Fear is the mind-killer: Change, anxiety and me.
A few months ago I read Dune. It captivated me, the world-building, the characters and most of all Frank Herbert’s focus on dismantling fear. The litany against fear became a personal mantra because as anyone with anxiety knows, fear tends to be the spark that ignites anxiety.
While I could write a ten-page homage to Dune, today I focus on fear.
Why fear, I hear you ask? Especially for my first post…Well, they say write what you know and at the moment I know fear.
I am afraid of changing my job, it’s something I’ve done multiple times over my working life, I’m 35 and had my first job at 15 working for my father. So, in that regard, it is something I’m well versed in. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been in the same role. It has been wonderful, something I’ve loved with someone I like but now it is ending and I have to do something new. It is a positive ending, a fruitful beginning and one that part of me knows will create new opportunities for development, friendships and achievement. However, while I would say that I tend towards positivity, I also suffer from anxiety. Anxiety makes this and all other changes harder than they should be, more stressful and sucks some of the joy away. My anxiety usually starts with fear. (As a disclaimer, my anxiety is self-diagnosed and unmedicated, what I describe moving forward is only how anxiety manifests in me unless I specify otherwise.)
I would describe the feeling of fear as akin to my stomach sinking through my body and rather dramatically because it’s me, into the floor. I know psychologically that fear is a healthy and useful emotion. The range of human emotions is explored a lot in my psychology degree, unfortunately, it is also one that will kick start a spiral of anxiety or a near panic attack.
I think of applying for work and there is the fear. I consider meeting new work colleagues and there is the fear. I consider having to manage a new full-time role rather than the part-time life to which I have become accustomed and there is fear. There is fear that I will have to study alongside it, maintaining a work-life balance. Waves of emotion roll over me, dread beats through my chest, it feels like the world will end because I am having to make this change. It is, for lack of a better word, dumb. Actually, I write a lot and there are much better words, irritating is one and also petulant, annoying, frustrating or bothersome but I’m sticking with dumb. It’s dumb because I know I’m fine, I know it will be fine. I am educated (not so low-key bragging), I have a wonderfully diverse set of practical and academic skills which I have cultivated and can apply in numerous ways. I have an awesome support system, fantastically encouraging friends and family, a perfect partner who supports me always… but fear and the resulting anxiety says, “Nope. Sure, you know this but hey, don’t forget, it could all go horribly wrong”.
Fear makes every single insignificant doubt bigger. It makes every small step seem like miles through the Sahara desert. It makes every day of applying for work feel like a never-ending attack on my person. It’s just dumb. It’s dumb and it’s frustrating and it is exhausting. Truly, if that is one thing I hope I can convey to those who don’t have to experience irrational fear and anxiety, it is that it is exhausting. Emotionally draining, physically sucking your life away draining. Hey, I warned you I was dramatic. But, really, truly it’s exhausting.
People say that there are things we can do to manage it and once you have a mental health issue, that’s all you can do. Personally, I walk or hike, typically while listening to a podcast or audiobook. I read, write and I meditate. Meditation has actually been a powerful tool for me and while people… yes, I see you, giving me the side-eye… the look that says “Oh crap you’re one of those people, I thought you were normal.” Whatever that means. Actually no, I’m not going to drown you in metaphysics but I will highlight that studies have scientifically shown that meditative practice helps with anxiety. Deep controlled breathing, focusing on someone else’s voice as they guide you through thoughts and emotions, especially when you have no idea where to begin yourself, does help and I recommend it highly.
Today, I did 4 miles of walking, some will be thinking “You’re crazy!” and others, “Well that’s not far, not a hike” but it’s not about the miles, it’s about the fact that I did not want to go at all. I fought myself, I fought the voice in my head telling me to stay at home, the voice that finds every bloody reason not to go. It’s the voice that sits next to the fears, feeds on them and that, my friends, is my anxiety. The key to managing mental health is knowing when to fight and today I fought the anxiety and tomorrow I’ll fight my fears.
Fear is an emotion, it can be useful but when paired with anxiety it’s both a spark and the flames. It is the mind-killer, as Herbert aptly put it and it will provoke anxiety. It will stop you from doing the things that you want to do and the activities that will help you fight these emotions. It is an awful catch 22. I fought the fear when I started applying for jobs, and the voice that told me to procrastinate. I fought it today, I will continue to fight it and some days I will lose. But I will fight and to quote the wonderful Frank Herbert;
“I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
At least, I will try my best Frank.
Meditation review: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0272735885900169