Tuesday, 19 May 2009

On Fear

FranIAm made a post on fear in which she asked us to discuss our own fears.

My comment was long. I don't know whether I like it or hate it, but it seems significant enough to post here.

Fran, thank you for this post, and for being so open about your own fears.

Money fears get to me, too, more than I'd like. At the moment I mostly deal with them by being very avoidant about money; I'm a bit of a spendthrift, I have debt that has piled up while I've been a student (though not as much as some, because I've been able to continue working), I tell myself that my studies are more important and I'll deal with the money stuff afterward. Afterward is starting to get awfully close and I suspect it is not going to be pretty! In the long run I know I have to grow up about this a bit.

The money issues, for me, are about scarcity of resources; having enough to survive. Another area where these fears are apparent is in my relationship with food: again, I'm worried about not having enough. I mostly manage not to overeat too badly, but one only has to glance at my cupboards to realise that I'm a champion hoarder. I probably have enough non-perishable food to get through a month, and that's not through any systematic effort. Empty shelves make me physically uncomfortable.

I can look back to childhood experiences for those manifestations of scarcity thinking. It's fairly obvious where and how I picked up the habits. But these worries about the scarcity of external resources are really only scratching the surface of my fears. Underneath there is a deeper concern: the fear that, somehow, I am Not Good Enough. Not Good Enough that people who claim to care for me would look after my physical needs if I were unable to do so for myself; Not Good Enough to be helped back up if I fall, comforted if I am in pain, held if I'm lonely, loved. It's not that I fear not being loved, so much as being, ultimately, unlovable.

Thankfully I have plenty of evidence that this is not the case, but it still frightens me. And it's still a strong enough possibility in my mind that I sometimes get spooked and think that those who have power over my life might take a dislike to me and actively try to hurt me. Male authority figures who are taller than me are the most terrifying; after five years I still feel incredibly anxious every time I have to meet with a certain person at Academic Institution, even though he has shown himself to be of good will. And one of the reasons I feel so comfortable at Leafy Suburb Church is definitely that the priest and deacon are both female. Working with conductors is also difficult, and though I manage this relatively well I feel far more stress with a man up there waving the stick around than I do with a woman. Again, this is traceable to specific childhood experiences.

The result of all this is a grasping after control. It's ultimately futile, but my full cupboards are a vain attempt at having control over my food supply; so is much of my interest in gardening and foraging, though those have also brought me great joy. I fear my physical disabilities not so much because it is likely I will end up with much more severe chronic pain than I have now, but because I am terrified that I will lose the ability to do enough work to look after myself. I have in the past been extremely clingy and co-dependent in relationships, bending over backward to please a partner and expecting that they do the same for me and then being devastated when they won't or simply can't. I have been extremely intolerant of other people's failings when they have let me down, and even more intolerant of my own failure to keep everyone happy--which is pretty much impossible, as any fule kno.

I do better now, I think. I'm certainly much happier, and certainly less ruled by fear. There are a number of reasons for this. One is just that three years of therapy taught me a lot about re-framing, and I don't interpret so much of the world from the assumption that people hurt me on purpose. I've learned that what people want to do and what they would like to do are often separate, that nobody has enough information to do the right thing all the time, and that most people have no more ill will toward me than I have toward them. There was a period of time when I knew this on an intellectual level but could not grasp it on an emotional one, and that was a very difficult stretch, but being as objective as possible did help me to become less afraid. It's really not all about me and my fear, despite the increasing length of this comment on said subject.

Another reason I am less afraid is because I do actually have more control over my life now than I did. I've had diagnosis of two long-term conditions, both of which were affecting me hugely in ways which were not taken seriously by others. Neither of these are likely to ever be cured, but both of them have options for management which reduce my difficulties, and as I learn more about how these conditions affect me and what works for me and what does not, I gain even more control. It's been a hard shift, going from having a goal of running the London Marathon to having a goal of staying off prescription painkillers until I'm 40, but that's a world and a half better than being in pain all the time and not having any clue what was going on and being told it was all in my head. Now I'm in pain about half the time and can make good decisions about whether to medicate or rest. (The physiology of pain is an interesting side-note here, too; chronic pain can really, REALLY mess with brain chemistry. It certainly has an effect on my mood, though my pain tolerance is relatively high in terms of ability to function physically despite pain.) And I'm getting more skilled at managing the other perils and dangers of this earthly life, and more confident that if everything goes wrong I will still be able to feed myself.

