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Opening the Curtain on Fear

Opening the Curtain on Fear

For some reason, of late, I have been reflecting on the power of fear and how it relates to RA.  Perhaps because it has always been a demon that I deal with, sometimes invisible. Or, maybe, my year or so practicing meditation has brought new insights.  Whatever the cause, I have sorted out some aspects of fear that I would like to share.

Let’s be clear, fear, in and of itself, is not always a bad thing since it can alert us to some imminent danger.  In fact, it is that response, gone awry, that I am going to address.

For me, especially in the pre-diagnosis and early stages of RA, fear was my constant companion.  It invaded my every thought, often preventing sleep, leading to depression, anxiety and stress.  It took me a long time to name it and understand why it so insidiously insinuated my every waking moment.  To get to that we need to understand how fear works in our minds.

What does fear do to you?

When you feel fear or anxiety, you are thrown out of the present moment and worry sets in.  What fuels that fear is past experiences.  The mind is flooded with anxiety and becomes imprinted because the past and future are closely linked. Our minds want to protect us from that experience again.  We accept the false notion that worrying about something is a protection and prevents bad things from happening. In fact, dwelling on the past drains us emotionally and physically, paralyzing us.  Being paralyzed prevents us from moving forward, dealing with and managing the day to day realties of a chronic disease like RA.

It is not hard to intellectually grasp that fear and worry do not solve anything.  But emotional attachment makes it very difficult.  The old feelings make a deep, memorable impression that is hard to erase.  Each time those same feelings rise up, the imprinted emotion evokes fear and worry.

You feel helpless to control this fear

 
When this happens you have to understand that the mind is not trying to hurt us, but is actually trying to address those feelings and help you to heal and not relive it.  When you are experiencing fear you are unconsciously reliving a past fear or worry and it is manifesting in the moment.  We must seek and find a solution, in the present moment, rejecting the old fears, reminding ourselves that those fears are an illusion, not reality.  By going inside to heal, you live with intention and self-compassion.  By living in the present moment, we establish a place of stillness and logic where we can put those fears to bed, knowing they have no place in our lives.

So given all of that, it became very clear to me how a chronic disease like RA could induce significant and unrelenting fear and how damaging it could be.  From the moment that undiagnosed symptoms of RA commence, we are inundated with fear and worry.  So many diseases are a possibility, that our minds, in an attempt to help us clarify, actually create fear.  The longer we go with no answers, the more intense it becomes, to the point that the fear and anxiety are as crippling as the disease itself.

Fear: An RA companion?

I know that once I got a definitive diagnosis, I was actually relieved!  To finally know what was going on was tremendously liberating.  That lasted for a bit, but eventually, thanks to the reality of how fear actually works as I outlined above, the anxiety and fear returned.  Each time it was related to some new aspect of the disease.  The chaotic nature of RA, the limitations it put on my life, the prognosis for the future, my financial security, and on and on.

So, what to do?

 
Well, I can only tell you what has worked for me.  I have decided, consciously and repeatedly, that getting mentally and physically still, being in the present moment, quieting my mind with meditation, mental strength and resolve, I “stare that fear in the face”, embrace and accept that its purpose is to protect me, and with that knowledge it no longer elicits anxiety.  I think my problem in the past was that when I felt that fear, it induced such anxiety that I was unable to calm my mind enough to do anything that would be helpful in relieving it.   And I found that anxiety begets anxiety.  Now when I feel that fear, I immediately accept that my mind is actually attempting to help me get through this and so I silently say thanks, deeply breathe, get still, etc. and eventually those conscious efforts pay off!  If there is any sense that the fear is real and urgent, I address it.  If not, I know I can release it, feeling calm and confident. It takes practice, lots of it, but it does work!

Knowing full well that there are so many aspects, both visible and invisible, to RA, it behooves all of us to study them and learn how best to manage them.  Opening the curtain on fear is one of those ways to manage the invisible. When we do, our ability to successfully navigate this journey will be greatly enhanced.

Nan

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    2 years ago

    Amybeth I too was intrigues in discovering the concept of fear protecting me. Once I assimilated that idea it really made a difference and the self talk I engaged in when feeling panic of anxiety was greatly reduced as a result. Does not always work but more times than not and I will take that. Dogs really are wonderful in terms of their unconditional love and support! I actually have post on my blog all about that. http://livingwithra-nan.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-dog-is-miracle-with-paws.html
    Also I did a little video about my dog. https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/video/my-best-friend/
    All the best! Nan

  • amybeth
    2 years ago

    Thanks Nan. I like what you said about fear being there to protect us. I am becoming better at recognizing my fear and listening to myself. I can usually use a mindfulness skill to help me calm the anxiety. When I’m faced with pain and the unknown future of this disease it’s easy for me to spiral into negativity, even about wanting to keep living. I’m blessed to have an arsenal of tools to help me cope… medications, supportive friends and family, great RA doc, and most important my faithful dog!!!

  • Nan Hart moderator author
    2 years ago

    TC your experience sounds so similar to mine! I started a blog quite a long time ago and if you start from the first one and work you way to the most recent (skip any and all that seem irrelevant) you may find some advice, comfort and support. I actually started the RA support group in our region….I am in DC a lot as my three sons, wives and grandkids are there so my husband and I go often! In fact we will be there for 10 around Thanksgiving and I would love to chat with you if you like. If you are interested feel free to message me on FB or PM me. My blog address is: http://livingwithra-nan.blogspot.com/2011/04/day-one-4-25-2011.html this is day one and it goes on from there. Talking to others with RA and having that support is so helpful! All the best and I hope to hear from you. Nan

    editors note: removed personal contact information

  • TC3120
    2 years ago

    Hello Nan,

    I have just been diagnosed at 43 and have two small children ages 5 and 3. I’m terrified. It’s very early and the Dr says we have a good chance to slow it down or get it into remission at this point. I started on MXT a couple weeks ago and I think he plans on adding something as well. That still doe snot make me feel better! I have minimal pain ( other than what bought me into him and then it just went away….) at this point and just dread what the future may hold after reading all of the various information out there.

    I just keep doing my runs and workouts and hope it does not progress to much..:(

    I have enjoyed reading your posts. The crazy thing is, I live in the DC area and there are no support groups anywhere! It’s crazy…… Though at this point I don’t even know if a support group would help I seem so fixated on the “what ifs” LOL

    Regards,
    TC

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi TC. On top of the great information and support from Nan, I just wanted to add that while the fear that accompanies the diagnosis is completely understandable, know that the treatments have improved dramatically in recent years and continue to do so. One of our other contributors did a ten part series on things she would like to tell her newly diagnosed self (I recommend the whole series) and the first one is on dealing with the actual diagnosis: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/no-1-its-just-a-diagnosis/. Wishing you the best and please keep us posted on how you are doing. Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

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