A Little Fear Is a Good Thing… A few years ago, when my younger son and I left my ex-husband and moved into an apartment, I discovered a quote that I fell in love with. It simply says, “If you can’t beat fear, do it scared.” Every morning I’d read that quote and ask myself if there was anything I was afraid of. And there was: I’m a writer. I write memoir. And I was writing at the time. What would my ex have to say? Would there be any repercussions? But I kept writing. I hit send, my work was published, and I survived. In fact, I thrived. And I learned something really important: a little fear is a good thing. For more, join me here.
I have almost as big a thing for quotes as I do for shoes. Maybe bigger. Almost every day I find another saying (or three) that I print out and tape to the wall above my desk. Unfortunately, the one that’s probably most visible in this photo is “Don’t Be A Whiny Little Shit,” which I love because, well, sometimes I am. But my favorite is the small one, right above the butterfly, which simply says,
Every morning when I come into my office, those eight words are the first I read. Before I wake up my computer, light my vanilla-scented candle, or read the to-do list I left myself the night before (because God knows I remember nothing these days), I look at that quote and ask myself:
Am I afraid?
If the answer is yes, I ask myself what specifically I’m afraid of.
Am I afraid of:
one child never moving out,
the other moving back in,
both children moving back in,
discovering my life insurance policy doesn’t cover suicide,
running out of wine,
never meeting a nice, normal guy who’s cool with the fact that I’m not normal,
never writing another book,
finally writing another book but being unable to find a publisher,
or getting cancer and having to count on my kids who can’t get their act together enough to fly the coop to take care of me?
Of course I could be and frequently am afraid of other awful scenarios I haven’t listed here, big stuff like not being able to pay my rent, buy groceries (or, eek! wine), but the point is I make myself acknowledge whatever it is that’s scaring me and then I ask myself the million dollar question: If that scenario came to pass, what’s the worst that could happen?
When I first moved into my apartment, I had lots of answers to that one. Mature responses like, I’d hide beneath my desk! Call my mom! Run back to New Jersey, live in my childhood bedroom, declare myself a failure and die! I confess, the first few months on my own I was definitely afraid. I’d read that quote, feel the fear in the pit of my stomach, and tell myself (out loud, now that’s scary), Suck it up, Suz. Drink your coffee and pretend you know what you’re doing. You’re the mom, dammit!
You know, sort of like The Little Engine That Could’s whole, “I think I can, I think I can” thing, but with curse words.
I published a couple of pieces during that time. Columns about making lemonade out of life’s lemons and the pain of getting divorced. I shook writing them, and I shook when they ran. (How would people react? How would he react?) But I didn’t let my fear stop me. I wrote them from the bottom of my broken heart. I wrote them scared. And I survived.
That fact recently brought me to an important conclusion, and it’s simply this: a little fear is a good thing. Athletes and actors talk about how they get butterflies in their stomach before a game or performance. And they don’t think it’s so terrible. In fact, they like it because it keeps them sharp. I get that now. These days, being a little anxious, nervous, scared, provokes a “just try and stop me” response I didn’t know I possessed. I call it my Badass Mode. Can you even imagine? Me. A badass. But you know what’s even better? Lots of days I don’t feel frightened at all.
If all of my worst fears came to pass tomorrow, if I couldn’t pay my rent, or buy wine, or both kids decided to cling to the coop….forever, the worst that could happen is I’d deal with it. Figure it out. Go into Badass Mode and do my best to make it better. I don’t need to beat fear because no matter what happens, I can handle it scared. You can quote me on that.
This morning, for the first time in a very long time, I got up, put on my exercise clothes, and went for a speed walk on the trail that runs along the old railroad tracks near my house. I gave a split second thought to saying the hell with it and walking to Safeway as I’m out of sugar and need more to make lemonade from the lemons life hit me with last week, but decided against it. So what I had to leave the job I so enjoyed. I’ll find another.
Walking, working out, was something I used to do every single day. When Stu was sick, exercising kept me healthy so I could take care of him. After his death, it gave structure to my days and kept the panic that raged in my brain to a low roar.
When I remarried though, my sixty minutes of me time fell by the wayside. Nudged, no, shoved out to make time for managing personalities and tension and tempers. I spent my days in fight or flight mode, ready to play referee at the drop of a briefcase or a backpack. The results were textbook.
I gained weight. I got sick frequently. Back to back to back bouts of strep throat. A sinus infection that migrated to my gums. Hip bursars discovered by a particularly prescient friend during a Jazzercise class that were quickly confirmed by a rheumatologist. (A rheumatologist! Old people see rheumatologists!)
“You see that?” she asked, circling a spot on an MRI of my lower back. “Your spine is collapsing.”
Was it old age? My turn to get the rheumatoid arthritis that runs in my family? No. It was the weight of my world, all my desperate efforts to keep everything on an even keel, crushing me. And my body was crying “Uncle.”
Sometimes at night, when my courage and confidence have the audacity to fall asleep before I do and my self-doubt gets its second wind, I torture myself thinking about the good times. The dinner parties that ended just before breakfast. The nights spent watching movies and, God help me, Top Gear reruns until we fell asleep on the sofa. The road trips filled with friends, endless rounds of Cards Against Humanity, morning wine tastings, and the discovery that a) I simply cannot drink during the day, and b) I can find a place to nap in any barrel room known to man (and probably those man’s yet to discover).
I have many beautiful memories from my two and a half year marriage, and a few indescribably painful ones of things I shouldn’t have tolerated for two and a half seconds.
We all know it’s unhealthy to focus on the lemons life hits us with but, on those nights when morning feels years away, and self-doubt has invited fear and second-guessing to the party it’s having in my head, I have two choices: concentrate on the moments that shattered my trust in my husband, or curl up next to self-doubt and worry,
What if I threw in the towel too soon?
Wrenching as it is, I choose to concentrate on the crap. Release the flood gates and let it rip. Relive every single second of every single stunning, out of the blue betrayal until I’m so angry I’m out of bed, making coffee, and muttering like a crazy woman, Throw in the towel? Am I insane? I clutched that towel. Cared for it. Mended the holes that man blew through it without a moment’s hesitation or a morsel of remorse. I loved that towel. I didn’t throw it in.
And I didn’t. I just put it down when it got too heavy and hurt too much to keep holding on to.
It’s four fifteen in the morning as I’m slipping into my sneakers and congratulating myself on surviving another long night. I’ve been through half a box of Kleenex and six cups of coffee and that latter fact alone means just one thing: today’s speed walk will definitely include a stop at Safeway. Sure, I need sugar. But it’s much more likely I’ll need the ladies’ room.