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.

 

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