Saturday, May 7, 2016

Battling the Fear of Everyday Life

Most people wouldn't call me a fearful person. Sure, I have fears like anyone else - for instance heights, closed in spaces, public speaking - but I am rather adventurous in certain arenas. I've traveled to six continents and over 40 countries. My junior year of college, I set off for a semester in Australia, knowing nobody else in the program. (Keep in mind this was before the days of texting and social media where it was simple to keep in touch with loved ones from thousands of miles away). I spent countless hours and days traveling on my own, meeting new people, several of whom have become some of my best friends. I started my own business at 26. I jump headfirst into business opportunities, and on the surface, I'm outgoing and friendly, if a bit awkward and quirky. 

But those things are easy for me. It's easy to go to a city where nobody knows me, to explore, to immerse myself, to become anonymous.  Sure, things will come up that I have to deal with. But I can deal with those. I'll get the next flight, find a new hotel, catch the next train. It doesn't mean I don't like to have a plan for these things, to try to not have to deal with mishaps, but I can do it.  For many of us who suffer from anxiety and depression, fear isn't in the big things. It's in the every day little minute details of life. 

The trouble with fear is that it's tough to identify. It's easy, from the outside, to see it as laziness or procrastination. I didn't get to the store, again. I didn't go renew this membership (insert thing needed to be renewed or purchased here). I didn't get around to making that phone call. And at first, I saw this in myself as well. I chastised myself for not doing these things. Why couldn't I make myself operate in this world like everyone else. It took? 10 minutes to make that call. It took a half hour after work to stop by and renew/purchase that.... whatever. I went straight home instead of stopping to get groceries and now I have to order takeout.  But finally, recently, I realized these things are not avoided/postponed out of laziness or procrastination. It is done out of fear. 

This may sound silly to you. How could I travel by myself half way around the world at the age of 19 but be afraid to stop by and renew a membership or make a 10-minute phone call. Well, first, I haven't been the age of 19 for 17 years and things change. But moreso, my condition has grown in strength and consistency, and with it, anxiety and fear have developed. It's tough to explain, for those that haven't experienced it. It's not a fear of a specific thing, as my fear of public speaking is (I hate attention on me and I'm afraid I'll make an idiot out of myself).  It's more a fear of.... life. Not of living, but of life. Picture yourself in a world that's akin to a sci-fi movie. Imagine you've been living in a certain environment for years, and suddenly you open your door one day and see a new environment outside. You don't recognize most of the people, you don't know how to approach them or how to interact with them. You don't know how to react to them or how they'll react to you. The landscape is completely unfamiliar. You can't tell if the ground is hard or soft, if the air is hot or cold. You don't know which direction anything is in because everything's been shifted, and you don't have time to explore because you have to get all of your tasks done. And every day when you open the door, it's a somewhat different environment from the day before. And as you move from task to task, each one could bring you to some place completely unique,where you have to orientate yourself all over again. On top of that, everyone else seems to think this constantly shifting environment is normal - they don't notice the difference, and they can't understand that you do. They literally seem to see and feel it differently than you. It makes you feel worse. Why can't you accomplish this simple task? Why is it excruciating for you when nobody else seems to feel that pain at all? Why is it scary to you, yet nobody else is frightened? And why was it warm and sunny and enjoyable this morning, and suddenly it's cold and dark and you don't recognize anything and barely anyone? Even most of the people you do recognize seem different to you today.

This is what the world is like for many of those of us who deal with fear and anxiety as part of depression or mood cycling.  So why, might you ask, is traveling to unknown destinations ok? Because, using this scenario again, there are no tasks, and very little timeline. And for the few tasks, you've somehow mysteriously been given an accurate map. Get here (i.e. the airport, the train station) at this time. Here's the instructions for once you get there. And because there are no tasks that you're supposed to be able to do, and nobody knows you and expects you to be able to do them because that's what "normal" people do, there's no standard. You're free from what society expects. Don't want to make that phone call? Don't. Don't want to go to xyz? Don't. Want to do this instead of that? You're not lazy, you're living the way you can with your fears. 

And you might be thinking that this is some sort of excuse. That we all have busy lives and you all manage to get these things done, so we should to. But the thing is, I'm not avoiding tasks because I don't want to do them, not specifically. I'm staying away from them because I'm afraid. Of what? I couldn't say. If I could, then perhaps I could tackle my fear. Not knowing makes it worse. I feel helpless.  Feeling like I shouldn't be afraid makes it worse (I try to stay away from "should" and "shouldn't" but sometimes I succumb). I know you may not be able to tell the difference between and laziness, procrastination. For a while, I couldn't either, and I was so tough on myself. But finally, I could. I said out loud, "I am afraid to do this, especially alone". And that was a first big step. It allowed me to stop being so hard on myself, to stop expecting myself to act and react like everyone else. It helped me realize that I may need to find my own way of doing things. There are things I may not be able to put off or avoid, but if I can find a way to do them, perhaps with someone else's help to make it less scary, then that may make them more manageable. When you deal with fear and anxiety, sometimes "more manageable" is the best you can do. And that is completely OK.  

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