It’s a funny thing, fear. It is one emotion we all know, we all experience, yet somehow, it affects us all differently. Some people shut down when they are afraid, some charge forward into it, some people try to ignore it, others learn from it and get stronger, me, I get mean. That’s right, when I am afraid I am cruel. My patience is shorter than usual (hard to believe), I get irritated easily, I lose my cool. My family comments on my tone, I get condescending. I am also negative, very negative.
This last week I have been mean, impatient, condescending, and negative. It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did but suddenly it dawned on me that I was afraid. Now fear is a normal emotion, and on a certain level, I think it is something we each experience daily. Fear we won’t get to work on time, that our significant other will leave us, that we won’t make it to the bathroom in time. For very few of us are these daily fears related to our basic needs; fear we won’t have food, water, or shelter. Either way, fear is normal and we learn ways to adapt to it, to function through our normal daily fears with no overt changes to our feelings or demeanor. But sometimes, in periods of increased stressors or other factors the fears takes over and start to affect us.
As those of you who follow me here know, my mom had knee replacement surgery last Monday. The procedure went will, without any complications or issues. In the hospital she received physically therapy twice daily. She had pain but it was manageable aside from one very rough night, and some nausea, but again manageable with some Zofran. And then she came home last Thursday and became my patient, and I became her nurse. And let’s just say, as a patient, she is awful. I love my mother dearly but the capacity I have generally known her in is as my mother, a professional administrator, and group leader, a confident, self-sufficient, self-motivated and driven woman. Throw in some pain, add some nausea, and some oral narcotic pain meds and my mom becomes a weepy, cranky, nauseous, negative mess.
I tried over and over to do what I could to help; ice on the knee, new ice, repositioned, blanket on, blanket off, pain meds, Zofran, water, tea, diversion. I ran my brain constantly trying to think of new and different ways to make her comfortable. I gave her a shower, painted her toe nails, put lotion on her legs and back. I made comfort food, gave her water, ginger ale, tea. I tried to make her laugh, played shows on the TV, then different shows. Yet still, despite my efforts, she would slip into fits of tears; melt downs about pain, then nausea, then her lack of independence. I watched this strong, loving, powerful woman I have always know become a stranger to me. A sick, sad, pathetic stranger.
First I was sympathetic, then annoyed, and then I started to lose my cool and become, well, mean. I told her I wished I could pop a pacifier in her mouth and strap her into a swing, it works for cranky babies, right? And somewhere, around that time, on my first day off from her, back to work in the PICU, it hit me. Everyone at work was asking how she was doing and I found myself with increasing disdain in my voice each time telling them of her nausea, her pain, my inability to fix it. I realized then that I was afraid. I was afraid of my lack of control, my inability to fix her. At work it is hard to accept when I can’t make a patient comfortable or calm the families fears, but there issues are more distant than with my mom, and I can leave the room when I need a break. With mom I was right there, and my failure and lack of control were constantly in my face, even as I slept on the couch beside her recliner at night. But more than this, more than the fear of no control was the fear of role reversal, a scary glimpse at the future.
And that is the funny thing about fear. Some fears we have are silly, they are fears of unnecessary or unlikely things, like the fear of a plane crash or a cockroach eating you in your sleep. Some fears are of small silly things, that don’t deserve our worry, like getting to the bathroom on time, I mean really, how long has it been since you peed your pants? Other fears are of things simply out of our control like earthquakes or the furnace breaking, these fears we can’t control, but can effectively prepare for. There are the fears we think about least, these are the ones we can control, and easily. Like the fear of having high cholesterol or no longer fitting into your size 25 jeans. Let’s be honest, there are easy fixes to those fears, we just don’t want to do them. But most of all, or worst of all, is the fear of the inevitable. I hate this fear most, like a prisoner on death row, the clock ticks, and time passes, and all along you know, some day that fear will be in your face and instead of fear, now it will be reality.
So there it is, I am afraid for my parents to age, but I somehow just realized it will actually happen. It isn’t happening now, my mom will recover soon. In fact she is walking laps around the house as a write, sipping a delicious Hot Cocoa prepared masterfully by my Aunt Cindy. The nausea will pass, the pain will go, she will walk easily, feel normal. But someday, sooner than I would like, she will be old. My dad will too. And I will again be caretaker, ripping my hair out trying to make things better and again accepting that there are some things I can’t fix, some pains even I can’t ease. And worst of all, even I will be old someday. My face and boobs will droop, my legs will turn mooshy, my heart will be tired, my body tired too. My metabolism will decrease as I slowly slip closer and closer to my grave. And see, that’s the other thing about fear, if we let it, it will take over. It will consume everything. Our mind runs wild and suddenly we are afraid of everything.
Fear has always been an important emotion for me, as a kid I was consumed by it. I was scared to eat, scared to sleep, scared of ballet, of sleep overs… the list goes on. It was exhausting. As I got older I learned to control my fear. And aside from episodes like with my mom I keep it at bay. I will say though, I am scared to work out. It is something I have battled for years in getting back into a regimen, and even more these last few weeks. Every evening as I plan for Crossfit the next day I am nervous to go, searching for excuses, and in the morning on my way I am consumed by fear; that I won’t keep up, that I won’t do well, that I will get sick. And then I sit in my car in the lot and do battle in my head. I lift myself out of the car, close the door, and run into the building, I worry that if I walk I may use the extra seconds to talk myself out of it. The second I am in the door, the second the fear is in my face, I am ok. I am not afraid. I am excited to workout, proud I forced myself in the door. And I have never gotten sick, never embarrassed myself (yet), and as far as I can tell don’t look nearly as pathetic as I feel.
And that’s the last thing I will say about fear. Well, last two things. First, no matter how many times we master a fear, experience a fear, there are some that somehow recur. I have high hopes that someday I won’t be afraid of Crossfit but my understanding of fear tells me that I may continue to be afraid for some time. How silly that something that has proven, unanimously, to not be threatening, is something I put so much energy into fearing. Silly human brains we have! Second, as much as thinking about a fear is scary; like Crossfit, my parents aging, or even me aging, the reality is that when the time comes, and the fear has arrived, somehow, the fear of it falls away. I step in the door, and the fear is gone.
I can say being a helpful daughter isn’t the only thing I failed miserably at this week. I failed my exercise plans as well. I only made it to yoga and Crossfit once. Ouch! But this week will be better. I went to Crossfit this morning. I have recovered, I think, from my own personal episodes of spontaneous combustion of tearful mess. I had a wonderful, even healing night of fun with two very dear friends Friday night. I saw my boyfriend again after a week of passing at work or exchange of pointless text messages. And even better, my mom has smiled and laughed today, and her face is no longer the same color as the dressing on her knee. Progress all around.
So now my mom has a new knee, I have a new appreciation for her in a state of wellness that I will not let go of, and a grasp on my fear of exercise. What is best though is that yet again, I have learned that I can face my fears. That often they are silly, and even when they are real they likely will not destroy me, that I will meet the challenge and come through. And so tonight as I go to sleep, and tomorrow as I wake, I will be scared of Crossfit, but know in the back of my mind at least (for now) that it will not ruin me. I am strong enough. Actually, maybe that mantra works for all of my fears; I am strong enough.