Bravery in the Face of Fear

To leave the safety of your bed, knowing that you must fight off a blanket of darkness, climb a wall of despair, and be pelted with boulders of hopelessness, all while negotiating a razor wire of fear, is not weakness. It is strength. I’m grateful that I don’t fight the battle of anxiety and depression, but for those of you I know and love, who grapple daily with these demons, you are more powerful than you know and I am proud of you.

 

I wrote this a year ago today, and posted it on Facebook. It popped up this morning, which was strange because I’ve had this subject in the back of my mind for a while. I’m so thankful that I have only felt a wave of panic well up in me twice in my lifetime, but those two brief episodes were enough to convince me that people who have felt that tidal wave of fear wash over them, and still carry-on, are freaking superheros.

The first time it happened, I was in a small plane which was experiencing an abnormal amount of turbulence, enough to make the attendants, whose facial expressions I always scrutinize for any signs of fear whenever there is a flight irregularity, quickly take their seats and buckle up. Out of nowhere, my heart started to pound, my palms got sweaty, and I almost started to pant as I fought off a sense of impending doom. I felt like there wasn’t enough air and my seat-belt was squeezing the breath out of me. This passed through me in a matter of seconds, until my brain realized that I was experiencing a natural reaction (ok, slight overreaction) to a potentially life threatening situation. Thankfully, I was able to calm myself down with deep breaths and the whole episode only lasted about 30 seconds.

The second time I nearly panicked, was when I accidentally swallowed acetone (long, ridiculous story!), and as I was washing my mouth out with water at the sink, I started to hyperventilate and feel like I was choking, a thought made even more scary by realizing that even if I wasn’t alone, no one could do anything because I wasn’t choking on anything except chemicals. Again, I was able to calm myself down, and think rationally enough to call poison control.  I was fine, and both of these autonomic responses were fairly reasonable, as there was at least a potential for harm. But what if there was no threat to my safety? Imagine how it would feel if anxiety welled up for no reason, unbidden and unwanted, and could not be rationalized away?

The two experiences I had, lasted only seconds, but they were so intense that I remember that feeling, years later. It is enough to give me empathy for the people in my life who experience sheer terror even when there is no real threat to their safety. I have seen people whom I love, experience this, and their eyes look the eyes of a person who is drowning. Pupils dilated, hands shaky, some have grasped my arm like it is a life raft.  Some of these people have been patients, rendered breathless from lung disease, and some have been family. I once had to take a panicky friend to the doctors, who would not leave the perceived safety of my car, so I had to go the appointment in her stead, and implore the doctor to see her in the car, which he kindly did. I’ve had patients grip my arm so tightly they have left crescent shaped fingernail marks in my skin, and say, “don’t leave me!” I didn’t.  I’ve escorted people to psychiatrist appointments, and one time was asked to go to the appointment myself because, “you can explain how I feel much better than I can.” Again, I didn’t, but I sat with this person, while they fought the urge to run.  I’ve had to drive two different people to the emergency room because they both were convinced they were having a heart attack. I’ve had children hide their faces in my neck, and cling to me like a baby monkey, and I’ve had family members lean their head on my shoulder, to try to slow their breathing and their pounding hearts. Why am I surrounded by anxious people? I can’t say. I like to think that calmness is a gift from God, so when an anxious person leans on me, I always pray that His peace will pass through me and bleed onto them.

“I wish I had your strength,” a dear person once said to me. “I’m not strong,  I’m just lucky.” I told her. This is true. It is not strength or bravery to feel no fear. Bravery is feeling fear and doing it anyway. To the people I know and love who feel anxiety or even full on panic attacks and yet quietly work, care for your children, pay your bills and live your life, in spite of your fears; YOU are the strong ones and I admire YOU.

Courage

I’ve written about addiction several times. I don’t have an addiction, except maybe to coffee and I do love sugar. Oh, and lately I’ve been addicted to my evening walk. I’m thankful that the things I crave are sugar, caffeine, and exercise but I realize that I could just as easily be under the spell of drugs or alcohol. This is a subject that is close to my heart and I hope I do the struggle justice.

