Living With Fear

I saw a writing prompt today that urged people to write about what they fear most. That got me to thinking. There are moments when I have felt fear. Like having no gas and being on a causeway that’s miles long with no gas station on the other side. I was a little anxious until I got turned around and back on the right side. I don’t know if you’d really call that fear, but I certainly felt a lot of anxiety. Or when I stopped a car and while I was writing a ticket, large rocks were coming over a fence and hitting my patrol car. Or when I asked a guy for his registration and as he’s leaning across the seat, I see the butt end of a shotgun within easy reach.

There are times when I’ve been afraid. But I made it through all of them.

There was a story on the news several months ago that was extolling the bravery of a certain man in the face of an uncertain future, especially his immediate existence. My wife commented that he didn’t look brave, he looked afraid. And he did. Anyone with a lick of sense would have been. But I told her that the only time you can truly be brave is when your ARE afraid.

Fear is a basic instinct that is felt by almost all living creatures. It is a primary mode of survival. It tells you that something is wrong, that there is danger, that all is not right with the world. It triggers the “fight or flight” response.

There are some things, though, that you can neither fight nor flee away from. Some things that happen that are so immediate that you have absolutely no time to respond in anything but horror. I’m sure the people in the Twin Towers in New York felt that type of fear when they saw those jets flying straight for them. Nothing they could do would save them, short of Devine intervention. Where could they have run to? What was there to fight?

Some people are afraid of death, others are not. It’s perfectly rational. There is a genuine fear of the unknown, death being the ultimate unknown. Some are just afraid of the dying process. Still others are fearless about death, believing that what’s on the other side far surpasses anything that we have here in this existence, or that they will simply cease to exist.

People in the US Military are truly brave, to me. They face the possibility of coming to a sunned and extremely violent end for as long as  they’re deployed. In a hostile country, or even friendly one with hostiles in it, they’re in danger. Hell, right here in the good ole U S of A they face that possibility. Fort Hood Shooting.

 

My fear is a bit less tangible. I fear the day that may come when I would be unable to provide for myself and my family. That came about in a very real way a couple of months ago.

About six years ago, after a couple of years seeing three neurologists, one of them being a movement disorder specialist, two sleep deprived EEGs, two MRIs, and trial and error guesses on drugs to stop my erratic movements and sudden falling, my wife told me she was sending me to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. Okay, the clinic is in Scottsdale, but the hospital is in Phoenix. I became well acquainted with both and how to get back and forth, which there was a lot of doing. I sat with Dr. John Caviness for 15 minutes and he said that my problem wasn’t myoclonus, but chorea.

My first thought was Huntington’s Disease. My wife’s cousin had that and eventually succumbed to it. It wasn’t comforting to hear. But I wasn’t afraid. Not yet.

I started the whole round of tests all over again, this time it included 18 vials of blood. After 12 vials, the vein in my left arm collapsed. Bless the vampire’s heart, she kept trying until I convinced her to switch arms.

Three days later the doctor told me that I didn’t have Huntington’s, that my chorea was idiopathic. They had no idea what was causing it. But they prescribed tetrabenazine, something prescribed for Huntington’s patients, anyway to see if it would help. He added amantadine, and to help boost my appetite, mirtazapine.

It worked very well, and I’m still on the medication.

Back to the present day. The past few years I’ve had increasing difficulty speaking. I occasionally sounded like a blubbering idiot. It got so bad within the last four years, just before I promoted, that it was affecting my job. A few months ago, my local neurologist slowly upped my tetrabenazine. After two days of barely increasing the dose, I felt like I was going blind. I couldn’t stand light of any intensity. Even looking at my cell phone with the screen as dark as the setting would allow it to go was a new adventure in pain. I could almost watch the television if I wore my darkest sunglasses.

I sat in a dark room for almost three days. I couldn’t go to work.

That’s when I discovered what my biggest fear was. I could lose my job. Sure, I could take a medical or disability retirement, but it would be substantially less than a regular retirement, and a whole lot less than I was making. We had to shut down the school a few years ago and were living on half of what we had been making. If I didn’t have the use of my eyes, what could I possibly do to support us? My wife was caring for her mother, who is well into her 80s. There’s always someone at the house; we can’t leave her alone at all.

It took two days to figure out what was causing it. I saw the ophthalmologist. That was the only thing that had changed in the last week. I don’t suffer from allergies. He told me that it could take up to six months to clear up, if it was going to. He was a smart guy, but this particular problem was new to him.

My neurologist told me to stay off the medication to see what happens. I was already doing that.

