One evening a couple of months ago, I was watching the Houston news.
There was a story on a woman who was terrified of aging. Doing extravagant things to try to stay looking young.
Shortly thereafter, a reporter had produced a feature story on his sister. She had a condition where she was losing both her sight and her hearing before the age of 35. She had become extremely fit and as healthy as possible. Was accomplishing a bucket list of sorts before she lost those capacities.
The reporter could not hide his admiration for his sister. And shouldn’t have.
The juxtaposition of these 2 stories has stuck in my mind.
Facing fear. Finding courage.
How is it that some people seem to struggle with it and others rise to the occasion?
1) You learn about facing loss from others.
I was lucky enough to have a woman named Ethel in my life. She was 84 when we became close. Me, 24. I watched her move in several stages from independent apartment living to a nursing home. She died at 104.
A favorite pastime was looking out of her garden window, watching the clouds roll by. What she said as her living space became more cramped, as her mind became a little harder to trust?
“It might be a smaller window, but I can still see the clouds.”
We learn about handling loss, change that is hard, from those around us. We can try to model ourselves after those we admire.
You can seek out that person. Find a mentor.
2) If you have a genetic predisposition for anxiety, you can confront it.
What you can’t necessarily get around is what you inherited. Some of us have a greater need for control. Seem to have fears that never occur to others. Those fears can plague you. Govern your behavior.
People who strictly order their lives around certain daily rituals. Parents who are immediately terrified of something happening to their newly born child. Folks who hear about someone becoming ill and it triggers obsessions about their own mortality.
What you can do is try to be objective about how your anxiety is affecting you. And others. You may have inherited this tendency, but you can get help to achieve more balance. Prevention is worth a pound of cure, but being hyper-aroused and overly cautious can be paralyzing.
3) The very loss or challenge itself can strengthen you.
I remember a woman who came in years ago. Mid-40’s. Talked to me about all the wonderful things in her life. After 20 minutes of that, I somewhat curiously said, “I am a little confused about why you are here.”
Her eyes filled with tears.
“I have not had to grieve in my lifetime. No one has died. I have great kids, a good husband. All I can think of is what might be around the corner. And I don’t have any way to handle it. I am petrified.”
Courage is not an absence of fear. Rudy Giuliani, after 9/11 said, “Courage is managing fear to accomplish what you want to accomplish”.
You can learn how to manage it.
Surviving loss, trauma, challenges, bad choices. All of those things can make you stronger. Or give you a victimized attitude. You choose the effect it is going to have.
That choice makes a huge difference in how you face the unknown future.
4) You can develop a faith or a belief system that guides you.
Many have a faith that gives them strength. Resilience. That can be faith in a Christian God or another religion. It can be a set of values that you live your life by.
It gives you the sense of knowing why you are doing what you are.
If you don’t know what the threads are that run through your thoughts and actions, then you can seek those out. Try to write down what means the most to you. What gives you a sense of purpose. What gives you some peace.
I have the honor of watching people find their courage every work day. Hearing stories both past and present of how they achieved their sanity. How they survived or are determined to survive what has happened in their lives.
Staying afraid is just not a good option.
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