The crazy thing about an addiction is that it is such a comfort. It is not what those on the other side would suppose, an ugly and ferocious competitor, a monkey on the back of the oppressed, something to be shaken off, trampled and kicked to the curb. No, that’s not how it feels. Your addiction is your friend, your confidant, no one understands you like your addiction. No one is as fun as your addiction. No one gets you like your addiction. It is a constant companion and a comfort. The thought of losing your security is terrifying. How do normal people function without it? How do they get up in the morning and face another day without the thought of it to alleviate the boredom and the fear? It’s not that the battle is just against the addiction. No, the real battle is within yourself to want to get rid of it. To see it how others see it, destructive and ugly, because that’s not how it looks on the other side. It is a beautiful sweet relief, and rest. To fight the battle of life without addiction’s armor to protect you seems impossible. The deception of it all, is that now that you have tasted the forbidden fruit, the rest of your life will seem anemic and hopeless without its color. Pale and dull. scary and empty. To realize that you are entrapped and need to free yourself is the mountain. To spend a minute, an hour living life and not letting your mind slip to the reassuring grove of your addiction seems like an accomplishment. “Well, I did it,” you might think it, “I went a whole day without it.” But then it hits you. Like a punch in the stomach, a day is not the goal, a week is not the goal. A lifetime without, is the goal. Forever, is the goal. How can you go forever without your friend, your comfort. How can you do this? What’s the point?

Here’s the point. Your family and friends are the point. They are depending on you, counting on you to pull yourself out of this slimy pit, because they need you more than you need your addiction. You are their comfort, their shield and their armor. You are what makes their life colorful and full. You are the comfortable groove that their mind slips to when they are feeling afraid or overwhelmed. Is this a burden? Will the weight of someone else’s happiness weigh you down and pull you under? No. Because someone’s dependency on you is not an anchor, it is a life jacket,  It will pull you up. even as your addiction will tell you that is pulling you under. These people, or this person is here for a reason. The reason is that they need you, yes, but more than that, you need them to need you. The thought of disappointing someone else, might be the only thing that keeps you going. You might slip up, you might run back for one sweet, terrifying minute, but you will be back, and the pull of being needed will keep you going, without your addiction. Some day it will hit you, that your loved one’s happiness, and need of you is truly what makes life colorful and worth living.

Traveling; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Traveling for pleasure is a strange thing, if you think about it. A lot of money, time and thought goes into planning and executing a trip. Approval must be granted for vacation time from work, airplane tickets, accommodations, mode of transportation must be considered, as well as practical home concerns; who will feed the cat and bring in the mail? Then, there is the travel companion, is this person a “good traveler?” Will this person enhance the experience and be a help, rather than a hinderance? After a whirlwind, fly by the seat of our pants trip to Italy, my husband and I, fondly (umm, maybe not! ) known to some as “the Bickersons,” can tell you, there is a good, a bad and an ugly to every family vacation.

The Good: First of all, Italy is awesome. In the U.S., history is old, but in Italy it is ancient. I’ve been to Washington D.C. and marveled at our progress as I strolled through the museums,  I’ve walked on the grounds of Monticello, and crossed the Delaware where Washington crossed. I live in a state that was established in 1820, and have discovered old foundations hidden in the woods of Maine, and have even dug glass bottles out of the ground, discarded by settlers 200 years ago. However, compared to statues, structures and roads thousands of years old, with cobblestone streets chariots bumped over, and marble steps, worn smooth and indented from the tread of millions of feet, U.S. history seems infantile. The experience cannot be duplicated anywhere, even at Epcot, whose “World Showcase” was the extent of my International experience, prior to traveling abroad (“Sad” my husband just scoffed, when I read what I had so far. He, having already traversed Europe, while stationed in Germany many years ago. However, as he was often under the influence of Oktoberfest, and the wonders of Amsterdam, I countered with my own “sad”).

