A Slight Figure of Speech

I have a slight bone to pick with our old friend FDR.

Over the past year, I have the pleasure  luck of experiencing fear, and I’ve certainly found there’s more there to fear than just fear itself.

In fact, I’ve discovered there’s much more to the concept of being afraid – the degree and type of fear we experience.

Of course, I’ve experienced fear plenty of times over the course of my life so far. But until this year, I had never truly experienced the type of fear that courses through your veins. The type of fear you feel on a cellular level. That’s fear.

But the thing is, fear rarely travels alone. It’s more often than not accompanied by something TO fear. Fear of death, fear of surgery, fear of embarrassment, fear of failure. And the degree can vary, as well. You can empathize with someone else who is afraid of something, but until that something has actually touched you, it can be hard to really understand in full.

In a few short months, I’ve experienced the fear of the unknown – waking up after the first surgery, unable to speak or really understand why I was in the hospital. Then the fear of the unknown transitioned into being quite tangible as I re-learned how to speak. The aphasia and apraxia burned like two hot irons, each branding me with the fear of embarrassment.

And yet, all of these emotions are completely different from the fear I felt the day my mom called to tell me that my dad had suffered a major stroke.

But, the question is this – should the type and degree of fear invalidate the way someone feels? Should the situation itself invalidate the way we feel, depending on what is it?

The answer is no.

It’s just part of being human.

A few days ago, I was touched by a story about young guy around my age who has ALS. I found myself in awe of his and his wife’s courage. It occurred to me that we are of course in very different places. While I have found myself in fear of my life before, I have been granted the opportunity to get better. That is something that this man will likely not see for himself, as much as researchers are trying to find a cure. And how scary must it be to really know that.  Yet, what is he supposed to do? Fold to the fear or keep fighting? What are we doing here if not to fight and just do the best we can, for as long as we’re here?

After reading his story, I felt a little stupid about my fear of embarrassment – though it’s more than just that. I fear failure. I fear going to work and failing at something I used to be successful in. I fear I’ll never get back to 100 percent and that I’ll always be trapped by my (insubordinate) voice.

What I’m coming to understand, though, is that I just can’t always invalidate my feelings. How I feel is still relevant because it’s my own experience.

Each feeling we experience and each story has something to teach us. It’s not about who has it worse, or who has it better. If we can really learn how to listen to our fear, then we have the chance to use it to our advantage. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t feel afraid. But, sometimes fear can push us, motivate us to try to conquer whatever it is that we’re scared of – no matter what it is.

And if we don’t end up victorious, at least we can say we tried. That we really lived.


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