Tag Archives: fear

Regret

When I was a teenager, acutely aware of the life-altering impact of every choice I faced, I adopted a decision-making strategy which, though it has not lessened my anxiety, has nevertheless served me well.

I decided that, when I was paralyzed by indecision and needed to snap out of it, I would imagine myself on my death bed, then look my options squarely in the face and determine which would cause me the least regret from that future position.

This method has mostly caused me to do kind of crazy, out-of-the-box kinds of things: sell all my possessions and move to Ireland with two small children, quit a Master’s program to move across the country, homeschool my kids, sell my car and become a cyclist.  And I regret almost none of them.  As the old song goes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”

But it occurs to me that I should have expanded this policy beyond the momentous decisions to include the small habitual choices I make everyday without even thinking about it.  I realized this when I suddenly became aware of how much I regret and will regret all the worrying I’ve done in my life.  I’m not entirely sure that this is a choice, or if I might choose to break the habit and live differently.

But these small acts of extreme stress and discomfort color my life’s journey just as much as a decision to marry or change jobs.  Day after day accepting my tendency to panic and refusing to take on the project of learning a new approach to conflict and challenge is just as essential to forming who I am and what my life is about as moving house or cultivating a friendship.

I choose now to devote time and energy to this goal: of becoming more emotionally stable, of learning to relax and see how small most obstacles truly are in the Big Picture, of finding the fun in a challenge instead of going into fight or flight mode against an insurmountable enemy such as a bank error or burnt toast.  I choose to remember that the attitude I choose to have throughout an average day is just as important a detail of my life as my address or my level of education.

I know that even if I don’t ever totally succeed, at least this is one decision I will never regret.

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Altered States

Sometimes I feel the need to make sense of our society’s drug policy.  For a brief moment in the ’60s (or so I’ve heard, having not made my entrance into this world until 1970) there was a subculture of people experimenting with altered states of consciousness, often induced chemically.  But besides that, we have all kinds of factions fighting against each other, none of them going anywhere except to hell in a handbasket: the “cool” drug counterculture, the illegal drug making/selling economy, the drug war economy, the poor souls fighting addiction, the puritan idealism that inevitably adopts a hypocritical position of condemning some chemicals utterly while accepting others without question, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, etc.

Okay, well, the legalized industries are doing fine.  But we often excuse their products as harmless, though in the last few decades we have been leaning the other way with alcohol and tobacco.

But we still allow people, including children, to walk around souped up on caffeine and sugar and few of us recognize these effects as altered states.  (I don’t know about you, but the most positive and productive I am all day is the hour or so when I’m flying on my morning caffeine fix.) We are only  just beginning to see them as powerful.  And our inevitable response seems to be to condemn them.

Are we capable of a more intelligent handling of the issue?

No matter where we stand on whatever drug issue, legal or otherwise, we all seem to be operating under the same common assumption: altered states are secretly fun, to some degree dangerous and always carry at least a small stigma of shamefulness.   Even with coffee, aren’t we addicts all at least a little sheepish when admitting our fixation?  Sobriety is held as the ultimate righteous state.

But might altered consciousness be something humans need?  Is it ever beneficial?  We might admire a Native American peyote ceremony for the soul searching and mystical insight it provides, but none of us is allowed to do it.  How would someone’s reputation change in your eyes if you found out they’d done acid?  

We allow, “I was just experimenting in college” and “I didn’t inhale.”  We’ve gotten to where we allow people to be reformed users, like George W., for example.

But for someone to be a respected member of mainstream society who proves their worth on a daily basis and is also a known pot smoker?  Nope.

We all have understandable fears based on anecdotal evidence of some type of chemical destroying someone we know and/or love.  We may even decide to buck the present trend and be against alcohol consumption.  But cars and motorcycles maim and kill lots of people, and isn’t that an altered state for a lot of people?  The power, speed, independence, road rage, status symbol possession… Most of the time we drive in a fairly sober, utilitarian manner, but who among us doesn’t ever floor it or take that corner just a little faster than necessary?  We definitely are not in our natural state, feet on the ground, head surrounded by sky.  Our heavy metal boxes put us in a certain frame of mind.

But we would never dream of outlawing them.

Our tv watching puts us in an altered state, a passive, drooling spectatorship.  How are the hours wasted and life energy atrophied away any different in front of the tube than passed out with painkillers?

Okay.  Granted they are different.  I’m just being dramatic in an attempt to make the point that we try to avoid sobriety in many different ways, some of them demonized as too dangerous and others labeled as simply “entertainment” or “transportation” or “java” some other moniker that makes them untouchable.

What would happen if we said, yes, we need to escape.  Yes, grownups are going to be allowed to choose their method of altering with no legislating and then they will be held responsible for any consequences of their choices.  The pluses and minuses of every method could be discussed freely.  We could openly admit that lots of things we do everyday, even something so innocuous as having a drama queen fit, are forays out of our “right minds.”  We could talk without shame about what we are looking for outside of our sobriety, about what we find there.

