It's not allowed
№ 35 ☼ 3 minutes ☼ 593 words
Our dog, Layla, is skittish. We think she was abused before we adopted her.
The first time she really freaked out, we were camping in the foothills of the Sierras. Layla was off-leash and playing in a brook with our kids. Suddenly, one of the locals started shooting some guns. The shots echoed through the valley and even though they were far away, Layla bolted. I chased her through the campgrounds, and after lots of panicked searching, I found her trying to jump into the bed of someone's truck, desperately trying to hide.
She's gotten worse over the years. Any loud or sudden sound sends her into a paralyzed anxious spiral.
She scrambles. She shakes. She pants. In a word - she's a mess.
Because we live near a military base, we’ve always had the occasional fighter jet do a flyover. But lately, they’ve been happening every day. As I'm writing this, she's cowering in a corner in my office, breathing heavily and shaking so hard that I can see her vibrate. I look out my window and see the F-14 causing it. It's so far away - but Layla doesn't know that. She just hears the sound, the threat. And she's afraid.
All she knows is how it makes her feel.
I relate to Layla. I'm often afraid. I've found myself cowering, shaking, hiding in a dark corner of my mind, wishing everything would disappear.
Sometimes I can see what’s causing my fear and anxiety. But part of living with mental illness means I don’t always see what I’m afraid of or know why I’m anxious. I just know how I feel.
Fear is part of life. We're mortal. We're emotional. We can (and will) be hurt. Fear isn't going anywhere.
But if fear is part of life, then it has its place. And while I often find that fear has an irrational level of control over me, dominance is certainly not its "place."
In other words, it's possible to learn to accept that fear is part of life without allowing it to rule my life.
Fear can be conquered. The only way to put fear in its proper place is to face it. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, "the obstacle is the way."
Facing a fear gives it a name and a shape. It doesn’t go away, but facing it will lessen its control over you.
When you're not controlled by your fear and when you’ve given it a form and a name, you can wrestle with it. When you wrestle with fear, you put it in its place. You dominate and control it, not the other way around.
Make the phone call. Have the tough conversation. Write the letter. Go to the place you're avoiding. Look in the dark corner and shine a light. Say aloud the things that cloud your thoughts and control your emotions.
Do whatever it takes to force yourself to face fear. If "the obstacle is the way," then the only way out is through. That is the only way to be free.
Stupid example... But if Layla was conscious, she could go to an airshow. Face all her fears all at once, from single-prop Cessna’s to fighter jets. Get up close to the objects of her fear. Wrestle them. Embrace the noise and the chaos and see it for what it is.
And after all that anxiety and panic, she’d be shaken. But she'd leave the airshow, go home, and still be alive. She'd be OK.
Still scary? Sure.
But crippling? Not anymore.
It's not allowed.