Fear. What an itty-bitty word oft tacked on as a descriptor for the rapid pulsation of the heartbeats, sweating palms, hair-raising chills, and tight-clipped breaths. Inhale, exhale. Fear is an emotional and physical response from a perceived threat, danger, or dread of something anticipated or experienced. It is felt. I might add that fear, the emotion, can at times override even the most logical and intelligent parts of ourselves. It is a stubborn emotion. There is not one life that is left untouched. There are, approximately, 7.8 billion people within the human population. Yet, this is a common experience for every human being. The inescapable arrives at the door, pounds its fist. Bang, bang, bang, bang. It will go away if the door isn’t opened. That assumption is incorrect. Fear has been there all along and is here to stay.
With that said, fear is good. It means that you’re human.
An initial response to this claim might be one held in disbelief or bewilderment. The common eye roll or huff of breath in an incredulous scoff. How could fear possibly be considered even relatively good? It isn’t simply a test or a choice, and sometimes it is beyond our control to stop it from coming. Fear is like a train that has gotten all off-course but cannot right itself again, back on the proper path. It is not a switch that can be easily turned on and off by sheer will. Sometimes it is the voice in the back of our mind whispering every reason, every flaw, every insecurity to make one feel unlovable. At other times, it is that prick of dread and anxiety just before the flight takes off, before a speaking engagement in front of a sea of people, the worry that keeps us from sleep, the questioning of how to make ends meet before the mortgage bills become too much, the unknowns of the next day or year. When as a child, the imaginative mind conjures up figures of monsters hiding in the closets, just out of reach. Perhaps there is a reason that children are afraid of the dark. The unidentifiable mystery could be lurking, waiting to grasp their ankles. Fear causes us to hesitate, or to even give up indefinitely.
So then, what good can be squeezed out of fear? Given the unpleasantness, the discomfort, the tension it brings, what can it offer? For instance, it allows one more awareness of oneself, as well as the myriad of emotions and challenges others have. It gives room for connection, understanding, and empathy to the feelings and struggles of another soul. It demands acknowledgment. It demands to be felt and felt in its entirety. As humans, we oft wish to avoid such a discouraging and terrible emotion. And rightly so, by some accounts.
It pushes us beyond what is comfortable. Time to grab the shovels, bury it twelve feet deep where it can no longer seize hold of us with its greedy hands. Beat the soil atop it down tight, leave no room for air, and walk away. Never to look back. Plunge fear to its death; let it be crumbled to ash in the wake of the underworld of Helheimr.
That is the preference, no? Some may say to pay it no mind. Some may advise finding a distraction, but that rids it no better than avoidance does in the end. Isn’t distraction merely a means of avoidance? The tug beyond the comfort zone of an individual is a fresh start for growth. Be it trust, confidence, or a broader perspective, growth is natural – beneficial even, given the circumstances. It doesn’t always look that way, though. A serious blow hits for fear of how far the disease will gradually progress, or if a sense of normalcy will ever return to our lives, or what to make of the gaping hole after losing a family member or friend. I’m no stranger to it in some form or another (mostly social anxiety and anxiety in general), and quite frankly, all of us are acquianted with fear at some point in our lives.
Fear becomes a hellish thief – a nightmare walking.
Fear is an inherent part of human nature, a side effect of the human condition. We see fear on display daily, from the minor to the extreme. It varies just as much as the genes one is born with, the physical characteristics that make up one’s appearance, and the quirks that enhance our uniqueness as individuals. The concept of fear is written about, selected to be performed on stage or screen, and is a keen choice of study for many psychologists. Why is fear so prevalent? What makes fear such an interest in horror stories, haunting tales around the campfire, and eerie psychological thrillers that keep us up at night? We hate fear, but perhaps there is a part of us that is curious about it. It intrigues us. How do you know when it is time to fight the fear, to show that it is no longer welcome to take control? There is a notable speech that comes to mind, written by screenwriter Steven Moffat in the BBC television series Doctor Who on acknowledging this notion of fear and what to do with it.
