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Fear and Anxiety

Every year, on June 30, I do something that scares me. I do this in honor of my father, some of whose words in his last weeks before dying of ALS included, “You are not living unless you are scared regularly.”

So I sang a short solo as part of my dad’s eulogy. I had never sung in public since girl scout camp. It was an homage to his advice about fear. On June 30 this year I got a root canal. Root canals do scare me but may not have counted since it HAD to be done but it did make me laugh about the coincidence. Last year I was kayaking on a bioluminescent bay in Ireland. Before that I was standing alone in Denali, looking up a mountain. He would have loved those experiences.

I am not telling you this to claim that I am an adventure junkie. Actually I am a hypotonic nerd who loves to read books about other people surviving the apocalypse. I have been terrified of being alone at night since I was a tot. My mother calls my imagination “Spielbergian,” and you would not believe the crazy nightmares that I wake up from, heart pounding, on a regular basis. I am afraid of big dogs, snakes, motorboats, dental visits, many seats on airplanes, bears, terrorists, wolves, serial killers, zombies, vampires, every episode of all the CSIs, EMPs, cancer and ALS, all the regular stuff. Fear is normal for me.

I believe anxiety is in the wires and you get a genetically-disposed load. You can have some really tough life experiences and/or eat really inflammation-inducing food and add more. Then you build on your burden of anxiety by letting your fears hang out in your head to amplify what is in the wires. A lot of us turn to therapy or drugs to help with anxiety. The best countermeasure for many of us? Doing something that scares you -- regularly.

Some of the things I have done in the last couple of years that have really scared me include selling my company without a plan for what is next, dancing on stage with a performance group, even just showing up for that performance group considering I have about 20 years less experience than any other member, signing up for a hiking trip in Ireland, using a broom to kill half-dead screaming rodents my cat gifts me, and being alone. Up next for me is something that really scares me but most people seem to do well with: being an employee -- after I have been self-employed for 25 years.

All of it, everything, has served to expand my life and what I think of as “normal” for me, what I know makes me feel afraid sometimes but what I actually figure out how to do rather well.

Everything in life pushes us, especially after a certain age, to contract. To stay safe, go to the same places, stay with the same people, keep the same job, do the same things, even if we are deeply unhappy and fearful or anxious most of the time. I guess that is what drugs are for. Or we have this choice my father taught me: expand every year. Take on something new that makes you sweat a bit. Go on a vacation that physically challenges you. Learn something. Try on being someone you do not know exactly how to be. Conquer something. Change it up. Become less fearful every year. Expand.

As Cheryl Strayed says, our lives are made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Can you tell yourself a bigger, truer story?

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