On Fear

“You can tell yourself that, that you hate change. But you don’t. You thrive on it.”

“I think it’s different when it’s my choice. And I also think that maybe I do like it, but I’m just scared. And I don’t like being scared.”

I left T’s office that day not understanding what she meant. Change, the good and the bad, all felt just plain scary to me. There was no place for any of it in my life, and I certainly wasn’t going to invite it. Routine breeds order, and I really just wanted everything to stay the same—though I knew, even then, that it wasn’t possible. The world is always changing, and as a result, we are always running. 

Walter Cannon came up with the theory of the fight or flight response, which states in layman’s terms that people and animals respond to threats by a firing of the sympathetic nervous system—this allows them to be ready for either fight or flight. There’s a small part of the brain called the adrenal medulla, which produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, and attempts to regulate the stress that comes as a result of fear. 

I’ve been told that there are different types of fear, that it can be good or bad. For instance, there’s “man with a gun coming at me” fear, and there’s “first day of school” fear. There are different ways that the brain responds to different types of fear. PTSD, however, is a special animal in the way that it alters brain responses. After a trauma, fear becomes a blanket concept. To the PTSD brain, it’s all the same.

Basically, the way my brain interprets and responds to “I am moving to New York in less than three weeks” is exactly the same way in which it responded to rape and abuse. I lived for so long knowing that fear that I now feel it in response to everything. And while there’s a tiny buried part of me that’s excited to move, there’s a larger part of me that doesn’t really want to go because new is scary.

“So, how are you feeling about all of this?” M asked. “The move and such.”

As if I needed the clarification. I shrugged. “It’s a lot. I hate lasts.”

“This is your last time here.”

“I know.” I sit with the galley in my lap, my hands folded neatly on top of it. 

“I remember you when I first met you.”

I gestured a few feet away at the empty chair across from me. “The ghost of T, who did all my speaking for me.” 

M smiled. “Yes. You’re very good at reflection; what have you learned since then?”

I didn’t have to think long. The goodbye letter attached to the front of the galley summed up my answer perfectly. “I wasn’t ready that day. But every piece of the puzzle since then, every person that I have talked to and met, has helped to get to a point where I am.”

“Different people have different functions in our everyday lives,” she replied. “We go to different people for different things.”

Their faces flash through my mind—the people I have met during college, the friends I have made. Some of whom will be a part of me forever, but some who just ducked in to leave their ripples in my life. All important. 

“You are strong, and you can do this, no matter which way you choose. The choice is yours and only yours.”

“Sometimes the wind shifts, and there’s nothing you can do but go with it.”

“It is possible to connect even when you can’t speak.”

“I believe you. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t. You’re so amazing, and strong. And I know that it’s hard and it completely sucks. But you can get through it, one step at a time.”

“I’m so glad to have had to opportunity to know you, to become friends. And now we will have all the Skype dates. We will put our cats in berets and send them back and forth to each other via trains.”

“You will find people to like who like you. You will also find some folks you don’t like and couldn’t care less about what they think of you. Buy the people you like a beer and vent about those you don’t. Or be safe, and whine about NY weather until you are bonded…Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Different people. Different words I can keep after I’m gone. They swirled together, like a kaleidoscope, and then it was M and I standing in the middle of the room. “So,” I continued. “While I’m scared, I understand that it’s a good scared and not a bad scared. Which does not make it feel any better, but which does tell me that I can readily handle it.”

She nodded. “I know you have boundary issues, but can I give you a hug?” 

I nodded, and we embraced. I left the galley on her desk, saying nothing. The letter said it all. If there is one lesson I have learned, it is that while I cannot always speak, I can write. I can use my words. I can leave my words. So when I’m gone, my words remain. It is possible to be alone, but not alone at all. I left M, for the last time, and the countdown began. 

Today I set up for my moving sale; the few things that I have managed to accumulate seem like a whole lot more in the face of a massive relocation. I find myself just wanting to give it all away. It’s really happening, this starting over business. I’ve moved a lot in my life, but never with so little to my name (a grand whopping twenty bucks) and never to something. I have always moved away, and as a result I am always stuck. Always backwards. I have never moved for me.

It’s not the change that I thrive on. It’s the challenge. And graduate school will be that. But there’s a lot of unknown that surrounds it—living, friends, functioning in a new environment. That’s what I fear. But looking at it spelled out, I realize that conquering that fear is a challenge all in its own. And maybe that is what T meant so long ago, when she told me I thrived on change. Maybe that was the message I was supposed to get. 

I get it now.

And so I choose to move forward, towards something, which makes this move monumental. Baby steps. Selling my stuff. Booking the U-haul. Praying I can raise the money to pay for it. Saying goodbye. Through my lasts. At least, my lasts here. My last meeting with M. My last lunch here. my last shopping trip there. Soon, the last time I will drive my car. My last coffee date. My last five dollar Tuesday movie. My last horror night. My last time with my friends. And then my firsts. My first Skype date. My first bus trip; my first transfer to mass transit. My first day of school, my first day in my new classes. My first meeting of my new advisor; my first lunch with new friends. My first Skype movie date (because we know this will happen). 

In a season of lasts, there are also firsts. To be philosophical, the end is the beginning is the end is the beginning…rinse and repeat. It isn’t about the change; it never was. It is about the challenge, and about the victory that comes each time you conquer the mountain.

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3 thoughts on “On Fear

  1. azuree615 says:

    I needed this. I’ve been stressing about moving into a new apartment, which is set to happen on Sunday. My current space is a boxed-up mess and doesn’t feel like home anymore. I’ve been mentally avoiding my “lasts” and distracting myself from thinking optimistically about firsts. Feels like I’ve been in a bit of mental limbo, if you will.

    Your post had just reminded me of all the sweetness that exists in lasts and the promise that exists in firsts. I will be keeping your words in mind as I enter these next transitional days. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Wow!! Just… WOW! Bless you in your new endeavors. Never be afraid to try new things, because they can lead to great things.

  3. womanIam!? says:

    Hi..we are in the same line of posts and advocacy. Take time to visit my wall too. Together let’s promote FEMINISM. WOMANIAM!? @ chickpickrendezvous.wordpress.com

    Big Thanks..

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