Phobias and Fears and Planning the Way Out

There are some disadvantages of reading a lot when you are a child.  My active imagination would create scenarios that became very real to me…..and they would set the stage for a little novel starring me.  The recurrent one was some crazy person breaking into my house.  But I wasn’t going to be captured and be a victim (though they tried to make me one.)  I thought ahead.  I had escape routes planned from every room in the house.  The most difficult was my own bedroom.  Both windows were high off the ground.  If I escaped out of one, I would hit the driveway.  If I escaped out of the other, I would hit grass, but a sloping hill.  And neither would be easy.  Even now they would be high for me to jump from.  (Note to self: Explore whether this was lack of escape routes was a planned action by your parents.  Entirely possible.)  But in my scenarios, my family’s life depended on my escape.  So yes, even if it was a jump out on the sloping hill (complete with sprained ankle in some versions….I did pay close attention to all of the possibilities), I got away, and would run to the neighbor’s house to get help.  Of course, sometimes I discovered that those we thought were our faithful neighbor friends were actually in on the attack (yes, Teagues and Austins….sometimes you!)  Which required very thoughtful consideration of the next place to go for help.  But eventually I figured out all of the angles and found a way to triumph and save my family.

When I was in college, I remember going to the midnight showing of Halloween and other scary movies on campus.  My dorm (“Hinton James, it’s worth the walk”) was the farthest one away from campus, and when the movie was over, the buses were no longer running.  That meant we had to walk home.   We’d spend the whole way back scaring ourselves, to the point where there was real fear by time we actually made it there.  We knew we had to lock ourselves in our suite (visualize outer doorway that we often left open, 2 rooms on each side of the hallway, with a bathroom at the end), but also knew the possibility of someone hiding in the shower.  So, one person would bravely go and pull the shower curtain back, while the rest of us hovered at the door.  If it was clear, we’d all jump into the suite and lock the door behind us.  Giggling loudly at ourselves by that time.

This sort of behavior has continued my whole life.  There always seems to be a fear lurking in my mind.  Sometimes these fears have a real basis.  Other times they are just a phobia…..no rational reason for them.  Regardless, they scare me.  And often incapacitate me.

I’ve had a lifelong phobia of bridges.  I remember hating going over them even as a child.  It’s not all bridges… that would be too simple.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to which scare me (I can drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, for example, and actually enjoy it.)  But when they do, it can get crippling.  A year or so ago I started getting terrified of this little highway bridge that others probably don’t even notice as a bridge.  (It’s the one on 40 with the soccer field below it in Clemmons.)  The problem was that I had to go over it every time I came home from Winston Salem.  Since I work there, that is often.  I could travel across the bridge going toward Winston Salem without a thought.  But something about the other side would bring up this irrational fear.  It got worse and worse.  I started slowing down to almost nothing to cross.  It’s the interstate……I can’t imagine how many people I drove crazy doing that.  Not to mention the safety risk of driving at that speed on the interstate!  When I started looking for alternate ways to go home (some, funnily enough, took me over even worse ones!), I knew I had to get some help.  Since my job is benefits consulting, I knew we had an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work where I could see someone for a limited number of visits at no charge.  Never having checked this out before, I figured it was a good opportunity to see how this benefit actually worked. 

I won’t go into the issue I had booking an appointment (a story in itself), but I finally found someone who treated phobias and made an appointment.  She said she had a therapy that she used, and if it worked it would work quickly.  If it didn’t, we’d also know that quickly.  So I went to see her.  I was thrilled to find out that her treatment was based on accupuncture/accupressure.  I’ve had an interest in that for a long time, but had never had need to use it.  This was my first experiment.  The therapy used is called tapping therapy and simply requires you to tap certain meridian points while speaking certain affirming statements.  Anyone who knows me knows that the whole idea of the affirming statements made me roll my eyes.  So OK, I wasn’t 100% “in” with the idea that this would work.  The therapist was great, though.  When she saw the eyeroll she told me that I could say almost anything when I did it on my own, but just to try to follow her lead for now.  She said the speaking part was mostly to get you focused on what you were doing.  So I followed her lead and completed the session.  (Mentally channeling Stuart Smalley for my own entertainment.)

Supposedly if the therapy worked, it worked immediately.  Nothing works the way it is supposed to for me, so I didn’t quite get that immediate result.  But yet, it did seem to slowly make a difference in the next few weeks (if you were to have driven next to me before I went over that bridge, you would have seen me tapping underneath my eyes, where the anxiety is supposed to “reside”) and the day came when I didn’t even notice going over that bridge.  Is my bridge therapy “cured”?  No….but I haven’t had an incapacitating issue with it for quite some time.  The whole episode, however, reminded me that it is worth taking the time to attack the things that scare us.

I’ve had some level of fear of water most of my life, though did learn how to swim (and easily passed the swim test that was one of our graduation requirements at Carolina back in the day.)  I never was comfortable when people were horsing around poolside and found myself withdrawing more and more and not getting in the water.  Now I have a full fledged fear of swimming and of the whole idea of snorkeling and wearing that snorkeling mask.   I just can’t do it.  I love doing things on top of water (kayaking, boating, whitewater rafting)…..but getting into the water has become another story.  I don’t remember the last time I actually swam and I haven’t been able to get beyond the fear and do it.  So…..that’s one of the next things on my “to do” list.  I am going to tackle this fear.  I’m missing out on some fun, and that’s not in my nature.  I’d love to get to the point where I can take a scuba course so I can go scuba diving with my friend Steve.  I understand all kinds of cool things await me underwater.  So…..I’m going to make a plan to face the fear and get over it.  Are you ready to join me?  What is scaring you these days, be it rational or irrational?  Isn’t it time to conquer it?  Our plans of attack can be conventional or unconventional….but why let fear get in the way of living life to the full?  Why waste another day letting it terrorize us?  And while it feels like we are alone in our fears, we’re not.  There is a hand outstretched, ready to help you.  Grab on.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”  Frank Herbert, Dune

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”  Yann Martel, Life of Pi

“For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.” 
II Timothy 1:7 (ASV)

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”    Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

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