Fear

Who me, afraid?

In my long battle with anxiety, the main enemy has been fear. I’m afraid of just about everything: getting together with friends, going to the store, checking the mail.

No one is more surprised by this state of affairs than me. None of this used to scare me before. Indeed, I was once rather brave.

As a reporter, I’ve routinely done things other people were afraid to do. I covered civil strife in Nicaragua, and the jeep I was reporting in was strafed with machine gun fire. Tiny pieces of the bullets ended up in my shoulder. I’ve reported on the West Bank and in Gaza – not the happiest places on earth. I’ve visited refugee camps throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. As an author, I’ve also done a lot of what scares some people more than anything, speaking in public to promote my book Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life.

And this is the same person who is afraid of getting the mail?

It all makes the anxiety I’m suffering from not only painful but discombobulating and paralyzing. I am simply not the person I knew before. And I knew that person well. These fears are also what distinguishes anxiety from depression and makes it so hard to address.

All these fears started coming out of nowhere three years ago. And it’s been tricky business. I know many of them are irrational, but I have the feelings nonetheless and have found no effective long-term strategy for getting rid of them.

I constantly ask my husband, Bill, “Is everything okay?” – to the point where it must get tedious. Of course, this reassurance needs to come from me; I need to know that everything is okay without asking, to feel confident that I can handle things the way my husband thinks I can.

I have made some progress in fighting fear in the last six months. I am no longer afraid of paying the gardeners. Few things have felt scarier recently than opening the bill section of my Bank of America account. I had no idea what was paid automatically and what wasn’t – or what was there at all. I couldn’t even get my password to work. With Bill’s help, I got a new password and sorted out each online account.

I think it was easier to go crazy before computer passwords and online banking accounts. Life is too complex to lose your mind these days.

I’ve also become very daring about going in our freezing cold, unheated, Florida swimming pool every day. Indeed, I’m the only one in our family who will go in at all this time of year. Swimming is by far the most effective anti-anxiety therapy I’ve found.

And I’ve developed some backbone about getting regular electroshock, or ECT, treatments. Involving getting up at 5 a.m., taking a taxi to the hospital and being completely knocked out, they always make me nervous. However ECT seems to have raised my overall functioning in the last six months so I “feel the fear and do it anyway” every few weeks.

Brave at times, I feel so close to overcoming my other fears – and yet so far away. If I could just overcome these fears, I could conquer this condition. I could be free. And yet the old adage: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain,” is too simple. Instead I avoid a lot of what I’m afraid of, having my husband take my daughter to the eye doctor, for instance, instead of doing it myself. Bill says, “The world is okay out here.” But I remain unconvinced.

Part of the trick is to accept fear, since it won’t let you ignore it. To accept that being scared is inevitable right now; to know that other people feel afraid, though maybe not as much.

In the end, the question is always the same: does fear stop you? I recently travelled to San Francisco with my older daughter and husband despite major fear and got credit from them just for going. I won’t pretend that the trip was all fun. At times it was agonizing. But I also had some good days in San Francisco, especially shopping with my daughter and seeing an old friend.

This week I have a friend coming over for coffee, despite some trepidation. Because that is what writers do: they invite other writers over for coffee. And that is something I used to enjoy doing.

If I keep on keepin’ on, will I get to be the person I used to be and be enjoy these things again?

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Are you battling anxiety or depression? Share by commenting below!

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About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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In Beyond One, Jennifer chronicles her leap from one child to two, describing the enormous impact the second child has on a woman’s body, marriage, family life, friendships and work.

"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Credits

The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, CNN.com, MS., Parenting, Real Simple, Salon.com, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Working Mother, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, American Way, Brain, Child, The Christian Science Monitor, and more.