The Many Faces of Fear

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Very recently, I went to bed afraid that I would not wake up.  The problem wasn’t too many Tylenol P.M.s nor fear that the Russian space trash was going to fall on my head in the middle of the night.  I had chest pains, my head felt like it was about to explode, and it felt like someone had placed a vice around my neck. 

At the doctor’s office the next day, after listening to all  vital organs and hooking me up to various electrodes, the doctor declared my heart perfectly fine.  I filed away Worry #1 (certain heart failure) and promptly pulled out Worry #2 – what the hell was wrong with me?  One question from the doctor had all kinds of light bulbs going off in my head:  “Are you prone to anxiety?”  Oh, honey.  If you only knew…

I think I was six or seven years old when I had my first anxiety attack.  I was playing with friends in our neighbourhood and a cloud passed over the sun.  As a child I was pants-wetting terrified of thunderstorms.  As the sky filled with clouds in the late afternoon (as it often did in summer), I ran home screaming and crying and yes, probably needed to change my pants.  I don’t jump with glee as a storm approaches now but I’ve stopped screaming and do not need Depends when the barometer falls.

Fear of tangible things –  thunderstorms, gunshot-like noises, and donkeys – are easier to explain than the intangible fears.  Nameless fears – anxieties that have no root anywhere but in my imagination -creep in make themselves at home in my brain like unwelcome squatters.     

Is fear different from anxiety?  Yes.  It would seem that fear is a response to a known threat while anxiety is the response to a possible or imagined threat.  If I arrive at the airport late, my fear that I will miss my flight is a real possibility.  If I lie in bed the night before my flight and worry that I might miss it, that is an imagined possibility which will lead to anxiety.   I am most unpleasant before a flight, arrive sometimes 3 or 4 hours beforehand, and still pace the concourse in front of my gate, watching everyone and everything for signs of something amiss.

There are probably thousands of articles and studies on anxiety based disorders and syndromes. Lucky us, we’re the only species that worries, that projects those worries onto future events, and obsesses about events in the past.  General anxiety disorder is commonly linked to depression.  Women suffer from it more than men.  It can lead to serious physical ailments later in life (hypertension, coronary disease, some studies suggest links to Alzheimer’s). Yay, more to worry about! 

Luckily, we clever humans have come up with ways to cope such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and meds.  So, now at the stage in my life when the anxiety might do me serious harm, I need to choose a coping method and face down my nemesis, before it’s too late.

“All of us are born with a set of indistinct fears – of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and or the words “Some Assembly Required.” – Dave Barry

“Worrying is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” – Glenn Turner

“Grief has limits whereas apprehension has none.  For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen.” – Pliny the Younger  (whether he wrote this before Vesuvius erupted or not I don’t know).

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