Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When Fear Looms Large

I have not posted for a whole week.
I will tell you why, although you will probably laugh at me.
Irrational Fear.

Some people have an irrational fear of clowns. Admittedly, clowns can have a terrifying side, but this goes beyond a sensible fear to an unexplainable fear.

Others have a fear of thunderstorms. Incapacitated, they have to hide in their house, withdrawn, wait out the storm. I've known a few dogs like this, too.

The list of irrational fears is long: crowds, open water, heights, animals, etc. I am not a psychologist or a psychotherapist or a psycho-anything. (I think). But I know that the hardest part of dealing with these fears is that they are not rational, not explainable, sometimes not controllable.

Mine is wildfires. I grew up in Southern California, and we live in Colorado - both wildfire prone areas. I have never been in danger from a wildfire, although I do remember being evacuated from a Girl Scout Camp in the California mountains in the back of a stake bed truck. We were brought back to the camp that night, out of imminent danger.

At one house where we lived in the California mountains, the evacuation notice came while we were already gone, staying at my parents' house for a few days. We thought. It was seven days before we could return home. We had the dogs with us, and the cats managed to knock their bag of cat food on to the floor and have a feast. But we did have a home and a neighborhood to return to.

I know people who have been evacuated multiple times - they live in canyons or high risk fire areas in the mountains. It is part of life in their neighborhood, they know it and are prepared to deal with it.

Last Tuesday, two wildfires broke out. One, in the mountains a half hour west of us, the other an hour north of us. The pillars of smoke piled high in the sky while the dry wind whipped up the flames. And I retreat into my shell. Meals were fixed, errands were run, time was spent with family, I weeded in the yard. I read a lot, tried to relax, pray and breathe. And watch the news reports, which was really a dumb thing to do.
Days later, a smokey haze still hangs in the sky

Interesting, though, I made an observation during this recent fire outbreak. My creative side shuts down. Make plans, make a decision? Not happening. What I could do was routine. Ordinary, day in, day out stuff. No thinking required. The impossible thing about irrational fears is attempting to explain them. Or analyze them. Or rationalize them. Instead, I was an observer, watching the reactions, an outsider.

Last Friday, the Friday Five Minute Topic was "Listen." I wrote for five minutes about listening to the fears. But it didn't make any sense, so I deleted it all and went back to reading someone else's more intelligent words. Words that were rational.

I am sure there are whole books and studies about irrational fear. But as I learned this past week, when fear looms as large as those plumes of smoke overhead, the simple routines of the day keep life going. Wash the dishes. Turn on the iron and iron three shirts. Weed out a small section of the yard. Water the plants. Read the book. Play a game with the kids. Suddenly all the small things look refreshing and wonderful. No need to plan for life, to have a busy, busy to-do list. Keep it simple. Enjoy, appreciate the smallest steps, the small smiles from family, the giggles and laughter, the moments together.

"It is not joy that makes us grateful;
it is gratitude that makes us joyful."

-Brother David Steindl-Rast

The answer to irrational fear? I have no idea. The best I can do is acknowledge, accept, be grateful for the smallest things, keep breathing. Pray, love, trust.

Do you have irrational fears, how do you cope?


  1. Very glad to see your post. Last night as I watched the news your name popped into my mind and I wondered if you were affected by the fires. Glad all is well there. As far as irrational fear, I have no answers either. What you said about your creative side shutting down struck a cord with me. Going with the flow and just doing the next thing on your daily to do list makes sense to me. Hmmm... now you've got me thinking :) Anyway, glad to see this very good post and glad there's no fire in your neighborhood!

  2. When we lived in So. Cal. there was a wildfire not far from us. It is a frightening experience, and I understand your fear and anxiety.
    When I feel anxious, depressed and/or under stress, like you, if I make myself keep doing the small things of life, I cope better.
    My irrational fears include fear of being poor and fear of being in an accident when my husband drives (terrible driver). How do I cope? Pray. A lot.