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.