We’ve all got our thing right? Our thing that other people find to be over the top, quirky, or unreasonable? I may have a bunch of “things” but one is for certain, the constant unwavering presence of fear that I carry with me throughout life; you might say fear is my co-pilot.
If you knew how I’ve lived my life to this point you’d find that last statement to be nonsensical because if fear is my co-pilot then why am I constantly doing things in life that would generally inflame the problem? You might even be apt to call me a bald-faced liar. The short answer is this: I refuse to allow fear to run my life.
Things happen to all of us and some of those things are significant enough to leave their mark. Unfortunately there have been several not-so-small things that left their mark from my youth and beyond. Would I care to go into it? Not really.
Over the years I’ve learned how to be petrified and functional at the same time. I fully expect and anticipate that someone will break into my house and I go to sleep every night thinking through scenarios and strategizing about how I would react when waking to find someone looming over me in the darkness, every single night. I have moved a dresser in front of my bedroom door more times than I can count just so I could fall asleep and I always have a blunt object within reach of my sleeping space.
The counterbalance is that I was born independent and nomadic so I’ve taken road trips by myself since I was a teenager. I essentially learned from a young age how to travel with my fear shadow. I stay away from rest areas after dusk and even during the day I watch people very closely and am aware of everyone’s proximity to me. Are they going to follow me into the restroom? I take notice in my rearview mirror if a car has made several of the same turns as me and how about the concept of parking and sleeping in your car? Absolutely not. There are way too many what-if’s that my mind could conjure up which would never allow me to fall sleep.
When I have camped alone I’ve had pepper spray and/or a personal siren alarm; I’ve even tied my zippers together. When I hike alone I scan side to side and look behind me just as much as I look forward. Even on a short hike I pack a bag that I could survive from for 24 hours should I become injured.
When I travel internationally I am very alert about where I am and whether I might be a target for a scam or worse. Did I just take a turn down a shady street? Are there any other foreigners at this bus depot? Am I being watched? Am I safe staying at this hostel? And so on.
I consistently have dreams where I am trying to defend myself and my punches hit the person in slow motion with no impact, or I attempt to yell for help and I can’t make a sound.
There are times at night when I swear I heard a noise in the house and my heart begins beating out of my chest; my ears pulsate so hard that I can’t hear anything and I absolutely cannot sleep until I’ve gotten up and investigated the sound. I melt my body against the wall and inch my way through the house until all is clear.
When I stay in hotels for work I always do a sweep of the room to make sure I’m the only one in there. When I’m home alone I do a full sweep of the house upon entry before I can feel comfortable. When dusk hits I close the blinds so that I’m not stuck in a situation where people can see in, but I can’t see out.
I sleep on my side because I decided many years ago that sleeping on my side would provide me the best defense against a middle of the night intruder and I never, ever, sleep with the bedroom door open. Never say never? I’m saying never.
Are my fears warranted? Beyond the previously mentioned damage from my youth I’ve had my car stolen twice in my early twenties and during that same era my apartment was broken into (on a night when I wasn’t home, thankfully!) by a crazy guy whom the police were certain was patiently awaiting my arrival; I’ve also had a creepy intruder experience while living in Forest Service housing in Oregon, I’ve been followed from a trail into a town in Montana, I had a staring contest with a bear while on a fire, I had a mechanic try to get me to stay at his house overnight when I broke down in Indiana and many more not-so-fond memories not to be listed here. In short, I know the feeling of being violated in many of its different forms and I must say, I’m not a fan.
The long and short of it is, I don’t ever feel safe. Where that general sensation of feeling safe resides in other people I have the unrelinquishing need to be on guard. Ironically the safest place I’ve ever known is the fireline. When I lay my sleeping bag down on the ground next to a gaggle of other firefighters for the night my mind is at peace and I feel safe. I’m not sure why but I have a hunch that sleeping on a forest fire in order to feel safe might be abnormal.
So as bad as it is, what could possibly elevate the level of fear in my life? I mean how much more hyper-vigilant can I get right? A baby. I birthed a human and with that munchkin came an entire other set of concerns and fears.
I don’t worry about her daily injuries. I actually promote her tenacity and I know that getting hurt is a major part of learning personal capabilities and limitations. My fear resides with outside forces doing harm to her when I’m not around to intervene at an age where she isn’t capable of protecting herself.
While we were living in the middle of nowhere Colorado I hiked with the munchkin alone quite often and I stayed in the mindset that I could encounter a bear at any moment. How likely is that? Who knows. We were certainly in bear country so anytime we were out and about I made sure I had bear spray on the ready.
I felt obsessed over my concern about a bear encounter and wondered what my problem was. I never felt this over the top about the possibility of seeing a bear in the past I mean seriously, I’ve been working in the forest for the last 13 years! Oh yeah, A baby. A baby is what happened to me.
When I go road tripping and camping solo with the munchkin I am fearful that I will end up camping someplace where some backwoods psycho is just awaiting my arrival and I feel concerned that having a baby with me will make me far more vulnerable in that scenario. So I always have a phone, a pocketknife and bear spray in the tent with me because I would imagine bear spray works even better on humans than it does on bears!
So yes, fear is my co-pilot. I have a fear shadow that follows me wherever I go. Because of this I stay aware of my surroundings, trust my gut instinct, maintain physical fitness and most importantly I tell myself over and over again that nothing is intentionally out to harm me because I need to remember that aggressive, ill-willed, dangerous beings are the minority not the majority of what inhabits this earth. Does that work? Meh. But I still remind myself.
With each journey I set out on big or small where nothing bad happens I dispel a tiny fragment of the fear I’ve been building up and it gives me the courage to take on another adventure. This life strategy is much more enjoyable than barricading myself into a safe zone and fearing the unknown.
Making the unknown known is what enhances my outlook on life and how I live it. Hiking alone for the surprise of what I may see down the trail, traveling someplace new to experience the friendliness of a culture in a foreign country, road tripping with no solid itinerary and finding the hidden gem campsite by not planning ahead, trusting in my equipment as I jump out of a plane or rappel off a helicopter; all of these things promote fear. But having that fear and doing it anyway? That is empowering and it’s what keeps me from being debilitated.
I feel that this form of handling fear is more important now that it has ever been because I’ve got a little munchkin who examines my every movement and reaction. I am inadvertently setting an example for how to live life so the stakes really couldn’t be higher. There is a difference between educating a child on potential dangers in life as opposed to instilling my own fears and anxieties upon her and essentially forcing her to forever bear those same burdens.
I know from first hand experience that finding ways to live life in spite of this innate fear is much more challenging than living life free from nonstop what-if scenarios rolling through your mind. I recognize this fact when chatting with friends who haven’t had experiences like mine; they have no ability to understand the feeling of being violated because the only way to really understand it is to experience it. Because they don’t know this other side of what life could be like they live freely and sometimes in my mind, stupidly. That sounds harsh but I really care about the people in my life and when I see that they function with no safeguards I feel agitated. I don’t want them to live life on this side with me but without even some basic protections (like locking your doors at night!) they could end up on my team. Don’t join my team! On the flip side I hear how paranoid people are in different ways than myself and I think, take it easy!
This is where we go back to the beginning when I said everyone has their thing that other people find to be over the top, quirky or unreasonable. Everyone has their thing because every single person walks a slightly different path in life. So if you dig into why someone has the quirks that they do I think you may find that they aren’t unreasonable, they are just reasonable enough given their life path.