It took a few days, but things eventually got better. I’m back on my regular dose with no side effects. They’re still trying to figure that one out.

That particular crisis is over. The speech problems remain, however, and its intensity comes and goes, but the possibility that something could happen before I can hit full retirement age is ever present. God has always taken care of us, and I believe that He will continue to do so, but the fear of the uncertainty of the future and the unknown still trails along in my shadow.

Fear is not always physical, or even tangible. People have, what we call, irrational fears. We call them that because their fears don’t make any sense to us, but to those suffering from them, they are very real. They affect them physically and emotionally and sometimes cripples them to a point where they can’t even function.

Psychologists have ways of helping people overcome their fears. The only way they can do that is to confront them and learn that they can overcome them without being harmed. I would call these people brave.

As it often turns out, when we face our fears and fight through what they would do to us, we find out that things are not as bad as we through that they would be. We feel victorious and empowered, ready to look straight into the eyes of the next adversary with confident resolve in the outcome.

But sometimes, as life happens, things don’t go so well. Maybe the results dwarf our worst fears. You don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to turn to. Your fear is increased by an order of magnitude. Your next obstacle is greater than the last. You cannot run away from it and you are forced stand and fight. You have no choice but to be brave. That is when you will realize the true strength that lies within you.

 

The Power of Music

Have you ever heard a song so powerful that it made you stop and just think for a few minutes?

Just about all of us have, I’m sure. Some couples have an “our song.” When it plays they are taken back to when they were first dating and a feeling of romance wells up between them. Sometimes a song will fit just perfectly with a friend or family member, and every time you hear it, you think of that person. Music can bring back a flood of memories, both happy and sad. Some will expose emotions long thought sealed up in a room somewhere with the intent that it never again see the light of consciousness. Some will tear open new wounds on top of old ones. Some will be uplifting and make us joyful and happy. Some will lull us into a melancholy state while other will make us want to sing along and tap our feet to the beat.
 
Kenny Chesney wrote and sang a song about just that.

Music is very powerful. Chesney mentions his friend who died in his teens in a number of his songs. You can tell that he really loved the guy. Music is cathartic. For both the singer and the listener. It is expressive on levels few other forms of communication can match. It has rhythm, tempo, and rhyme. It has volume, attitude, and emotion. It has style, character, and power. It is a way to exorcise our demons and express what we are feeling in any given moment. With music, was share our lives, or live vicariously through others. It memorializes forever that which we want to be remembered for all time.

There are two songs that readily come to mind that evoke vivid memories for me. Tanya Tucker’s song It’s a Little Too Late reminds me of my high school days when my best friend’s girlfriend was coming on to me. Books & Dunn’s Only in America reminds me of a particular high school graduation.

Not my own.

My wife and I ran a small, private, Christian school of 50 – 60 kids for several years. This particular school year was a horrible one for us in the way it ended. I had just been diagnosed with a neurological disorder. Not Huntington’s, but something quite similar. The medication I had been taking quit working. When I gave the graduation address to a standing room only crowd, I sounded like an absolute idiot. I could barely maintain a coherent thought and getting the words out of my mouth was quite challenging. Very embarrassing. My wife was sick with a fever of 105.2. We’d decorated the hall for the reception of over 300 people, but didn’t attend it that year. In fact, we didn’t even help with cleanup the next day. My wife ended up in the hospital with a serious kidney infection, made all them more frightening in light of the fact that she has only one kidney.

Why does that Brooks and Dunn song call forth those memories? My whole address was based on that song. Every year we did a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of our kids from baby right on up through high school graduation wearing their caps and gowns. That song was the first that was supposed to play during the presentation. It was also the foundation for my address. But it didn’t play. Nobody heard it. So on top of sounding like a blabbering fool, my audience had no frame of reference for what I was saying. Meanwhile, my wife was sitting in the front row looking like death warmed over. That evening couldn’t have ended soon enough for either of us. 

I could probably list songs I have put in other PowerPoints for other graduations, but I would never be able to tell you anything about what happened during those evenings that was in any way associated with the music I had chosen.

Think about the power of music and the way it influences your life, how you feel, or your outlook on your own existence. What do you listen to when your in different moods? Are you looking to pull yourself out of a bad mood, maintain a happy one, or wallow in the pits of self-pity and regret?

Remember when Bubba shot the jukebox because it played a sad song that made him cry? Have you ever changed the station because you didn’t like the effect the song was having on you, how it was making you feel, or what it made you think of?

It’s all fair game. We’ve all done each of those things.