What are you afraid of? How do you move past fear?
By Carol / February 2, 2017 /
I’ve never thought of myself as a fearful person. Sure, butterflies are normal before I speak, and alone on a dark street at night, adrenaline races and I’m particularly watchful. But I’m not afraid as a general rule. Yet, when I joined an estimated 25,000 women and men at the Des Moines Women’s March, I found myself face-to-face with my own fear.
One of the speakers – a 65-year-old lesbian – recalled life for gays and lesbians in the early 70s. “There was a time,” she said. Then she shared the reality of life for homosexuals at that time. A time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. A time when gays could be forced to undergo shock or conversion therapy to “cure” them. A time when you could lose your job, or be kicked out – possibly even killed – for being who you were.
The description of the reality of that time hit me like a wrecking ball to the chest. Because I knew it personally.
Facing my own fear
I married for the first time in 1968. Four years later, I learned that my husband was gay. For a variety of reasons, we elected to remain married. To remain married and to present ourselves as a “normal” couple. At least part of my personal decision was influenced by my upbringing when I learned that how things looked to others was a most important consideration.
In choosing to keep quiet, we also chose to don the cloak of secrecy and fear. At any time someone might discover our secret. The ramifications could be many, and none of them looked good. Would he lose his job? Would I lose mine? What would happen to our families? Would we and they be shamed in public, ostracized in church, lose our friends?
Meanwhile, others – mostly on the coasts – were coming out of the closet and out of the shadows. They were marching. Demonstrating. Speaking up and out. They were brave. Maybe they felt fear, but they didn’t let it stop them. Because they stood up, they effected change. Not right away. Not all at once. Not even yet. But bit by bit.
Divorce did not remove the fear
When my husband and I divorced – almost 36 years ago – I thought I’d left that time and that fear behind. Listening to the Women’s March speaker, I realized how grateful I am for the people who marched for change. We’re all better off for people who march.
We’re better because of the suffragettes. We’re better because of the Freedom Riders. We’re better because of LGBTQ activists. We’re better because of activists who believe women should have control of their own bodies. We’re better because of people who will not accept being demeaned, downtrodden, or beaten any more. We’re better for those who put their fear aside and act.
Another woman faces down fear – Mesothelioma
Coincidentally, shortly before I faced down my own fear at the Women’s March, I received an email from Heather Von St. James. Heather is a 10-year survivor of mesothelioma, a cancer that took one of her lungs. Talk about fear. Instead of being ruled by the fear, Heather started “Lung Leavin’ Day.” Every February 2, Lung Leavin’ Day not only marks another year of survival for Heather, but also an opportunity to educate people on mesothelioma – and the value of overcoming fear. Follow any of the marked lengths to read more about Heather’s story.
At the March, I realized I still hold some fear in my core. The March helped solidify my sense that I was done with hiding. It’s time to face fear rather than let fear own me. Everyone had their own reasons for marching. I didn’t realize moving beyond fear was one of mine. Now I know.
To get past fear? Get up and get marching.
So, dear readers, how has fear been a factor in your life? What fears to have? How do you set fear aside?
I admire the bravery in people when they stand up for what they believe in. Correction: when they stand up for what I believe in! When I agree, they’re brave. If I don’t agree with their stand, they’re just rabble-rousers and malcontents, right? I am laughing at myself because I, too, was raised in an environment where “how things looked to others” was very important. My fear is being “wrong” and looking bad in the eyes of others. That fear of judgment has kept me from fully participating at times when I know in my heart it is right. I will take your advice, Carol, and get (continue) marching. We are better, indeed, because of those who marched before us.
Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Nan. Yes, there is a matter of perspective with marching. But that’s democracy in action. Fear of judgement by others is a powerful force. Maybe I’ve become old enough to not care quite so much. One of the benefits of aging?
Excellent post, Carol! Your comment above about not caring as much as you get older holds true with me about many things. I’ll dance and act silly at the end of a spin class, and I don’t care how I look, but I’m still anxious making phone calls to my representatives.
