by Lee Anne McClymont
Welcome back! Last week I asked you to frame your fear-filled experiences using very precise language. Words help diffuse the negative emotions that highly charged, fear-filled events bring along with them, In today’s column I am going to ask you to approach fear as a neutral partner. But before you open your notebooks, I think it’s time to tell you another story. Now in order for any of this to make sense, you will need to recall the first “Sweet Potatoes” column you read. In that piece I explained how our family relocated from New York City to Hillsborough, NC. I did not explain why.
During the time we were living in NYC, very few people were aware that I already undertaken my first major relocation—the relocation of my soul, by way of cancer. And how could they have known? I myself had barely begun to acknowledge the degree to which cancer has shifted my world only after we moved to North Carolina. I was already two years into the move before I had any clear idea about just how I was going to address the emotional upheaval brought about by disease, job loss and physical location.
My cancer story unfolds likes this:
Non-Hodgkin’s disease at 39 years old, stage three, fast- growing and lethal. Prognosis for survival? Slim. Yet, after nine months of hospital stays, chemo and multiple site biopsies, I wanted to return to my job. I was not welcomed. By April 2005 I resigned after 15 years with the same employer, determined to work with my gifts, experience and education to support the journey of other cancer patients. Just how I was going to do this? I had no blueprint however, I did get a clue.
Do you remember how in August 2005, our family had made the decision to take a year and live in North Carolina? We arrived first in Chapel Hill, moved to North Raleigh and finally settled here in beautiful Hillsborough. The newness of the South was intoxicating. I had to capture it somehow. So, I began to write descriptions about what we found here and how it compared to Manhattan. Those descriptions, among others, became journal entries in a notebook I called “Sweet Potatoes.”
Through this process, I began appreciating the role writing serves in my own life as well as the in lives of many people who would follow me on their journeys through all forms of loss and recovery. In fact, over those first two years of relocation to the South, our family’s entire journey traveled between two boundaries of loss and recovery from loss. Time passed but this pattern remained. Only years later did I understand how this dynamic helps you grow. When you stop experiencing loss and recovery, you get stalled somewhere. If you are honest, you say to yourself. “O.K. I am stuck. Now what I am supposed to do?’ As soon I asked myself that question, I realized a door had opened.
Beginnings and endings look alike and I was starting to learn just how the resonate. Unresolved feelings come along with us as usher in new beginnings. In silence they wait, cranky for more room.
Fear is a sticky feeling.
When it is not explored and diffused through writing or talking to friends and family, fear can undermine our plans and encroach upon the space we reserve for hope. Fear also co-opts our ability to trust. It makes its way alongside of us wherever we go. Since fear is ever-present, I began to realize, perhaps it is a good idea to learn more about it and befriend it. But how? I decided to write about it hoping to silence the “run away” voice whispering inside my head.
We have all had times when running away appeared to be the only available exit strategy.
However, it’s easy to get caught in that pattern of thinking.” “Well, if running away worked once before,” we ponder, “perhaps it will work again!” It’s easy to confuse avoidance with safety. Yet, in any given situation, multiple strategies exist for navigating around a fear-filled situation. Habit tends to be an efficient short cut to success; however, it can also block our ability to seek a new approach.
Now, speaking of new approaches, let’s return to you work building your personal narrative about fear and decision-making. The following exercise asks you to consider times when you were successful at moving beyond fear to neutralize its impact on your behavior. This exercise organizes you memories so that you can recognize the common ground shared among these successful experiences with fear.
At this point you are ready to adopt a fresh approach to fear, synthesizing the lessons you already know. Soon you will begin to replace less effective reactive strategies with more effective pro-active behaviors. Developing a stronger sense of what to anticipate is one of the many benefits this exercise promises to deliver. Reclaiming lost confidence is another.
List in your notebook two examples when you (or someone you know) overcame fear. For some of you it may be easier to share a story about another person’s ability to neutralize fear to achieve a certain objective. For others, this exercise is a delicious recollection of sweet success. Either way, the goal is for you to begin to relive the feelings associated with neutralizing fear. As you write or sketch, keep these questions in the back of your mind: What were the circumstances of these events? How long did it take to overcome fear? Were you alone or did someone help you? Have you thought about this recently or is it a deep memory? If you had to dredge this memory up, did you bury it deliberately or did you just forget about it? Take your time to think and gather the stories in your notebook.
You are now actively developing new pathways to manage fear. This process requires you to see yourself as different-stronger and more experienced. Be gentle with yourself. You’re taking a significant step toward growth. Leave behind any sense of shame or guilt. There is no room in this process for judgment. Give yourself adequate space for growth. Fear can be a neutral partner. You simply have to have fresh eyes to see it.
See you next week when we look at those stories and consider your anticipation skills.
Lee Anne McClymont is radio talk show host and producer of Courage Cocktail which broadcasts live on Wednesdays at Noon EST on WCOM-FM 103.5. In June 2010, Lee Anne published her first book, “Friendly Fear Notebook”. She is a guest columnist for Hillsborough, NC-based newspaper, “The News of Orange County”. She launched Radiocentrix.com as an extension of her interest in using radio broadcasting as an Open Source Media outlet. Her work at Radiocentrix anchors radio podcasting within the digital landscape– effortlessly streaming radio interviews between live radio broadcasts and podcasts. Lee Anne is the principal owner of Vast Republic Inc., a media company committed to promoting the voices of authors, artists and businesses within the digital platform.
Photo courtesy of Ariel da Silva Parreira.
About Lee Anne McClymont
Host and producer of a new radio show hit "Courage Cocktail" broadcasting out of WCOM FM, Carrboro/Chapel Hill NC. The Friendly Fear Notebook forms the basis of this show but with a twist-we talk to an expert and then interview a "Guest with Guts" Come out to our Facebook page called Courage Cocktail poke around, download a pod cast and you are on your way ! Sip slowly....Le