On Fear, Walt Whitman + the Zombie Apocalypse
Joe and I have been talking a lot recently about fear – how it feels, when we feel it, why we feel it, how to identify when others are feeling it and how to respond when they do things or say things to try to make us feel it, too, because the only thing worse than feeling afraid is feeling afraid and alone.
Fear is a funny thing. The biological purpose of fear is to spark some action – fight or flee. Most of us, though, aren’t living in a world where we are faced with the need to fight or flee to survive (which is fine with me, because I am not interested in being in any situation that forces that choice. Now’s not the time to get into it, but let’s just say I’ve been very clear with the people I love about how and when they should dispense with me if I somehow live through any event that history will point to as the beginning of the zombie apocalypse). Fear for us isn’t usually as acute as it was for our ancestors. It’s not often we’re faced with a literal life or death scenario. In fact, I think most people would attribute their Klonopin prescriptions to fear about 1) change and/or 2) the unknown. But, annoyingly, we are still biologically compelled to take some action as a result of feeling fear. Feeling fear about a thing? Then, just avoid that thing. Flee. Or find a way to change that thing. Fight.
My point, and the thing Joe and I have been discussing a lot – a lot – recently, is this: fight or flight is a false choice. There is a third response to fear – one that our ancestors did not have the luxury of choosing, because they were surrounded by, say, an actual pack of wolves, as opposed to a figurative pack of gnashing, nebulous “what ifs”.
Option Number Three: Feel fear. Do nothing.
“But,” you’re probably saying right now to your phone screen, “the only other dumb animal who is dumb enough to feel fear and do nothing is a dumb deer who gets hit in the dumb face by a dumb Mack truck and ends up mangled and dumb on the side of the road because they are dumb.” Right you are.
But there is at least one (and hopefully more) crucial difference between us and the dumb deer. Unlike the dumb deer, we are capable of feeling more than one thing at one time. We can feel the fear, say hello to it, assess it, and even try to understand it. Then we can just decide to feel another feeling way more. Like, excitement. And curiosity. And joy. And anticipation. Fear AND and…and…and…and… As Uncle Walt says, “I am large, I contain multitudes”. We get to feel both – many! all! And then decide which of these we will allow ourselves to be driven by. We can choose.
Even now, with our bags practically packed and by the door, Joe and I can acknowledge that we feel fear. I am afraid that once we leave, everything will change and I am also somehow simultaneously afraid that nothing will. I am afraid that our friends and family will feel abandoned and I’m also afraid that they may abandon us. I’m afraid of coming back to the exact same career I’m leaving and I’m also afraid that I won’t have the option to. I’m afraid we won’t ever come back to Nashville and I’m also afraid that we will come back. And, I mean, as long as we’re on the topic: Donald Trump freaks me out. And sometimes, I get su-hu-huuuper bummed out that Jeff Buckley is dead. I’m also kind of worried that if Joe and I have kids, his dominant genes will overpower all of my recessive ones and no one will be able to tell that they’re my kids. …is this what my therapist means by “predisposed to anxiety”?
I feel fear every day, all the time, without reprieve and I often give in to the false choice – fight or flee (for me, it’s a little more fight than flee). But, we’re not fucking with all that right now. We’re choosing instead:
- The sense of accomplishment we feel at setting a goal and slowly yet efficiently chipping away at the endless list of things we need to do in order to achieve it;
- The high we feel when we finalize an air-tight itinerary, which we imagine can be most accurately compared to doing bath salts;
- Sharing the best of what the world has to offer together and in person, as opposed to via text message, social media, or lackluster verbal recount;
- The pride at being brave enough to choose adventure over the career that’s stable, but may or may not be causing your soul to collapse in on itself in slow motion, like something you’d see on an infomercial for vacuum-sealed storage bags where they show a once beautiful and perky duvet being systematically flattened into a rumpled shitty fluffbrick. What? I’m fine.
Fear and excitement. Fear and curiosity. Fear and joy. Fear and anticipation. Fear AND and…and…and…and…
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes).”