I’ve been posting silly things to cheer you up for quite a few days. Reading the newspapers and listening to the news on television, I have become aware of the way people are being gripped by fear. As I have had about ten years of being gripped by fear in various ways, I thought it might be helpful to tell you what works for me when it happens.
I was cast into despair when I discovered my father’s will had given my inheritance to my cousins, depriving my mother of the money she needed for her care in a difficult situation. I was fearful when the cousins sent me nasty emails, burst into my mother’s house and started running around opening drawers.
I was fearful at the hospital deathbed of my father, whose breathing suddenly declined. I had put my mother, who looked dreadful, to bed in the next ward and was frightened I wouldn’t be able to wake her and get her there in time.
I was fearful when I broke the first arm that I would not be able to travel the hour and a half required twice weekly to administer the care for my mother.
I was fearful that my mother would be sectioned and descend into the state of being that I know locked-up people can reach if they are aggressive by nature and confined.
I was frightened when I broke my arm the second time that I would not be able to pack a suitcase to go to hospital before my body realised it was broken and stopped working.
I was frightened when my investigative surgery for cancer got postponed the fourth time after waiting all day in hospital, that the cancer would have time to get hold and spread.
I was frightened when the surgeon turned up looking ill herself.
I was frightened when I started vomiting blood and the OH was drunk and tipped the evidence, a couple of litres of it, down the loo, that the ambulance workers would not comprehend the gravity of the situation.
I was frightened every time they put the camera down my neck.
I was frightened I would never see my cousin again.
I was frightened each time of the thirteen that I turned up in A&E with blood coming out of either end, frightened when they sent me home and frightened when they kept me in and then didn’t find out what was wrong.
I have been frightened at least every day for ten years, as anyone who lives with someone with a brain altered by addiction is bound to be, because of the unpredictability of their actions.
I am frightened that I will not get my sight back properly after the accident, I am squinting at you now and there is still one and a half of you.
Be brave. At times of great fear I reach into the deepest part of me and summon up – me. When I broke the first arm I didn’t saunter round the house popping stuff into a suitcase, I ran. If something really awful happens, suddenly, it is absolutely true that your brain will be on your side. It will speed up your perception of events, as every neuron you’ve got will go into overdrive. To you it will seem that the rest of the world has slowed down. You will get an adrenaline surge and extra strength in your muscles. You can use this to run before the stick hits you, to get your mother out of bed and carry her, to collect what you need while the suitcase is empty, to stand your ground in the face of threats, to protect the weak, or whatever you need to do quickly to help.
Embrace the greatest truth that for the whole of your life the one person that will always be on your side is that face you see in the mirror every day. If that person has let you down in the past, you can correct that by learning from experience and doing better this time. Be present in the crisis for yourself.
Ameliorate your own physical responses to fear. While you are still calm, learn to slow your own breathing and heart rate. Do it by counting and practice until you are good at it. The reason this is helpful is that in a crisis you are less likely to have a heart attack or breathing problems. If your heart stops or you stop breathing you will not survive long, stay calm and you have a better chance. If you are less tense, painkillers will be more effective.
Do not let the fear take over. Distract yourself. Get busy with something unimportant but engaging. Make your card kits up. Weed the garden. Sort out your sock drawer. Keep busy.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. Get those endorphins circulating. However much you can move, do that. Get that blood flowing. Get busy.
Lose yourself in a hobby.
Turn your thoughts outwards from your fear and go and help someone else. However bad it is, there is always someone else worse off than you. You just have to find them and take cake.
Assess your current situation in detail, physically. Start at your feet and work up, find the good bits as in: I can wiggle my toes, nothing wrong with them, I can bend my knees and stand up, I can move my hips, I can turn my waist, my arms still move, I can wave my hands, I can hold a pen, my heart is still beating, I can see, I can breathe, I can think. Do this several times starting at your feet each time and working up. If it’s not working, get more specific, admire each fingernail in detail. Avoid the broken bit, emphasise the good bits.
These are the things that have helped me. Fear can be overwhelming; you need to jump on top of it and bounce up and down until you have squashed it flat.
And if you have been a reader here for all ten years, you probably know what I’m going to say next – get a dolls’ house. Put you head inside a smaller, better, controllable world. Make a diorama. Perpetrate a piece of art. Paint a picture, model a model.
If you don’t like what’s happening forge an alternate reality and live in it for a while until the real world improves. Live there intermittently, make a holiday from fear in your head.
The real world will improve, in time. You just have to get from here to there. If you use the interim productively you will come out the other end, stronger, braver, wiser and with a finished work of art and weed-free garden and paired socks.
Fear is the vertical cliff face by which we ascend to our higher selves.