More good? The food and the wine paired with the atmosphere and the company made mealtime an experience. Savored rather than wolfed, sipped rather than gulped, every part of a meal was meant to be enjoyed, and it was. Even the price was a nice surprise, every authentic Italian meal we ate, was less than what we have paid at Olive Garden. The service was excellent, as the host, a beacon of hospitality, waved us over, welcoming us to sit anywhere, “you like table outside, yes?” Then, with a flick of the wrist, an outdoor heater arrived to ward off the chill, while a man whose moustache was pointy and waxed, surely a character in a movie, took our drink orders and sent a young man over to help us order, as the best places we found, had menus written only in Italian. Laughing and gesturing, we made our requests known and sometimes ended up with a surprise, as when bruschetta (yum!) rather than bread arrived, and meatballs instead of a salad. Lingering is actually encouraged and one owner of an out-of -the-way, authentic treasure, with only four tables, covered with red gingham tablecloths and candles, actually exclaimed, after nearly an hour and a half,  “aww, you leave so soon?!?” The people were kind, and appreciated the smallest and even lamest attempt to speak their language. “Buongiorno, chiao, bagno? Grazie” all met with an indulgent smile. Thankfully, most spoke some English.

The Bad: Being sick while on vacation is never fun. Feeling dizzy and feverish is not only uncomfortable but apparently dangerous, as it led in part (the other part being a complete lack of grace and awareness) to my falling down some granite stairs at a palace, no less. Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt, just a bruised knee and rear-end, and I managed to walk a total of 13 miles that day, so it could have been bad, but maybe now, it’s just kind of funny.

Of course “The Bickerson’s ” had to make their appearance as they have on every vacation we’ve ever taken. The Bickerson’s are our alter egos. They like to show up whenever a fun time is expected and throw a bucket of annoyance, irritation, intolerance and aggravation on our heads. They take over for a while, and snippy comments, stalking off, and sulking ensues. The Bickerson’s always wear out their welcome very quickly though, and the Warner’s return before it goes from bad to…

The Ugly: Squashing into an airplane seat between a sleep and nicotine deprived, cranky faced husband and a plump, pinstripe shirt stranger, with no shoes on, who woke only to gulp copious amounts of fluids, then sleep, with his arm resting on mine and his pillow and blanket on my feet, is the ugly part of the trip. In addition, my leg room was commandeered by an oversize travel bag containing essentials such as receipts, train tickets, one half of a converter, binoculars and an empty Ibuprofen bottle. Never a good sitter, I am the person who jiggles their foot in work meetings, and who jumps up at any oppurtunity. Since sleeping beauty was in the aisle seat, both of these things were impossible. While I perched between these two, grimly counting the miles and the minutes,  I noticed that we were the only three who did not have an empty seat beside us, probably this happened when we were inexplicably bumped off the plane, and were thoughtfully put back on, in different seats, prompting an annoying and unnecessary “thank you” from me. Eight hours of hell later, we arrived in the U.S., still four hours from home to the news that our bags were in London, and are bus tickets were in the bags. All in all, just the usual travel annoyances; two flight cancellations, one very nearly missed connection, several swear words uttered in Heathrow no less, the land of manners, as well as three charges for one hotel room and the need to buy two more bus tickets, as ours were across the pond. The coup de grace, and my breaking point, came when trying to exit the bus station parking lot, we realized that it took every kind of credit card but ours, which made no sense as I had just used that same card to purchase our second set of bus tickets, three hours earlier. Marching into the dimmed and nearly closed bus station, I felt like the half crazed mother in Home Alone, who is desperate to get home, and does not even know what city she is in. I stalked up to the counter, as the attendant was putting on his coat, and informed him of our predicament. “Well, that’s alright, we take cash.” He said. I counted up my dollars, knowing full well that I would be three short. “I have five euros I can give you with it, but that’s it. Either you take it, or we are stuck here, which is it?” Twenty-two hours of travel had made me bold, and he knew I meant business. He took it, and off we went, realizing only after, that now we had no money for tolls. The irony of a vacation in Europe, ending in scrapping for change for tolls was not lost on us, and we laughed, after we found a dollar, of course.

The Best: I saved the best for last, which is visiting with family without the time constraints of work. Stay up until all hours (by all hours, I do mean midnight) drinking Sangria at possibly the only Mexican restaurant in Rome? Sure! Watch old movies after walking miles and miles while chatting and laughing and reminiscing? Absolutely! Wonder cobblestones streets with a dripping gelato in our hands? Yup. Admire the grit and antiquity of Rome, and the grace and beauty of Florence with some of our best friends, who also happen to be family? Yes, we did all that. More than that actually, we created memories that will last a lifetime. I’m so grateful for them, for my family and for the whole experience; the good, the bad and even the ugly. It is what life is made of.