But now I am definitely fearful about all sorts of things in this post-DT world. I’m fearful if something happens to my husband, I will not have health insurance. (That’s assuming his pension doesn’t vanish, too.) I’m fearful that my gay daughter, gay sister, and many gay friends will have their rights taken away. I’m scared that women will be dying because they do not have access to birth control, abortion, and other medical services. I’m truly frightened that we will soon be in a fascist state and unable to protest unless some Republican senators and representatives finally get backbones. Well, I could go on and on–but I’m thinking of The Handmaid’s Tale more and more.
I love the idea of you dancing after spin class – and in your kitchen – Merril. That makes me happy every time I think of it.
I recall a comment a crisis management trainer I worked with always made: “Action binds anxiety.” Doing something – taking some control – no matter how small – when you’re fearful or anxious is better than doing nothing. One of the possible upsides of this election is that so many of us who were comfortable sitting on the sidelines – or saying that we couldn’t do anything that mattered – are up off the couch and in the action. With practice, we’ll get over our anxiety about calling/emailing/going to see our representatives. I’m not willing to let The Handmaid’s Tale become our reality.
Wonderful post, Carol. In my mid-twenties I was asked by a therapist that I was seeing at the time, “What are you so afraid of?” I have carried that question around with me for years, looking for the answer. It wasn’t until I started writing my memoir 4 years ago that the family secrets of abuse began rising to the surface and I began to discover that I could handle them and become the person that I am. I’ve coined the phrase, “Living with fear will keep us from knowing who we truly are.”
Your phrase is perfect, Joan. Writing our memoirs is such a useful tool for uncovering those things that we don’t know hold us in their grip. Bringing those fears into the light makes them shrink until they disappear or become a manageable size. At least that’s how it was for me, and it sounds like for you, too.
Thank you, Carol, for sharing so openly and honestly about your life and your fears. “What will people think?” was an unspoken refrain at our house when I was growing up. It haunts me still and dictates too much of what I do or don’t do. Your post encourages me to be courageous and open and honest with myself and others
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to open up about my life. As a result, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve felt that I’ve been able to start to identify my authentic self and to be comfortable in my own skin. It’s taken a lot of years to get to this point, but I’m glad I’m here. I expect you’ll be happy to be open and honest with yourself, too, Elfrieda.
A truly touching and important post, Carol! Thank you so much for sharing
I, too, participated in the Million Women March in downtown Los Angeles. I was one of the lucky ones. Apparently many many people couldn’t make it down there bec the trains were so few and the ones running so overloaded, these protesters ended up having to do their own little marches elsewhere.
Thousands upon thousands were present that day, which made feel so proud to be part of it all.
As my friend and I walked down into the subway station we both burst out crying. SO many people were pouring into it and we both were reminded of the anti Vietnam War days. Days we thought would never happen again.
I took heart from all of this and in my own way–calling, donating to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood–I am determined not to let our country fall into the abyss.
Thanks for sharing your march experience, Sarah. I also experienced the feeling that if we all stood together, we could make things happen. There were marches all over Iowa. One small-town march consisted of five women. They had signs. They talked to people who walked and waved at those who drove by. The policeman stopped and asked them what they were doing. When they told him, he said he hoped they had a good day. Apparently, they did.
Carol — My hat is off to you, You, YOU!
Thank you, Laurie.
A friend and I were on our way to Florida on January 20, 2017 and stopped in Franklin, Tennessee for lunch. There in the town center holding protest signs were three people. My friend and I were so happy to see protesters (it was the South, after all) that we drove around the circle twice, waving and giving them thumbs-up as encouragement. Not much but it made us feel like we were protesting in our own small way.
Beverly, so good to see you this past weekend. Thanks for taking time to support the Franklin, Tennessee, protesters. I heard of a group of three women in northeast Iowa who couldn’t make it to Des Moines, so they held their own demonstration in their town square. They received similar support from people who drove by. There was great camaraderie across the country that day. People participating however they could.