing, because the pressures of writing at a college level was far too difficult and what may have seem like an attack of butterflies to some was traumatic to me. I changed my major and I wouldn’t write again creatively until a few years after graduation, in another safe place.
In my mid-20s, I believed so many lies about my writing. I believed that I would never be good enough. I believed that I would fail. I believed that I didn’t deserve to pursue my goals. I believed that success in this field was for others, not me. I believed that opening up my art to others would only result in more failure, more rejection and more pain. I was far too afraid of that to try.
But then something happened. I became a mother.I grew more and more fearful of my kids causing scene, of something bad happening, of every imaginable tragedy, of disaster around every corner. But I also saw that I could not function constantly living in fear. I had had five children in less than eight years and they needed me to be brave. I had to fight for them. I had to tackle things I had never tackled before. I had to constantly step out of my comfort zone just to get them all dressed or fed or educated.
I also realized that they could sense my fear. They could tell that I responded badly to stress and when I would do my four things, my flight, or my fight, or my freezing, they couldn’t understand and it was harmful to them. It took me a while, but I realized that the very best thing I could do for them was to be brave. BRAVE. I needed to be free of my fear.
This meant, among other things, that I needed to pursue my writing goals with a newfound courage. So, in spite of the fact that I had five kids, eight years old and younger, I set up this blog, I submitted articles, I read books about writing, I brainstormed for ideas, I started a novel, I wrote.
Did I succeed every time? No. Oh no! I failed a lot! I got rejections. I hit dead ends. I made no money. But I found that these little setbacks weren’t nearly as painful as I thought they would be. In fact, after the sadness of them was over, I found that what could be called failures, was actually very energizing! I think that I was so in awe of the fact that I had conquered my fear to at least try, that I wanted to try more! So I kept going. And now I have so much to be proud of and the idea that I am going to fail is less of a threat than any butterfly.
This last summer, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After 45 years of living in fear, now I understand why I behave the way I do. The actual reasons I have this aren’t important for this post, but what is important is that I don’t have to let that diagnosis define me. I know now how to deal with my fears physically, cognitively and emotionally. I’m finding a lot of freedom in just understanding myself better.
I also am a little angry. Okay, I’m a lot angry! I let so much of my life go by enslaved to that stupid fear! I don’t want to do that any more. I’ve seen what I can do and I know that there’s more in me. As I sat down at the beginning of the year and thought through my goals, the biggest one I had was to kick fear in the teeth this year!
The photo above is what I have as the wallpaper on my phone. I’m keeping it there until December 31. It’s there to remind me of what the truth is.
It’s kinda trendy right now to choose a word for the year. My word is FIGHT. I’m going to fight against fear, tooth and nail. I am going to claw, bite, kick and twist fear out of my life. I am going to fight for every single day that I have, that I can be the best wife, mom and writer that I can be.
This is what fear is to me. It’s my greatest enemy. And it motivates me to fight.