Chronic Illness + Becoming Familiar With Fear

fear 1

For the longest time it hadn’t occurred to me that I was brave. When someone would comment on my perceived bravery in the face of chronic illness and long term healing, I would ask myself, “Is this true?” I began to wonder if I was indeed brave, despite not feeling it.

Whenever I’m looking for an answer, I start by asking a question. In this case, What does it really mean to be brave? Why is it that others saw courage within me, and more important, why is it that I hadn’t seen it in myself?

I came to realize that I had yet to recognize courage within me because I had often felt afraid. It is the presence of fear that prevented me from identifying with the quality of bravery. Fear is a sensation I’ve come to know well. At times deep healing feels like traversing a twisting path along a ledge, while blindfolded.

Yet, I continue to put one food in the front of the other, sometimes trembling. For me, there has been no other option but to move forward, in search of health and wholeness. And yes, this takes courage.

fear 2

Whether it’s the little fears like doubt and uncertainty, or the big fears
like terror and panic, Chronic Lyme Disease has taught me to be intimate with all kinds of fear. Like when panic clutches my heart and causes the core of my being to shake, an acute awareness of my mortality speeding through my veins. Or when the terrifying truth of my human frailty flashes within my cells, lighting a fire in my animal brain. These intense experiences are powerful opportunities.

When I have nothing else to cling to, I can practice holding onto the unshakable, internal stillness that transcends everything, even terror.

I can feel afraid of the illness in my body and the way it can take me over. My health is subject to fluctuations. Some days I know relative wellness and others I’m debilitated by ailments of both mind and body. These shifts serve as little lessons, reminding me to remain mindful, while driving home the truth of impermanence. The ups and downs of healing often trigger anxious thinking. Flustered thoughts soon clammer for attention, giving voice to all the things that I can’t control.

And so I am encouraged to let go, make peace with my anxiety, and lean further into Love. 

fear 3

When experiencing symptoms of disease I feel afraid of what they mean, how long they’ll last, and what the future will hold if I continue to experience them. I can feel nervous about new treatments. Will they hurt? Make me feel better? Worse? Can I afford even them?

These inquiries into the unknown become tangible as they intensify in their urgency. I experience their power to grip me with increasing tightness, causing my muscles to tighten in turn. When they do, I can make note of it, tethering myself to these sensations.

My body is always in the present. It is my mind that habitually strays into memories of the past and projections of the future, places where seeds of fear lay in wait.

There’s an infinite number of instances where little fears can take hold, so many situations where I notice nervous energy condensing into nervous thoughts. Will I have an adverse reaction to the food I’ve just eaten? Will I suddenly become overly tired in the middle of being out shopping? And of course, there are big fears too.

Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll never get a chance to fulfill my dreams, despite extensive healing, a raw fear that throbs like an exposed nerve, almost unbearably. When the physical burden of illness is most pronounced, and it’s symptoms overwhelm me, I become fearful of death itself. This is the most powerful fear I’ve ever known, a fear so primal and uncompromising I can almost taste it.

Yet, by reaching deep into it’s excrutiating darkness, I find an incredible chance to connect with the timeless truths of Love and Oneness. In those moments, just beyond devastation, I recognize that fear is not an obstacle, but a doorway. When I walk through it I experience true freedom.

fear 4

These feelings of fear are universal. All beings experience fear. Being afraid, therefore, is not indicative of bravery or cowardice. It is how we responds to our fears that shapes how we are perceived and how we perceive the world around us.

For most of my life fear has been a companion of mine. It is this familiarity with fear which has empowered me to change the way I react to it. I’ve learned I can explore it, and learn from it.

We all have the opportunity to become intimate with fear. It’s about learning to recognize fear by taking note of how it feels, what thoughts accompany it, and what instinctual responses encouraged by it. When we become intimate with fear our relationship to it shifts. When that happens, incredible things become possible.

Because I’ve come to know fear well, I also know I don’t have to give into it. Being brave is not, as I once thought, about being without fear. It’s about being scared, sometimes terrified, and moving forward anyway. True bravery means noticing fear as it arises and choosing  faith, hope, and love in it’s presence. 

I am brave, not because I am fearless, but because I’ve learned to give into fear less.

How has fear touched your life and how do you relate to fear when it arises? Are there specific tools or practices that have helped you to navigate fearful feelings?  I’d love to hear, so please share in the comments!

I’m wishing you wellness!

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain

 

Photo credits: 1. StockSnap.io/Alex Jones 2. StockSnap.io/Lizzie Guilbert 3. StockSnap.io/Lizzie Guilbert 4. StockSnap.io/Mayur Gala. The original photos have been edited by me for use on hopehealcook.com.

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2 thoughts on “Chronic Illness + Becoming Familiar With Fear

  1. I love your post Kat. Bringing back memories of a time when I was struggling with fear everyday. It took years, but as I slowly healed, fear ebbed away and is no longer a daily presence for me now. You are on the right path 🙂 Good luck 🙂

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