Making Friends With Fear
July 7, 2020
Fear is an emotion I know well and have a long-standing relationship with. However, it is an emotion I haven’t had to engaged with so consistently since I came out as gay over 29 years ago. For myself, and many of the folks I speak to these days, fear is an emotion that has been an ever-present companion for the past 4 months. It is completely appropriate to feel fear in the face of this pandemic and all of the uncertainties it has brought forth. There is also value in the practicing making friends with this feeling rather than trying to push it away, drown in out, ignore it’s presence or judge it as a sign of weakness. I reminded myself, just as I’ve reminded each client I speak to, that our fear is showing up for a reason. It has something to tell us. So I try to listen and help others listen so we can each determine what response is right for ourselves individually and what response is aligned with our values and the role we want to play as a member of the larger society.
When my first feelings (because they are surely not my last) of fear emerged back in March, I didn’t recognize them at first. What I did notice, was my lack of patience with my daughter when she touched her face before sanitizing them and my short-tempered behavior with my wife. These are both big red flags for me that a part of me is feeling out of control, which for me is pretty scary. So, I took several deep breaths, found my feet on the ground and tried to listen to my fear. What was it trying to tell me? My fear was saying “I’m afraid of all of us being in this small apartment with our new dog and the required in and out several times a day. I’m afraid we can’t do it safely. I’m afraid we won’t have the patience with each other needed.” I shared these fears with my wife and she shared hers with me and we determined we needed to relocate from our small NYC apartment if we could identify a safe and affordable way to do so. Fortunately, we were.
RIDE THE WAVES
With that re-location came a sense of relief with not having to navigate our daughter and our newly adopted dog getting in and out of our 34 story apartment building several times a day. It also came with huge feelings of loss of our autonomy as a family and privacy as a couple. I experienced the privilege of being able to safely go outside for a jog and only come across a handful of other people. This change also brought forth feelings of loss of our New York life and feelings of guilt for leaving when the city we love was struggling so hard. I was on the roller coaster of feelings of loss and feelings of gratitude. I was riding the waves of deeply recognizing my privilege while also practicing self-compassion and not minimizing my own feelings of struggle. Fear showed up again. I was afraid I would never find solid ground again. Again I asked “What are you trying to tell me?” This time I heard, “I need something to depend on – a consistent routine, a consistent place to do my work, a chair that won’t kill my back! And so once again, I shared my fears and with support was able to respond to my fear rather than need to reject it.
GETTING THE HANG OF IT
We were now living with my in-laws. Upon arriving in their home, we obtained a microwave and a kettle and quarantined for 2 weeks in their basement. After two weeks of no contact, we were able to safely integrate. From that day forward for about 2 months, we had no contact with anyone outside of our new 5 -person unit to ensure we didn’t put anyone at risk, especially my in-laws. And then my daughter looked out the window and saw the two boys, whom she often would play with on her visits to her grandparents, riding their bikes. She asked if she could go play with them. Fear showed up again. This time I knew what it was trying to tell me. “I’m afraid you won’t practice necessary safety precautions (not intentionally but because you’re 8) and you’ll put yourself and the rest of the household at risk.” I also knew I was afraid of the impact of our daughter not having any social interaction other than through her new best friend Ipad. By now I was getting the hang of this, listen, share, get support, respond.
PRACTICE IS A LIFELONG PURSUIT
Over the next several months, I practiced this relationship with my feelings of fear. I was reminded of how I practiced this before in the early 90’s during the AIDS epidemic. I recalled all the awkward and nerve-wracking negotiations of safer sex and the debate if lesbians even needed to have safer sex. I remembered giving presentations and educating folks about the variety of sexual practices of women having sex with women and getting into the details of potential routes of transmission, such as having oral sex after flossing ones teeth, which often leads little cuts in the gums. What began as often unwelcome and scary eventually and after much practice and some failures became easier and more comfortable.
IT’S ALL ABOUT INFORMED CONSENT
So when it came time to make plans for the summer that might involve travel and hopefully involve joining households with others, my fear emerged again. This time I almost welcomed it. I wanted to wade through the feelings of fear, confusion, uncertainty in the hopes that we could define some new safety regimens that would allow us greater connection with friends and the world. I reached deep into my harm reduction history and I responded with “We got this. Take your time. What do you need to know? What do you need to share? It’s ok to change your mind. Take this one step at a time.” I once again began writing and talking, often repetitively, the details of potential plans. I went to painstaking and often annoying lengths to ensure everyone has all the information possible to make informed choices. I shielded myself with permission to do what was right for me and my family and for others to disagree and to say no if needed.
I CAN FEEL FEAR AND NOT BE AFRAID
Until this pandemic is over, I will continue to feel fear. However, I am no longer afraid. I have once again made friends with my fear. I want to hear what my fear has to say. I want to learn what my fear needs to feel safe. I want to keep practicing controlling what I can, accepting what I cannot and having the clarity of vision to see the difference.
If you need support to listen to your feelings of fear, we welcome you to contact us at Steady NYC Psychotherapy.