“Fear will steal your aliveness–make your courage bigger than your fear.” – Barbara de Angelis
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly and Pogo
by Jacki Kellum
I turned around the corner, and no one else was in sight.
On a long, dark path that led toward a quivering light,
I was alone.
I inched closer, and I heard the sound of the crackling leaves
That were cackling beneath my feet.
When I got there, I could feel the flames flickering from the slits
That seemed to open into the caverns of hell.
The fiery eyes fixed upon me, daring me to take another step.
A band of jagged stakes stretched across his face,
And the smell of charred pumpkin flesh wafted from within.
I opened the door, and my worst fear was confirmed:
Unlike the Owl and the Pussy Cat I had arrived,
Without any money and without any honey.
It was clear now:
I would not dance by the light of the moon,
The moon, the moon, the moon, the moon
— too soon!
Christmas Day, I pried myself from the security of my home and forced myself to go to my friend and neighbor’s house–to alter things with a bit of Christmas Cheer. When I am finally out among people, it is not apparent, but Fear prevents me from doing many things. Fear often freezes my painting hands; it often edits my words completely off the page; and it often convinces me to stay at my house, alone.
Several years ago, I left my home in the South and moved to the East Coast–not far from New York City and Philadelphia. When I first moved here, the traffic traumatized me.
I never shall forget the absolute panic attack that I suffered the first time that I drove across the Walt Whitman Bridge that leads into Philadelphia. I am one of the few silly people who is afraid of escalators. It takes me several seconds to gather courage enough to get on an ever-circling, potentially swallowing fan belt that looks like the jaws of death to me. Imagine how I felt when I first saw the Walt Whitman Bridge, which seemed to be the ultimate escalator.
The Walt Whitman stretches high above the Delaware River, and the shore around the Delaware there is totally packed with boats and buildings. Until I began to ascend the Walt Whitman bridge, I had never, in my collective life, seen as many buildings. The cars were jammed on both sides and in front and back of me. I couldn’t shift lanes, and I didn’t have any idea what I would do next–should I survive the passage across. I was mortified that one of those too-close cars would nudge me off the bridge and that my car, my son, my dog, and I would spiral into the abyss that I saw below. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had a full-blown panic attack, and I am not sure how I managed to get across the Walt Whitman that day.
For a few years after I moved here, I went to Philadelphia about once a month. I eventually became relatively comfortable with that journey, but New York City–hey, that is another matter entirely.
About two years after we moved here, my son chose to attend a camp on Broadway, in New York City. The campers would stay in a hotel in New Jersey, and would be bussed back and forth to NYC. I merely had to get my son to North Jersey, to a suburb of New York City. Honestly, I am not sure that this was much less congested than the actual city, but I convinced myself that it was.
Again, I had no idea where I was going. I got lost a few times, and then I had to cross the Raritan Bridge in Northern New Jersey. That bridge has a bazillion lanes, and all of them are jammed with cars. Again, I began to panic, but I managed to deliver my son to his hotel destination in New Jersey; and then, it was time to find my way home again.
I asked for directions, and I did my best to shuffle toward South Jersey–and away from the horrific traffic in the North. Things did not look familiar. The cars began to crawl, and everyone seemed to move closer together. It seemed that we were being sucked into some sort of narrow vortex that required everyone’s driving inches away from each other. Suddenly, I saw a toll booth and just beyond that, there was a tunnel, which looked to me like the mouth of a whale–the mouth of a shark-like whale, which had enormous teeth. I sensed that something was wrong.
I pulled up to the toll booth attendant and with terror in my voice and eyes [and with my distinctive Southern drawl. I choked out the words, “Is this the Garden State Parkway going South to the Atlantic City Area?”
The attendant’s eyes widened, and a slow grin came across her face, “Oh, honey, this is the Holland Tunnel. You are about to drive into New York City.”
She might as well have said that she was the Guard at the Gates of Hell. Tears welled into my eyes, and I begged her, “Please help me. Please don’t make me drive into New York City.”
Something unprecedented happened that day. She stopped the traffic and helped me get back around and heading into the right direction. I promise you. That just doesn’t happen in the New York City area. Even more of a miracle, she did not charge me for having driven on her toll highway. She merely wiped my slate clean and gestured me to drive away. Still wincing the tears, I thanked her saying, “I cannot tell you how much you have helped me. I am from Mississippi. We have cows–not cars.”
The lady chuckled, and I was on my way.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still afraid to drive into New York City. I have been there many times now–but on tour buses. Overall, the traffic in this area does terrify me the way that it once did; and any time that a person can conquer one of his fears, he is allowed to grow–to expand.
Fear of driving in cities is understandable, but that is not my only fear. Although I present myself as being very comfortable around people–a veritable social butterfly–the over-arching cheerleader–I am socially challenged; and Fear has been a terrible companion for my creative selves.
If Fear had its way with me, I would live UNDER my bed–only tiptoeing out for food and bathroom breaks. At times, Fear becomes ominous enough that I feel it, deep inside my chest and throat. On other occasions, it is simply there–always weighing in on every choice that I make. My anxiety about growing older and being impoverished and alone is gripping.
When I review my life objectively, I can honestly say that there are many frightening things going on around me. My family is at war. I live in a place that is exorbitantly expensive, and the economy here has failed. I stand to lose well over $100,000 of actual money that I have paid into my house [not just what I had hoped to earn, due to time]. My house was my primary investment. As I said, there are valid reasons for much of my sense of dread, but in some ways [i.e. socially and creatively speaking], my anxieties are less valid.
At this point, I have no wise antidotes for fear. Sometimes it helps to merely understand it and to simply DO, in spite of yourself and your self’s Fear.
Copyright Jacki Kellum December 28, 2015
Barbara de Angelis wrote an excellent treatise on Fear;
“Imagine that you had a person in your life who followed you around twenty-four hours a day, filling you with anxiety, destroying your confidence, and discouraging you from doing the things that you wanted to do. Every time you were about to make a change or take a risk, the person would say, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. What if you fail? What if you get hurt? All kinds of things might happen if you go in that direction.’ Imagine that before each conversation you had with friends, family, or loved ones, the person would pull you aside and caution you. ‘If you open up, you might get rejected. Watch what you say! Don’t trust anyone! . . .
Fear is like an emotional roommate that lives with you day and night.
“It’s your fear. Fear is like an emotional roommate that lives with you day and night. It talks to you, manipulates you, and ties to convince you to avoid doing or expressing anything that may cause you any kind of discomfort or involve any sort of risk.. It says, ‘You can’t’ . . . and ‘You shouldn’t.,’ and it eats away at your confidence and your self-esteem. It tells you not to act, not to reach out, not to try, not to trust, not to move. It steals the life right out from under you. . . .
Fear is one of your most powerful inner enemies. It is a force that can sabotage your happiness.
“Fear is one of your most powerful inner enemies. It is a force that can sabotage your happiness. How does fear do that? It keeps you stuck in what’s not working. It prevents you from growing. It keeps separation between you and other people. It talks you out of your dreams. It keeps you stagnant, frozen, unable to become all you were meant to be. . . .
.” – Barbara de Angelis – Se“It is fear that keeps us standing on the cliff when we know that we need to leap to the other side. But fear does more than just hold you back–it steals your aliveness, your passion, your freedom by shutting down your heart. . . .The extent to which you allow fear to control your life is the extent to which you are living as a prisoner. Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know, [pgs. 151-53]