Fear is a four-letter word

What am I afraid of?

If you asked me that question a year ago I would have recited a litany of things. Snakes. Drowning. Vampires. Public speaking. Dying alone. Menopause. Finding a dead mouse in my take-out. Ruth Bader Ginsburg dying. Chelsea being relegated. My mother sneaking veal into her meatballs. Saints Matthew, Matthias, Bartholemew, Barbara, Cecelia, Columba… oh sorry, I said litany and it triggered my 12 years of Catholic education.

Growing up I was a fearless child. The primary example I have of this fact is that I used to go in my aunt’s inground pool as a child even though I never learned to swim. I would hold onto the edge and walk around the perimeter while in the pool. When I was about 8 years old, I was in the pool by myself while my mom and aunt were drinking rum & cokes on the patio. My foot slipped, and I lost my grip and fell under. I flailed around but must not have been able to scream. My cousin, who passed away last year from throat cancer, saw me from inside the house and ran out to save me. I never went in a pool again after that. Oddly enough, my mother doesn’t remember this at all. No one in my family does, and they act like I made it up. No, I think I remember almost dying; I’m glad to know it didn’t really faze you. But thank you, Troy. I wouldn’t be here without you.

That’s when everything changed for me. Understandably I was no longer able to be reckless without fear of the consequences. But my fears didn’t reach compulsive status until law school. For the first time in my life I was away from home in another state all alone. It was a small town to begin with, and an even smaller school. I had never had to study in my life or work for my grades, and suddenly I was a complete idiot. Thankfully wine was sold tax free in the grocery store over the border in New Hampshire. I struggled massively. I longed for security and safety, and suddenly a fear of being alone gripped me. Fear irrationally led me to make the biggest mistake of my life when I agreed to get married after three months of dating.

Many years after the divorce and digging myself not only out of bankruptcy but all the snowballing mistakes that resulted from marrying Satan’s stepbrother, I finally reached financial freedom. And when I had freedom I wanted to travel. All alone. That was the moment I decided to not let fear paralyze me anymore. And it was the best decision I ever made. I came home to my true self. In Iceland. Amsterdam. Bruges. Vienna. Budapest. Prague. Edinburgh. Skye. Barcelona. Malaga. Gibraltar. Traveling alone tests your senses, your morals, your judgment, your soul.

Whenever I pick a destination I seek out some activity that tests me. This past November when I went to Barcelona I decided to go paragliding in the Pyrenees. I was picked up at my hotel and drove 90 minutes with my guide to meet my tandem pilot. From there, it was a 30 minute drive on a bumpy, windy dirt road up the mountain. The thought did cross my mind that I was with two older guys who could murder me and dump me anywhere. But was I afraid of the jump? No. They kept asking me if I was getting nervous and honestly I had no fear at all. They seemed surprised by my response.

They strapped me into the harness and attached the gear, but still I had no fear. They coached me how to run and what to do if we had to abort the jump. We watched the buzzards circling overhead which meant there was good wind for the jump. They asked again if I was nervous. Nope. I felt nothing, really. It crossed my mind that I was ok if I plunged off a mountain to my death. Apparently I would rather die than be content living a boring, safe life without experiences that made me feel completely alive.

A good gust of wind came and I was told to run. It was much more of a struggle than I imagined. My feet were lifting off the ground. My pilot yelled “STOP!” and I fell over. I was concerned I might fuck it up and cause my own death simply because I couldn’t run straight, but still I was ok. We got up and went back to the starting position.

After a few minutes and some buzzard activity, my pilot yelled to run again. I felt no fear at all. Run and jump off a mountain? Sure! In that moment, the one thought I remember is that the second I jump off I can feel something. Something unbelievable. I get to fly. And that’s way more than I feel any day. I wanted to jump. I wanted something more. I had no fear at all.

Take-off was very strange, like levitating. It was incredible, and I loved it until we started circling to find thermals and I started getting motion sickness. I took Dramamine as a precaution but the bumpy mountain drive to the launch site already had me hurting. Aside from that, I was lifted out of my body and the feeling of being anchored to every part of daily life that makes your mind generate wild scenarios that cause you to spiral into paralyzing fear. It was the most freeing thing you could imagine, with the added assurance that the worst thing that could happen is I’d drop out of the sky and possibly kill a cow before face planting in a muddy cow pasture.

My point is when you discover you aren’t afraid of jumping off a big mountain, a lot of your daily fears don’t seem so important. I have had fear of my judgment in romantic relationships since my divorce, but I don’t really have that anymore. I’m pretty discerning, and I don’t think I’d make such a colossal error again. I only did the first time because I gave in to fear. Now I know I’m capable of surviving and thriving on my own, so if I choose someone it’s for the right reasons. (I sound like a contestant on The Bachelor.) I don’t fear getting hurt in love. Much like jumping off a mountain, I fear going on with my life and not taking the chance of having a mind-blowing, life-altering experience. I fear the mundane, the monotonous.

I know shit is about to get real all around us here in the US any day now because of this virus. I’m not ignorant of the reality, and I’m not equating it to anything I’ve written about here. I will still send my wrath on social media to people who don’t take it seriously and put others at risk. But I’m consciously choosing not to feed the fear. I worry about my mom, and my brother-in-law battling cancer, and people I love who are in the midst of hotspots. But I know how paralyzing fear becomes, and how it consumes you. Being smart doesn’t mean stopping living. Nothing good comes from obsessing over fear. Instead, I believe that focusing on the disease can manifest it. If you choose to not give in to fear, amazing things can happen. So my advice is to not feed the fear. Focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, because most of us will survive this. And when this passes, my advice to you is to fly off the mountain. You will never regret it.

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