The Doctor’s friend and travel companion, Clara, reminds him: “…[B]ecause if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed, or in the dark, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. So, listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this: you’re always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like… a companion.” Similarly, as Clara tells the 12th Doctor (played by Peter Capaldi) in the episode “Listen” of series 8, we too can listen for a moment. We can listen to the voice shouting the fears piling high in our minds, drowning out our courage, and whisper back to it: “It’s okay. It is okay that I’m afraid.” The notion of being afraid has the potential to remind us that the acceptance of the fear itself breathes new relief in allowing oneself to feel it. To embrace it, and let it push us closer to kindness instead of becoming hardened, cruel, or cowardly because of fear.
Suppose the prospect of fear becoming a companion lends new light to the continual experience and confrontation of it. Like the sun’s rays bringing warmth to the skin, it lends consolation with this softer view. *sighs in relief*
Fear is normal. Fear is a part of being human, a condition of the contract that was signed before one’s birth that was never bargained for. As it rears its ugly head, we can reach down and pet it, and look it in the eyes to acknowledge its presence. That does not mean that there is no more reason to be afraid, or that the fear is less valid. Fear is no figment of the imagination. Life is daunting. The pain, losses, insecurities, instability, injustices, and uncertainties still exist. As one that struggles with anxiety, it is a difficult challenge. Sometimes it feels as though it will not go away, and if it does, what will take its place? How can it be better?
They, too, will remain until the sun burns out and the earth itself draws to a close to eternity. We will continually refuse the horrid aftertaste of nihilism. We will cover our ears and ignore the cries of nihil rebus i.e., nothing matters. Fear takes on many forms, and its hunger can never be satiated as long as the earth spins and time carries on.
Fear should like us to believe the nihilistic dread. Perhaps, there are times that we do. We won’t always silence the fear when it comes slithering back to our hearts.
I am not much a fan of fear. It’s uncomfortable to face. However, there are means to cope with the fear that is just as real as the fear itself. Think of it as a chess match if you will. Fear is the opponent, and he likes to be at least three steps ahead of you at all times. He plays ruthlessly. He thinks he’s clever with the rook walking you up and down, back and forth. He even pairs up with the king at times for a sneak attack. But you can defeat him with the queen; she’s like the key to the game. It is possible to call checkmate on fear, to find little victories that keep him at bay. Sometimes these little victories are talking openly with a trusted friend or family member about what you’re experiencing, or perhaps it’s writing in a journal some thoughts and feelings. Fear can lie to us and make us feel isolated and screwed up. A certain author and speaker, Ann Voskamp, created this practice of “counting graces” through identifying the moments of gratitude and grace throughout the day. They can be as simple or complex as you want, and as many as you want to write down in a day; the point is to increase our awareness and remind us to seek out the beautiful moments and be present for them. Fear can blind us to these when we’re wrapped up in its storms.
We lose sight of the breathtaking rainbow spreading out across the sky on the other side. When feeling overwhelmed by fear, taking deep breaths can calm the heart. Knowing what can trigger the feeling of fear is also a good place to start. What was it? Where was it and when did it start? Close your eyes. Visualize it. As silly as it may sound, talk yourself through it. Fear likes to heighten the irrational in us. Find things that increase that serotonin in your body, something you enjoy and comforts you. For me, it’s reading, writing, or playing a game on the Switch. Simply put, it’s immersing myself in story. I know coping with fear is not so easily done. It is hard to experience.
But it can become softer. It can bring us all together. After devastation hits and fears overwhelm, how does humanity respond? Humanity responds by binding together and realizing that fear has the power to bring people home. It opens our eyes to the realities of life and reminds us not to take the blessings of life for granted- those sweet moments and milestones. And to our loved ones. It drives us to the light and the God of the universe. The God of a trillion galaxies who is infinite, omniscient, and ever-present. The God that meets us where we are in the deep dark pit of despair and living like the dead walking. Because this God? This is the God who knows my name. He knows your name, friend. ‘Tis the sweetest comfort.
Remember this when the fear threatens: we can choose to face it – to breathe it in for all it is, for it makes us wiser and softer. It reminds us that we are alive. Fear, then, becomes a companion to illustrate constantly that we are indeed human after all. Let us be brave.
And how beautiful that is. Embrace all your humanness for all that you are, friend.