I’ve always been a scaredy-cat. Scared to try new things, scared to travel, scared to write…the list is endless. Problem was, I didn’t know what to do with that fear. I let it stop me, over and over again, and the more I stopped, the smaller my world became. By 2003, I could barely leave my house.
In 2004, I discovered a program to manage anxiety disorders called TERRAP. The acronym stands for Territorial Apprehension and was developed by Dr. Arthur B. Hardy. Once a week for twenty weeks I visited a therapist trained in the program, and in between visits I had homework. I kept a journal, I did relaxation exercises, and I learned how to work with my fear. I observed noticeable results by about the third week in the program, and by the end of it my therapist and I had little to talk about! After living my entire life with severe anxiety, it was hard to comprehend that in twenty weeks my life could change.
Since that time, I have traveled the world, written books, gotten divorced and remarried, and put myself in the midst of a number of scary situations. Many people who didn’t “know me when” have no idea that I have an anxiety disorder.
While anxiety can be managed, it doesn’t go away. I’m still a scaredy-cat. The difference, though, is that I have changed my relationship to fear.
When we are afraid, we have the choice to walk through one of two doors. The first makes our world smaller. We stifle our creative dreams. We push away people who love us. We sabotage success. We surround ourselves with other scared people. We tell ourselves we don’t have time to pursue our dreams, or our family won’t let us, or that we’ll just do it “later,” the tomorrow that never comes. We talk about our grand plans, but we don’t do them.
There’s another door we can choose, the door that expands our world. When our fear threatens our creativity, we stop and listen. We acknowledge the fear. We invite ourselves to take gentle, baby steps forward. We ask for help. We say, “It doesn’t feel like I have time today, but what if I gave myself fifteen minutes of time anyway? Could I do that? We let ourselves cry if we need to, and we give ourselves an inner hug, then we say, “This all looks too big to me. What can I do to break it down into manageable pieces?”
Sometimes, even when we walk through that second door, we choose to walk away. We may recognize that fear has led us to unhealthy relationships that we need to leave. We may recognize that we’ve taken on too much at once and have overloaded our fear — so we reorganize and reschedule in a manageable way. We step back from the fear, observe it, and make a thoughtful choice about what we need for ourselves.
Fear, to me, is now a great gift. It’s a messenger, something to tell me to pay attention to what I’m doing and to adjust if need be. I’m proud that for the most part, I walk through the second door. If I do walk through the first one again, it’s only temporary, and I have had enough success to trust that I am gathering my strength. I may be a scaredy-cat, but cats are strong, resilient, independent creatures. Sounds good to me.
Which door are you walking through today?