I have a very long and intimate relationship with fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule. Fear of injury. Fear of change. Fear of divorce. Fear of death. Fear of missing out on my life—ironically, as a result of my many fears.
And now that it feels like I have so many new things to fear—fear of not being able to make enough money, fear of getting sick, fear that life as we knew it will never quite be the same—it’s a good time to look at what is at the heart of all those fears.
Namely, a poor use of my imagination.
I feared rejection as a child because I imagined others had the power to break me with a harsh judgment or moment of disregard. I later feared rejection for being bisexual because I imagined the burden of other people’s opinions would outweigh the strength and joy that would come from being myself. And until recently, I feared rejection of my writing because I imagined others had the power to decide whether my writing was worthwhile—not realizing that no one can take away the value it brings to me.
I feared divorce because I imagined it would irreparably harm my children and brand me a failure at what is most important to me: love and family. I didn’t realize that it would make me more real, more human. And that we would all learn and grow from it.
I feared death—in particular, my mother’s death—because she loved me like no one else ever did, with complete acceptance and belief in me, and I couldn’t imagine living without her. But I learned how to, knowing that her spirit lives within me now.
I feared climate change because I imagined that my job was to protect my children from every possible harm, those within my control and those clearly not. I learned that I cannot do that. But there is plenty I can do to support them in their wisdom and resilience, to reflect back to them the remarkable beings they are, to help them meet life’s challenges and encourage them not to miss any moment of joy ahead.
I even feared getting a puppy last summer because I imagined he would wake me repeatedly in the night and then I would not be able to function well and then I would lose my job and then it would be just one big downward slide from there. (It took 24 hours of having one to realize how silly all that was.)
Most recently, I feared the potential implications of COVID-19: to my health, my finances, my family’s overall well-being. But then I decided, quite simply, to stop the imaginings. To take one moment at a time. To reduce my intake of news because, after a certain point, the constant triggering into fear is simply not helpful. And, most importantly, I decided to remember to be grateful for everything I have.
Every morning, I have been taking a few minutes to write down some of the many gifts I have been given: my life, my health, my children, my brothers, my friends, nature, the experience of love and joy and awe, this day, every day—all these things and more that have come to me through absolutely no effort of my own.
When I think on these things, I see that however difficult circumstances may be, the scale of life always tips to the good for there is nothing so big that can outweigh the gift of life itself.