Fear is padding around on little cat feet in the lives of too many people I love.
The first email I opened on Tuesday morning was from camparigirl. We’d had a conversation a few nights before about managing the disquiet we felt about a future that suddenly seemed so unpredictable and malevolent.
“Let’s embrace the possibility of possibility”, we’d agreed. “Look outward with optimism. Can only help. We’re all going to die at some point anyway – may as well live until then.”
But today the subject line read: “I really try,” and it made my heart sink. “I promise I try hard”, her email continued: “I wake up in the morning, open up to possibilities and head out with my best intentions. But life has decided to test me beyond what I can take and I am getting rather pissed off.”
Turns out there is a shadow on a CT scan: “And I am back into this loop of waiting and worrying…”
Fear is a feral fucker – it is an equal opportunity employer. It doesn’t care what you know to be true. It laughs in the face of facts. It dances little jigs of malice on your up days. It rolls like a crazy dog in the poop shadows of your bad days: “I am going mad. I kept it together at work but now I have absolutely no appetite and feel exhausted.”
Fear takes you down like a pro wrestler. It leaves you on your back on the mat, beaten – not comprehending how your mind could even be bent into those shapes. Unable to tell what’s real anymore.
Addie Downs, the daughter of a great friend, knows the feeling all too well. A freshman at college, she has suffered a debilitating attack of anxiety which she describes with complete honesty in her blog “nolitimeresite”.
“For me, it starts with restlessness. Whether it’s beginning a new assignment that stresses me out, or going to a new place alone, or even calling or ordering take-out. I always hated calling people or doing anything alone. At school during the “periods” I always felt like I was going to cry, and my heart would start beating too quickly and my hands would shake and I couldn’t shake the thoughts away. Breathing wouldn’t work, and then the panic attack would come. It felt like my heart was on fire and a hippopotamus was sitting on my rib cage and crushing me. It was in these moments that everything I had ever learned left me. I would call my dad weeping, so scared that it would never go away and that my friends would stop hanging out with me because I was a burden.”
I recognise so much of what she is saying. Because once upon a time anxiety had my heart flip-flopping in my chest when I woke in the morning. Had me questioning my every move, had me doubting my judgement. It kept awake through the night until I took a pill to blot it out: believing that it would never go away. But it did. Not overnight. But it did.
The difference between the two of them and me is that I never told anyone how I felt. Not the full extent of it. I was stickily ashamed and shocked that I could ever be so weak. But these women (one in her fifties, one not yet twenty) don’t see it that way. They are writing about it. They are exposing their fear to daylight. They are letting others in. (In Addie’s case – the Washington Post.)
They are already brave, they already have courage, they are already on their way. And that’s why I know they will get through this too.
Until then, I am not going to tell them not to worry. Because as Claudia reminded me – “that’s pointless”. But I will offer them some light relief. Because it helped me when I was scared out of my wits. Because my pal Jonny, who is facing his own set of fears at the moment, said to me the other day: “Humour seems a fine way to fuck cancer.” Because I’ve been sending him a joke a week as he undergoes his chemo. And because, let’s face it – we ARE all in this together.
Ladies – the dog joke is especially for you.
“PS: The story behind the name of Addie’s site: “Okay, so to begin, I’m going to explain the title of my site, “noli timere.” In 2013, a famous Irish poet named Seamus Heaney, as he was being taken to the hospital, texted the Latin words to his wife right before he died. It means “don’t be afraid.” When it hit news, my dad called me and told me, and I liked what it stood for – he looked death in the face and knew he wasn’t going to make it, but he wasn’t scared.” A phrase she hopes to get tattooed on her ankle – but not before she is 25.