Or should we just continue to behave as though stone cold sobriety were the only way to be, ever.  That there is no time or place for getting out of your head or your day to day perspective, unless perhaps you choose Zen meditation, prayer, yogic breathing.  Newsflash — these things are seen as a little bit crazy, too.  Innocuously so, but nevertheless.

I hope this article did not induce any sort of altering in the reader’s awareness of reality as they’ve always assumed it to be — any effects of change in point of view, feelings of lightheadedness or hallucinations were purely unintentional.  Unless you go for that sort of thing.  In which case, you’re welcome. 

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Top Five: Worst Fears

Since we’ve gotten a jolt of positive energy off the New Year, maybe it’s time to look at the dark side for a moment.
My top five worst fears:
  1. My kids being in pain.
  2. Me being in pain.
  3. Having my dearest possessions stolen… I only have a couple really dear things, such as my laptop, but if it were to be gone… 😦  
  4. Having people see me as useless, worthless, annoying, self-deluded, in general not worth the space I take up on the planet
  5. Suffocating to death (in the literal sense)
If you feel up to talking about it, what makes you shake in your boots?

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Language and Psychology

They say we are what we eat, but is it also true that we are what we say?

As I sit here pondering how to integrate all our techniques for grounding and calming, how to develop habits to overcome my tendency to panic and to face life with an attitude that results in capable, adult handling of situations rather than my usual babyish crying and tantrum throwing, I am reminded of how the English language might affect us.

Often, I am afraid.

In French, J’ai peur.  Literally, that means “I have fear.”

In Spanish, Tengo miedo.  Literally, “I have fear.”

How come in English I AM afraid?  I AM the fear?  When you HAVE something, isn’t it much easier to get rid of it?  Race down the highway and toss it out the window?  Bye bye fear?  I have fear in my pocket, pick it out and throw it in the trash.  Worst case scenario, I throw out the pants.

I AM afraid.  That’s part of my being.  That’s essential to my existence.  I AM Elena, I AM a Mama, I AM afraid.  

I can say, I FEEL afraid or I EXPERIENCE fear, I suppose.  But that is not my go-to expression.  No, I AM hungry, tired, overwhelmed, sad.  Okay, none of those things right this minute, but I just mean when I feel something, I AM it.

At least in Spanish, they may say “I am sad,” but they have two forms of the verb “to be,” one indicates a temporary state, one is a permanent state of being.  Guess which one is used for emotions?  They give themselves a way out!  Do we?

Does our use of verbs have any psychological effect, or AM I just trippin’?

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When I’m 88…

Have you seen the movie Big Fish?  Brilliant flick.  A must-see, if ever there was one.

Anywho, inspired by this movie, I love the idea of “knowing” when you are going to die, although I DO NOT actually want to KNOW that information.

Allow me to elaborate.

I am one of those people who is mindful of the impending event of death to an excruciating degree.  Whenever I hear that wise advice, “Don’t forget, we are all mortal, enjoy every day as if it were your last… blah blah blah” I think to myself, “Welcome to my life.”

So on the positive side, death is not going to catch me without having appreciated every second of every day.

On the negative side, I think there is a damn good reason that most people live blissfully unappreciative lives, and that is because it makes you INSANE to think about death all the time.

Let’s put it this way: the joy I felt surrounding the birth of each of my children was painfully tempered by the realization that… 

  1. I was going to be afraid every day not only of my own death but of my children’s death, and…
  2. In giving them birth I was simultaneously giving them their eventual death, as well as all the suffering they might experience in between those two events.

So I was able to appreciate the father character in Big Fish, after he’d seen his own death in the witch’s eye, as he went through his adventures, starting to feel afraid and then remembering, “Wait!  This isn’t how I go!”

I have decided that I “know” I am going to die in my sleep when I’m 88.  (Anyone who’s suffered through enough of my blog knows that I am partial to the number 8.)

Now, whether this is what really happens or not, who cares.  The point is, I won’t face every single, day-to-day perilous situation, like, say, driving down the road in the car, with so much fear.  I can look the oncoming semis confidently in the headlights and say to myself, “Don’t panic!  This isn’t how I go!”  I am absolutely exhausted of being afraid all the time.

(There’s no chance that I will actually put myself in a dangerous situation with a false sense of immortality… you can’t erase 38 years of paranoia THAT easily.)

But if I could only convince myself to play along, to believe against all reason that everything is okay… I might at least add a couple of years on to my life with lower stress levels.  It’s worth a shot, anyway.

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Phone-a-phobia

Not many people are aware of one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to face in this starting-a-business thing, I would venture to say, bigger than the utter scarcity of capital, the lack of self-confidence and initiative, bigger even than the total absence of any business sense.

I’m scared of phones.

I’m convinced that it all started when I was a young’un living at home, back in the dark ages before answering machines.  (Since my parents staunchly refuse to buy any new technology until the cooties wear off of it, there may very well have been answering machines around then, but you’d never have known at my house.)

