Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

Fear used to rule my life, but not this week. I put on my journalist's hat today, driving way the hell-and-gone out into the country to interview an elderly man about his pioneering family. Not so long ago, I struggled with intense anxiety to do such a simple thing as calling to make the interview appointment. Days of agony attended a simple interview.

They make pills to manage anxiety like that, but I can't take them. If I do, my mind says I need 10 pills because dontcha know I have a high tolerance. I would rather battle anxiety than tempt such a monster.

In five years, I've gone from not being able to leave the house without my husband to cheerfully undertaking a half-hour drive through the country to find a man I do not know and help him feel comfortable telling me his family stories. It's been a bare-knuckled fight, accompanied by visits to my therapist and calls to my AA sponsor, not to mention prayer and gritted teeth. Mostly gritted teeth, if I'm honest.

I don't know how many times I have (mis)quoted Mr. Nietzsche in this private war against the debilitation of anxiety disorder, which is officially a member of my mental diagnoses. The accurate quote is "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger," but "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is my mantra. Saying it didn't help me drive my car when anxiety ruled my world or make any number of forays outside my comfort zone for a long time. But saying it gave me, over time, the ability to look my fear in the face and say SOMETHING to it instead of "Yes, master."

Fear is the mind-killer, I remember reading in Dune years and years ago when that book came out. That line has helped me, too. I see fear for what it is: a slayer of all that is good in the human psyche. Funny, how violent is the verbiage of courage for me.

I learned a gentler, softer language in AA. "Fear is the wind that snuffs the candle in the mind" was one thing I grabbed onto. Another was: "Courage is not the absence of fear; it is taking action in spite of fear." And finally, it still comes down to this one for me: "The battle does not have to be won today, only the first skirmish." I've boiled it down to this: Just take the first indicated step; let the rest wait until tomorrow.

I've done many things in spite of anxiety, that four-syllabled sister of fear, of which I am enormously proud today. I've read my poems to crowds in auditoriums. I have gone to visit my mother, locked in the morass of Alzheimer's, and found her doing things that broke my heart but did not break me. I have spoken in city meetings. I have driven hundreds of miles by myself to attend conferences. I've talked myself down from panic attacks. Well, let me rephrase that. I have prayed myself through all those things. Even Nietzsche is a prayer.

Once, four years ago, I allowed myself, with my sponsor's go-ahead, to take anti-anxiety medication to fly across the country on vacation. All it did was make me a loaded anxious person. After that experience, I flew stone cold sober, preferring prayer to my own stupidity.

My struggles with anxiety are assets today when I talk with women who are dealing with fear. Without fear, there would be no need for faith. Fear can be a faith builder, just as fear can be a mind killer. Everything has a shadow. Fear's shadow is courage. Every time I take that first fearful step, I prove to myself I can be more than I am afraid I am.

I know there is a God because I know freedom today. A woman who couldn't leave her home five years ago is free today. Shaking a little inside, sometimes. But walking out, nevertheless.


Margaret said...

Very heart warming, really. We all have fear, but I really do think that as we get older and LIKE ourselves, it is easier to step out and try things. To experience life. Good for you; baby steps are forward steps. :)

Andrew said...

You are so right on Chris.

I don't remember that line from Dune, but I have to agree. It is incomprehensible to me how much of a good life I have missed because of fear.

Thank you for this post.

Rachel Fox said...

Some good lines to help in the good fight!

Brian Miller said...

i am glad you were able to over come that fear and learn to live free again...nice ref from Dune...it is true...

izzy said...

I find the closer I stay to the present the better off I am. The dentist and flying are 2 notable exceptions...I take 1/2 a pill and a ride from a friend, on teeth cleaning days. I really try not to fly anymore. Last one was to Europe in'87. Clean and sober tho-! Thanks.

Marion said...

"Everything has a shadow. Fear's shadow is courage."...I remember learning this in AA and in Women in Recovery. It put my anxiety in perspective, especially when I was told everyone has anxiety, actually, I was not unique.

You've pushed through to the other side...congratulations, Chris, this post is terrific. Anxiety disorder is a terrible thing; the more education we have about it the better. xx

Yvonne Osborne said...

You are courageous and inspiring. DUNE is one of my all time favorite books and there were many, many memorable lines within those pages. And I love the Nietzsche quote and just realized I, too, have been misquoting it all along. I even used it wrong in my wip. Oops....off to editing, a never-ending process. Hope the interview went well.

Pheromone Girl said...

I have an 18 year old with debilitating anxiety. I watch as she blooms into someone that can leave the house, giggle over a silly tv show and play video games with her brother. A year ago, she wouldn't leave her bed.

She is also (like you) an immensely smart and gifted person. Her artwork is unbelievable, her passion and love for her family knows no bounds.

I'm stealing "Fear is the wind that snuffs the candle in the wind". You'll get credit, promise! Thank you so much for sharing this.

Enchanted Oak said...

Hail, Pheremone Girl,
good wishes on your beautiful daughter. The mind is a windy place indeed.

Gabriella Moonlight said...

This is such a true post, so honest and so amazingly true how fear does kill our minds, and rest us away from the life we are to have.

I am so glad you can work through with love and healing and the love of others, the joy of living is so worth the risk we may feel that we are taking.

My mom always said to me in a misquote of Nietzche: "that which doesn't kill me, only makes me stranger" this is true for my life!

many bright blessings

Monkey Man said...

This gives me great encouragement for my 18 year old daughter's ability to overcome her own anxiety (sound like a familiar story from another comment? It is.) I will provide her a link to your post, so she can see she isn't alone. Nor is her anxiety a disorder she can't beat...or at least not have to bow down to.

Pheromone Girl did use your quote and linked back to you.

Lou said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. My son could not leave the house for months (he is 27) because of his anxiety. Now he works, goes to school, but he still can't do the social thing. I'm sad for him he can't go and "relax" with friends, but I'm proud of how far he has come.

One step at a time...

Titus said...

What a glorious, uplifting piece of writing. Good, good, good on you and here's to faith too.

The Bug said...

Because Mike is huge Dune fan - I've read a lot of the books (out of love for him and then because they're darn interesting). That's one of my favorite quotes - along with, "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion..." (Although I just checked with Mike & he said that it's from the David Lynch movie, not the books). He is even now behind me quoting the Litany of Fear & the other one verbatim. He's a bit of a Dune nerd. :)

ANYWAY, I love that you are now able to catch hold of the fear & address it before your mind dissolves into a puddle.

Dianne said...

Ah, I think I met you 4 years ago....
You exude strength, and fearlessness.
Especially when you read poetry.
Are you reading tomorrow?

Zed said...

If I lived anywhere close to you, I would bake you a cake. Not much, I know in the greater scheme of things. But by golly, when something as amazing as what is happening to you, ie, your growth and transformation is expressed so beautifully and powerfully. Well, then it should be marked by having some sort of celebration and a cake would suffice. Really, you are so inspiring. High five to you and a big hug. x

Albert Einstein Quotes