When I was little, I used to be deathly afraid of the elephant man. You know, the 1980 movie with John Hurt? Maybe you don’t, but needless to say, as a 6 year old, just seeing the preview come onto the TV was terrifying enough to keep me out of any room with a TV for almost a year. I was certain he was going to come into our home. Little did I know that not only was he a completely harmless man, but a kind a compassionate one at that. Eventually my fear dissolved, and I watched TV again.
A few years later my greatest fear was going to Astroworld and having to ride a rollercoaster. All of my friends were doing this as we approached upper elementary and junior high and they just loved it and I wasn’t ready. I was so full of fear when it came to rollercoasters, that I just never went to Astroworld with my friends, fearful that they would think I was a wimp. I was certain of it. At least that was the story I was telling myself. Then, when the time was right, slowly but surely, I approached the least scary ride in the park when I was with one particularly understanding and trustworthy friend. And all I could do was take deep breaths and keep reminding myself that everything was going to be ok. I wasn’t going to die. If I hated it, I never had to do it again. But I didn’t hate it. I loved it! And then I went on to ride every ride in the park – screaming and laughing my way through the drops, turns, and even the upsidedown flips. I had finally overcome my fear. It took time, maturity, a little support from a friend, some deep breaths, and an assuring mantra… but I did it.
Now that I am an adult, my fears are different. Will my children be safe at school? What if my kid is bullied and I don’t know it? Are they conquering their own fears? What is the spot they found on my mammogram? How is my parent’s health holding up? Is my husband driving safely going to and from meetings and school with all the texts and calls that come into his phone at all hours? What will happen to all the children detained by ICE? And I don’t have control over all of these things. But, these fears are real. It’s not the elephant man that might sneak into my house anymore. It’s my kid’s safety, my husband’s safety, my health, my parent’s health… the safety and health of people and kids across the country, even all over the world. I know. It’s big.
What can I DO about these fears? The things is, I can only do what I can do. Meaning, I can’t solve all the problems of the world, but I can start with one thing at a time. Handling these fears is just like handling the rollercoaster fear. I have to start with what I think I can handle first and move up from there. First, I can have conversations with my husband about my concerns and he will assure me, as he always does, that he is always extra safe and keeps me and the kids in mind as he navigates safely through the city daily. I can talk to my kids about how to stay safe at school and learn about school protocols in case of emergency. Truthfully, I hate that this fear even exists these days, but it is the harsh reality of being a parent in these times, unfortunately. I handle my health by exercising, eating well, and making the doctor’s appointments that I need and continuing to be my own health advocate – pursing concerns I have, even if a doctor has dismissed me. I follow my instincts, my gut, and my intuition. I continue to face down each of my fears head on with solutions, conversations, and education, when I can. But, I FACE my fears nonetheless. When it isn’t something that I can control or want to do on my own, I might need the support and encouragement of my husband or a girlfriend to address a fear, because it’s hard to do it alone sometimes. I will take a few deep breaths – often sighing them out to release the tension, stress, and anxiety that fear brings with it, then take one small step at a time towards that fear. Pretending those fears aren’t there is like holding onto shame or a nasty secret. It gives it power. It makes them scarier. Speaking them out loud makes them less scary, less powerful. Talking or writing about them is the first step to facing them. Then if it is something I can take action on, I take action. DOING something to step towards the fear makes me instantly feel more power over that fear. The fear starts to diminish. And then, it’s like starting with the little rollercoaster. Once I overcome the “smaller” fears, the next one doesn’t feel so big anymore. Then I can start to take on more and more because I have empowered myself by conquering the first fear, then the second, and so on. It allows me to explore what it is exactly that I am afraid of and then being able to identify it – take a deep breath – repeat my same mantra from when I was a kid and I got on the XLR-8 rollercoaster at Astroworld “Everything is going to be ok.”