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Monday, August 26, 2013

Successfully Tackling Fear. And Teeth. Oy.

Hello. Hell. Oh.
Yes, Readers, it has been that kind of week. In fact, it’s been a difficult several weeks, but for now, let me just fill you in on where I have been since my last post. To hell.

Just kidding. “JK” as the 14-year-old likes to say in a smarmy voice. But I did go visit my family last week. This trip involved me driving solo from our leafy suburb outside Albany to Washington, DC, with the two children. Driving solo is something I used to do without a second thought. I used to LOVE driving solo, rolling along the highway, singing aloud to whatever was playing on the car stereo. That was in my twenties, when I was single, definitely not a mother, and definitely before my frontal lobe had fully developed an awareness of death. Nowadays, driving gets me nervous.

Okay, I thought, as we set out down Interstate 87, so driving gets me nervous. It didn’t used to. So I made a decision. I turned my thoughts to those previous solo trips, back in the long ago, such as the time I drove down the California coast on 101, along all those winding, cliffside roads - there was even a perfect moment when I was driving along Ventura Highway and "Ventura Highway" by America came on the radio - and then up Highway 5 to Berkeley in time for Souxsie and the Banshees at the Greek Theater. These memories helped. I found myself enjoying the drive, listening to whatever the children picked on Spotify, and almost relaxing. What also helped, and I pass this on to anyone who might also have a fully developed frontal lobe, was the thought that popped into my head: Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

This struck me as a thought so perfectly formed, so evident a product of successful cognitive behavioral therapy, that I made it a mantra: “Just because you’re afraid of it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”  Say it with me, you of the fully developed frontal lobes!

Now this thought has corollaries such as, “Being afraid of something doesn’t prevent it from happening,” which advanced worriers will recognize as a delightful form of magical thinking. You have to be really experienced at worrying to imagine that by worrying you will think of every possible thing that could go wrong and thereby prevent it. 

Then there’s this: You can’t control a lot of what happens or doesn’t happen. Which is the kind of thought that triggers the old fear reaction, righty-o, Readers? But then you just repeat the first one. "Just because you’re afraid…." Ventura Highway....

Also try a little mindfulness practice of noticing that fear is just an emotion – it’s not the sum total of who you are, it’s just a feeling you have and like all feelings, it comes and it goes and you are still driving down I95 in heavy traffic but you are not dead.

I also like to visualize fear as a small object, kind of a mushy blob, if truth be told. I picture this blob as if it's in an animated short film in which an invisible source wraps it up in some kind of packaging - plastic wrap, or cloth or some other magic wrap that encapsulates it neatly - and pulls in the blobulous edges, and reveals that underneath the fear packet there is other stuff – life, other emotions, the world. The fear is just a little packet and it can be tossed away.

So that was how I got all the way to Washington on very little sleep without any incidents just in time for the 11-year-old to knock out her front teeth on the sink in the bathroom at the pool and for us to take an emergency trip to the dentist in our bathing suits.

The lessons here are two: one, for those with undeveloped frontal lobes, is not to flick wet towels at anyone or do anything to another person that might cause that person to jerk sideways or duck down or move in any way towards hard or sharp objects; and two, for those whose frontal lobes are fully functioning, is that whatever the heck it is that you fear, fearing it makes no difference. The problems, the disasters, the incidents come from unexpected places.

But I don’t want to end on a sour note. While my stomach still turns over those teeth, the outcome could have been much worse. She didn’t knock them out entirely. They broke. The dentist glued them. He and I are hopeful that will be all that’s necessary. Time will tell. Meanwhile, she is fully functional and as far as looks go, she is unmarred, so all is well. 


  1. Oy is right! Sorry your trip had to involve an emergency visit to the dentist.

    My mother-in-law is a worrier; my mother is not. (I never used to be, but am becoming one.) Both women are strong believers. My mother often chides my mother-in-law for her worrying - "It's in God's hands. Don't you have faith?" Despite this, and the fact that my mother is an obnoxious Bostonian and my mother-in-law is a polite Southerner, they somehow really like each other. Wish people in the workplace could accept each other's differences the way these ladies do.

    Well, just realized that this is a pretty stream-of-consciousness response to your post. Feel free to delete!

    1. Faith eludes me, but I like your response! Sounds like the set up of a good novel.

  2. Oh dear-- I was dreading what was coming, trying to imagine every possible catastrophe, but teeth on a sink, trip to ER in bathing suits-- I am so sorry! I wonder if that particular mini-disaster has eluded me so far because I actually have worried about it. Not that I intend to get complacent!

    My mother-in-law's philosophy is "If I don't worry, who will?" which I'm afraid I share. If only more people would help shoulder the burden-- it only seems fair, right? So glad the teeth seem okay!

    1. Right? If we all pitch in worrying, we can cover pretty much every possible disaster.....