Another reason I am not as fearful as I once was is because, for whatever reason, some people saw fit to help me. And they kept trying, and kept trying, and kept trying even when I was really rather horrible to them, and somehow eventually I was able to see it, and believe that maybe, just maybe, if these rather wonderful people cared enough to love me, I might be lovable after all, or at least not abhorrent. There is one person in particular in the last few years who was a huge support to me; I've not worked out whether her effect on my life is because she happened to be there at the right time and I was ready for those changes or if her particular capacity to love was different enough from my previous experience to get through to me. It may be some combination of both, I'll probably never be able to figure it out. But now that I have that hope to cling to I look back and see that actually, many others have helped me, cared for me, loved me even when it has been hard for them. They far outweigh and outnumber those who have hurt me, either through incompetence or through lashing out in fear and pain themselves. They even outweigh those who might have been truly sadistic (though the more I think about it the more I think those were just very, very fearful people, acting the only way they knew how). And realising that and allowing myself to feel loved and risk loving has opened the floodgates, and suddenly I love more than I fear. The flailings and thrashings of people who are frightened do make me sad but they don't hurt me as much as they did, because I know they are hurting so very much more and I just want to show them that they are loved, intrinsically lovable children of God. I want to sow harmony where there is discord, I want to sow hope where there is despair, I want to sow joy where there is sadness, healing where there is injury, all that other stuff from the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. There doesn't seem to be any other sensible response to the depth of love that I have felt, even if sometimes it seems like a distant glimmer, even if sometimes I feel alone and frightened.

I have limited energy and limited time and have to pick my battles to an extent, but I think maybe that's what discernment is about. Not about what to do--what to do is to spread love and hope in the world--but about how to go about doing so.

The word verification is "twament". I'll probably have to re-post because I spent so long writing this, though. (Yeah, I did. Second word verification is "insts", which isn't nearly as good.)

That's where the comment ends, but I should add a few things:

Those of you who know me well will be able to read between the lines on some of that. Please respect my desire for anonymity in this forum.

Some of this makes it sound as if I'm never afraid, never act badly out of fear, am always able to somehow get above scarcity thinking. That is not the case at all! But I've gone from my fears being so overwhelming it was hard for me to get dressed in the morning to being able to participate in life to a much fuller extent, to being able to engage with my fears on a more meaningful level than just hiding under the duvet. I may only just pass as 'normal' but it's a huge change for me. And for me, whether I'm able to function seems to have a lot to do with how I relate to fear, and how I relate to fear seems to be directly affected by whether I feel loved and lovable. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There may be another post on fear, language and scripture at some point. Or there may not. I'm meant to be doing a degree...


Kathryn said...

Ironic that you show such courage as you write about your fears. I'm tempted to offer reflections on my own fears, but maybe the blog isn't the place, as there is always a balance between helpful and frightening vulnerability in the relationship of priest and people.
The obvious conclusion from your writing is, of course, the one you hint at yourself..that perfect love casts out fear. I'm glad that love is helping you to be less fearful xx

Song in my Heart said...

Ironic that you show such courage as you write about your fears. I'm tempted to offer reflections on my own fears, but maybe the blog isn't the place, as there is always a balance between helpful and frightening vulnerability in the relationship of priest and people.

It's easier to do because I do have a relatively anonymous place for it. You won't find me baring my soul quite this way on my more professional blog (which is extremely neglected of late, and which I will not link to from here anyway); there are practical reasons for that, as well as professional ones. In any situation where we have responsibility for the care of another it's important to be aware of their fears and vulnerabilities, too. Everything I write online could in theory be traced back to me, so it's a situation of calculated risk, rather than a belief that I'm actually entirely anonymous here: I trust those who do know who I am to keep schtum about it.

Of course, there's nothing stopping you writing a long anonymous comment somewhere, if you really need to know your words will be read rather than just jotting them down on paper, or e-mailing someone you trust about such things. Again, it's a calculated risk...

The obvious conclusion from your writing is, of course, the one you hint at yourself..that perfect love casts out fear. I'm glad that love is helping you to be less fearful xx

I'm glad, too. It does seem to expand to fill any space I leave for it and a lot of spaces I hadn't intended to.

Ostrich said...

Another amazing post. Thank you. It is that possibility of anonymity which has allowed me to say the otherwise unspeakable truths. This post shows how precious it can be, and how brave you are. Thank you for your courage, once again you have spoken the truth which you know and which shows just how extraordinary human beings so very often are. I do hope you will continue to write from your songful heart. Its a joy to listen to its sound.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you, Ostrich. I do intend to keep writing. I hope that you will, too.