Now those folks who read my rants know that I am generally opposed to blaming parents once you are out of your twenties.  And since my twenties are but a distant and embarrassing blot on the horizon at this point, you’d think I would fall into the responsibility-claiming category.

But honestly, credit where credit is due.

The awful, dark, horrible truth:  my Dad used to make me answer the phone.

Now I bet you are going to think that there were horrible people calling, creditors or some such, swearing and threatening removal of limbs to whoever answered the phone.

Well, no.  No one horrible ever called.  It’s just that, well, he hated talking on the phone, (could such a thing be genetic?) and so he wanted me to… you, know… how can I put this delicately… LIE.

Now I’m pretty sure there’s a commandment or something about not lying.  But there he’d be right next to me, shaking his head so hard his ears were waggling, waving me off like a swarm of wasps were attacking, while I said into the phone, “Yeah, he’s right here, just a minute.”

Now you’re going to think that he beat me or didn’t let me eat for a week as a punishment.  Not exactly.  I think he just looked at me sternly and said, “From NOW ON, I am AT THE STORE.  Do. You. Under. Stand. ?”

Of course I said yes.  But then the next time it would be like 9 pm when the phone rang, and it would be someone asking for him, and there would be like 45 minutes of silence while the two halves of my brain conversed.

“Don’t forget!  He’s at the store.”

“He’s not at the store, idiot.  He’s in the bathroom.”

“Just say it already.  It’s not hard! C’mon… ‘No, he’s at the store.’ ”

“Who the hell goes to the store at 9 pm?  We never leave the house after like 3:30.”

And then inevitably I’d go get him to tell him someone was waiting on the phone for him.

And as soon as he hung up with them, I’d start to dread the next time the phone might ring.

Ever since I was a kid and had to live through this psychological trauma, I’ve hated to answer the phone, even my own phone at my own home, you know, with like my own number, under my own name, so that they are calling for ME and never for my DAD.  Caller ID made it a little better, because at least then I knew what I was in for ahead of time.

But I figured I should never get a cell phone.  If the home phone ringing makes my heart race, my hands shake and my ears bleed, then surely lugging around that kind of potential horror would be a bad thing.

But I think I went about it the right way, accidentally.  The Pavlovian Dog training kind of way.  For the first couple of months after I got my cell, the only people who called me were my husband and my sister, both of whom I love dearly and am always eager to talk to.  Hence, the particular happy chime I picked out has now been imprinted in my neurotic brain as the precursor to a happy, non-horror movie conversation.

Now when a client calls asking about tutoring or a class, and I see an unfamiliar number show up on the phone, my first instinct is still not to answer it.  Just hurl the phone as hard as you can, preferably TOWARD a hard surface, and then run and hide under the first piece of furniture you come to!

But then, for reasons beyond my understanding, I answer it anyway.  And I’m not freaking out, only pleasantly curious as to who it might be and what they might want.

Is this how phones have been for you people your whole lives?

I’ve entered a whole new magical world of communication.

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The Envelope of Doom

Why be afraid of little pieces of paper?

Considering the possible attacks that we as a society have developed to be delivered in an envelope, it’s not surprising.

To name a few:

  • Court summons
  • Parking ticket
  • Divorce papers
  • Credit card bill
  • Report card
  • Pink slip
  • Electricity shut-off notice
  • IRS audit notification
  • Returned submission with accompanying rejection slip

Why do we torture each other with documents?

When I’ve got one of these, or any other scary scrap of parchment, in front of me, and my fight or flight response is fully engaged, it’s hard to remember that the flattened fiber pulp can’t really do me bodily injury.

Sure, I’ve gotten a paper cut or two.  But boy did I teach that piece of paper a lesson!

My preferred methods of paper destruction:

  1. Burning– There’s nothing like the instant gratification of watching the offending words be slowly eaten by the flames.  Take that!
  2. Paper Shredder- It’s a lovely faux grass bundle that emerges.  It’s even better to go a step further and compost the shreds (assuming the paper has no other toxic content besides its message).  Something about watching a threatening communique succumb to the elements that reassures me as to Who is really in charge.
  3. Recycled Art- There is a delicious, self-righteous pleasure in seeing it demonstrated that absolutely anything a two-year-old could scrawl in thick black marker is more pleasing and sensible than the original text.

When these methods lose their oomph, I peruse my alternate list:

Elimination methods I’m sure would be awesome but am loathe to attempt:

  1. Large Dog’s Chew Toy- Bundled and twisted together, the papers would meet a fabulously agonizing end amidst sharp teeth and copious slobber. 
  2. Decomposition by Shotgun- Oooooh yeah.
  3. Human consumption- What can I say… the papers would eventually emerge, unmasked, in their true form.

Not a big fan of bureaucracy? you may ask.  Government forms give you hives?  Red tape cause your heart to palpitate painfully?

Well, yes.  And I can’t see our society ever reversing course away from our obsession with having it all down on paper.

And then hitting each other over the head with it.

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