I’ve taken some big behind-the-scenes authoring steps recently. I’m pretty nervous about them, but they’re not the point of this post. I’m also not writing about the news being full of atrocities, nor about my nation sliding into OVERT fascism. although those are infuriating, terrible, horrifying things.
Nope. This post is about my relationship with fear as a general thing.
It’s been a while since I talked about feeling frightened most of the time, most days. That’s been going on a lot longer than the current world events, but it’s on my mind lately because it’s tangentially related to my lack of activism and also to my writing.
Most of the things about life that make me happy also terrify me. And by terror I don’t mean I get nervous or worried or fretful about outcomes. I don’t even mean hollow-bellied imposter-cloaked fear-of-failure fear.
I mean the “heart pounding, can’t breathe, feel like vomiting, just-might-piss-myself” kind of fear. This anxious panic isn’t reserved for writing. Not by a long shot.
A lot of normal activities (f’rex simple one-on-one human interactions with friends, loud noises, scheduled appointments, necessary hygiene) you name it, it can leave me slogging through a swamp of of fight-or-flight overload.
I didn’t ask for the quirk. It came with the brain.
I’m also an adrenaline-seeker. Didn’t ask to be, but there it is. Brain. I live for living on the edge, I hunt for things that will raise my heart rate, brighten my vision, knot my guts,, and basically freak me out. This is done on an instinctive level. I can rationalize it all I want, but it isn’t rational.
The biochemical one-two punch has allowed me to function with an appearance of normalcy most of my life. One quirk goes a long way towards balancing the other. It also means I don’t often freak out when major things happen. My baseline is already up there. There’s almost a leveling sensation.
I mastered doing regular-life things on a regular basis before adolescence. All The Things scared me but I enjoyed the experience as long as I stuck to small, manageable doses, so I achieved a dysfunctional functionality. I thrive in a high-structure environment that goes through irregular major disruptions.
Along the way to my current advanced age, I learned the hard way that hardly anyone recognizes when I’m terrified. Even when I’m standing dizzy and sweaty right next to someone, wondering if I’m about to die RIGHT THERE, most people don’t realize how freaked out I am.
I’d always known I don’t act frightened in a typical way (enough emergency situations where I got praised for calm handling got that message across) but I never connected it with people not realizing I daily dance on a cliff’s edge of coping.
I found out that it was atypical when my life got knocked off its moorings and the terror started erupting as actual anxiety/panic attacks a few years ago. I had to find a new balance, and part of that meant communicating more openly about my feelings.
And when I mention I’m on the edge of a freakout, I get looks of surprise and doubt. Imposter syndrome is brought on by hearing over and over again, “Oh, but you’re doing great. You don’t look scared. You look fine.” Be aware: when you say that to someone who’s over-the-top anxious, it’s not as encouraging as you think. Anxiety twists that. Seeing is believing. When you say you can’t see the fear, you’re saying you don’t believe in it–even if you do.
Looking calm is a one part survival skill for me, and one part habituation. One, being seen as calm is important for a leader, and I get steered into leadership all the time for reasons I cannot explain. Two, that adrenaline quirk means I crave fear. So I’m used to feeling it. On edge is my go-to. Basically I am having fun...
…right up to that certain point when the fun stops. That’s when I say something. At that point any tiny little thing will bring on total meltdown. Then I’m bolting for the door of a crowded restaurant, or sneaking out of a party early because…um…fear-induced wardrobe malfunction.
If I say I’m scared, I need protection, not a pep talk.
Here’s the other shoe to drop: even without meltdowns, adrenaline is exhausting. I guard against over-stimulation to protect my balance. I have hard limits. I push them constantly, (see: risk-seeker) but I have to conserve my energy. This means I’m really good at the whole “learn to say no” advice creators get. Not so good at ducking the guilt of doing it, but that’s a different problem. Until I started studying up on it, I never realized how many of my daily behaviors were rooted in emotional self-defense.
The TL;DR: this is my friendly every-so-often reminders that I am not brave. I only play brave on the outside, and it’s hard, tiring work. The crazier the world gets, the more rips in the social contract our government makes, the more I realize how scared I always am. All. The. Time.
I’m aggravating the problem with my creativity –fear lurks everywhere writing intersects with audience. Social media or reader outreach, even mentioning I have a thing to share or that I’m feeling excited about a new story…it’s all a big swamp of scariness. Since it’s also my happy place I cannot resist diving into that slough, but…BUT.
It’s still like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into the open sky. (which is one thing I haven’t done, by the way, because typical risk-seeking behavior loses a lot of its appeal when basic tasks like making phone calls provide a monstrous adrenaline rush. Who needs roller coasters? I buy groceries!)
And again I digress. As usual.
Maybe the takeaway is this: I’m skipping along the scary edge a lot lately, in a world that’s getting progressively murkier by the hour. So if I seem more withdrawn than usual, it’s because I’m a lot more exhausted than ever. I wish I wasn’t, because there’s a lot worth doing right now.
Jesus fucking Christ, there’s a lot that needs doing. There’s been a lot for decades. The surface armor of suppression and willful ignorance has been scraped off the festering ugliness, so I suppose this could lead to healing. It could lead to bleeding out.
Get angry. Get registered. If you can, get out there and fight. I’ll keep doing what little I can. For sure I’ll keep writing stories that provide a little respite from the darkness.
That’s what I can do.
As usual, the picture is a fluffy addendum with no larger purpose.