Fears: Don’t Let Them Get the Best of You

Barbara is fearful of bats and things that crawl. She can peg the bat phobia to her Maine sleep-away camp days when they were commonplace in their bunks because of the many pine trees outdoors. They ducked under their sheets and blankets and prayed they wouldn’t get into their hair. A recent sighting in her home sent her flying, literally, not under the covers but into another room. She now has a bat/wildlife expert on her speed dial. She also has a pest control company that visits every other month for the creepy crawlies that periodically show up but mostly in the basement rather than in the main parts of the home. However, she also knows that she lives in the country and these pests were here first. 

Margaret too has a fear of pests that borders on pathological. Shortly after her husband died, she was cleaning up in the basement of their family home when a black spider sat down beside her and frightened Miss Margaret away. And it did as she ran up the steps screaming. When she came to her senses, she crushed the intruder with an old tennis shoe. 

But Margaret’s greatest fear in life is that of getting lost. Barbara shares this same directional challenge. Siri, with whom Margaret has had several shouting monologues, and GPS have been like emergency first responders when they work. However, if Barbara and Margaret are misdirected or lost on a strange lonely road where they cannot access cell phone service, they go into terror overdrive. 

But Barbara and Margaret’s fears expand beyond bugs and getting lost. 

Barbara has great fear of severe airplane turbulence, especially the kind that doesn’t let up so the pilot comes on and says in a deep, supposedly reassuring tone, “I’m now going to ask the attendants to sit down and strap themselves in. We’ll suspend drink service for the time being.” Unfortunately, that is just about the time when she really needs a strong gin and tonic. Instead, she white-knuckles the armrest or the hand of whomever is sitting next to her and silently promises G-d that she’ll be a kinder gentler person if the plane lands safely. 

And then there are the routine fears of getting really sick, breaking another body part after Barbara endured a bad fall and surgery this year, having our kids unhappy—since we’re only as happy as our least happy kid, not having enough work to make us crazed. 

Margaret fears technology. Once she learns a skill and sees it a certain way on her screen whether phone, computer or iPad. it’s instant panic if something comes up new. When her new treadmill was installed recently, she panicked when she saw how high tech the new one had become. The man who installed it walked her through the paces as she took copious notes on a yellow pad. Yes, it’s that bad. Fear also creeps up like a bad rash if something breaks and Margaret can’t fix it. She finally has come up with a general fix. In addition to gathering a list of good tradespeople, she’s learned to rely on Google and YouTube and recently boasted that she repaired her TV and assembled a chair. 

Conversely, there are many fears that don’t faze Barbara at all: fear that she’ll die without having owned a Channel purse—so irrelevant to her lifestyle and pocketbook, that she can’t get all her work done—no biggie since she always does, that she won’t get to tell everyone she loves that she loves them. Margaret is pretty much on the same page. She doesn’t fear dating again (or maybe just a little), she’d welcome the companionship if it should fall into her lap, and has accepted the fact that the health and happiness of her three children is out of her hands. They have to live their own healthy lives. 

Barbara’s younger daughter, a psychologist, says worries and fears are useless emotions that distract us from the important stuff at hand—enjoying life. But she disagrees. Barbara thinks fears help to keep us grounded and honest about what bothers us and what doesn’t. Her solution to the challenge at hand is to plan ahead of the need. Case in point. She feared the other day before surgery that she would have great pain as she did after the first surgery so she took enough medicine in advance of a regional block wearing off to “stay ahead of the pain.”   

Barbara and Margaret take control of the fear in advance. Barbara, for example, abates her fear of turbulence by developing a routine that she believes wards it off—she wears a certain good luck piece of jewelry, asks an attendant or pilot in advance if there will be turbulence, and if the answer is “yes” takes a certain relaxing drug to remove the edge. She will sometimes add in one glass of wine. She still worries but is not allowing that to deter her from traveling via air. Margaret goes on MapQuest before she has to go someplace new and prints out written directions as a Siri/GPS backup.   

Both take the tact that there are some things we cannot control. So we try to face the fear and have a fear plan sort of like staying ahead of the story, a well-known axiom in journalism. Parlay your fear into action. That’s our solution to remediate fear and restore calm. Then pivot—focus on all the positive things in your life. You can even write them down. 

What are you fearful about and how do you handle it? Let us know.

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