Story Time: The Story of the Girl Who Felt Too Much

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had enormous feelings. To her, the sky was never just blue: every day it amazed her with different shades of sapphire, azure, violet, ultramarine, or indigo. To her, a sunset was never just a sunset: it was a daily dose of unspeakable beauty and magic. To her, happiness was never just happiness: it was exuberant, all-encompassing joy! To her, sadness was never just sadness: it was a deep feeling of despair, sorrow, and anguish. To her, love was never just love: it was a profound commitment of devotion, adoration, and affection.

To this girl, everything felt big, BIG, BIG.

But the girl quickly learned that few people felt the world like she did and that most people couldn’t understand what it was like to be a Big-Feeling person in a Little-Feeling world.

When she was very young, her big feelings would come out as stubbornness, passion, or exuberance.

“Don’t be too sensitive.” she was told.

“Don’t be so shy.” they said.

“You need to stop crying so much.”

“It’s not a big deal; just get over it.”

So the girl tried her best to hold back her big feelings—she learned that big feelings aren’t appropriate. She learned to be polite and cautious, and giving and passive. She listened to the Little-Feelers and did what they asked of her.

But this got the little girl into trouble. Because when the little girl grew into a bigger girl, she became someone who was always doing what everyone else wanted her to do, instead of taking care of herself.

Soon, some No-Feeling people came along and started to take advantage of her. Since the girl was now used to holding back her enormous feelings and had become so good at ignoring what she wanted or needed, she let these people, the No-Feelers and the Misunderstand-ers, do and say bad things to her for many years. From them she learned that even when she tried her best to be a Little-Feeler, she was still Far Too Much. And that being Far Too Much somehow also meant that she was Never Enough—she went from being a Too-Much-Feeler to a Never-Enough-Feeler.

The girl was taught to be obedient and submissive and quiet. She never knew what the No-Feelers were going to demand of her, or what harsh words they were going to say, but she still wanted to feel something, so she did everything they asked, trying to earn love from those No-Feelers. She gave and she gave and she gave…and eventually she gave so much of herself, that there was hardly anything left.

Then, on a cold, winter’s night, one of the No-Feelers let her down and hurt her badly enough that something inside her shook to life. She finally became aware that the people around her weren’t actually giving her love; that they were selfish, No-Feelers and that she needed to escape from her life with them.

On that night, the girl-now-woman reached deep down inside of herself and found a small piece of the stubborn, passionate, exuberant little girl she used to be. She decided, somehow, that she no longer wanted to be Not Enough. And she put that tiny piece back into its place.

She tried to hold it there carefully, but sometimes she lost it as she fought against the No-Feelers, who refused to let her go. Thankfully, she always found the little piece again and amazingly, this piece, so fragile and nearly forgotten before, began to grow.

Clutching that tiny shred of her childhood, and drawing on the Big Feelings she had found again, the woman was able to get away from all the bad, No-Feeling people she had become entangled with.

Sadly, the damage that the No-Feelers and the Misunderstand-ers had done was so much that the woman still didn’t feel like enough. But she practiced, every day, and she started to learn that there were people who loved her, even though she was a Big-Feeler and even if they weren’t.

The woman kept practicing, still often feeling like a Too-Much-er in a Too-Little world, but also enjoying a reunion with her big feelings. She began to see the sky as infinite shades of blue again. Sunsets and sunrises made her pause with their enchanting beauty. She laughed sometimes and she cried a lot. And she slowly started to embrace being a Big-Feeler, because she had finally realized that she couldn’t change how she felt the world and that she didn’t need to.

xxJ



“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Fear Part 3: Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass

This is instalment 3 of a three-part series on fear. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here and here. I’m looking at how fear affects life in the past, present, and future. In this final post, I’m talking about how fear affects the future and the impact fear of the future has day to day. Thanks for reading! xxJ


I’ve been dreading this post.

Ha ha…

That was funny, right??

It’s also true! The anticipation of completing this discussion about fear, and the very raw and vulnerable feelings it brings up, is not something I’m keen to face.

Which is actually why I’m doing it, ironically enough.

Today, as I’m sitting at my desk with my “Happy Light” turned on full blast, a huge stainless steel bottle full of water next to me, and a completely quiet household (my kids are away with their father for the second half of their spring break), I’m trying to muster the courage to keep talking about my fear.

In my previous posts, I shared that fear is pervasive in my life. Looking at my past and how I feel about it now, and looking at my present circumstances and how fear plays into my daily life, has been challenging and I’ve appreciated the sincere and thoughtful feedback readers of this blog have given me! It’s hard to admit when you’re afraid. It feels like a show of weakness, doesn’t it?

I’ve talked about having an anxiety disorder before and I tend to see my anxiety as an ongoing sense of fear that rises and falls depending on what’s going on in my life. Anxiety to me is about the anticipation of things that haven’t happened yet, whether that means things happening a few minutes from now, or things happening a few decades from now. If you’re not a person with anxiety, then I imagine it must be hard to relate to the idea that someone can live in constant fear, especially if outwardly it appears that they have nothing to be afraid of.

But my worry about the future…my anticipation of stress and difficulties and unmet expectations and disappointments and struggles…is something I battle against in virtually every moment of my life. Even my dreams are full of anxious moments! Unfortunately, my past experience has taught me that I can’t trust the future. And this is what brings the most fear into my life—being unable to predict and feel secure about what comes next (or not feeling secure about my ability to handle whatever comes next) is what fuels my anxiety.

Do you live with anxiety? Do you possess a constant and growing fear of the future? Does this fear drive your anxiety and perpetuate the cycle of fear in your life?

If you live in North America or another “developed” nation (ugh…that’s such a gross term!), then surely you’ve noticed how adept our society is at sensationalizing things and using fear as a tactic to achieve greater political, legal, financial, emotional, or social power. We live in a world of bullies and fearmongers who constantly shove doubt, uncertainty, and discord down our throats.

Add to that the individual experiences of people in abusive relationships, those of us with legitimate mental health issues, people with learning differences, and anyone living in poverty, hunger, or addiction…it creates a terrifying picture and all of us start (or continue) to feel unequipped to even begin to manage the fear that surrounds us.

So what do we do?

Short term? Distract ourselves. We do some yoga, or we eat a snack, or we have a cup of tea, or a beer, or we go for a walk, or watch some TV, and we push our fears about the future aside temporarily.

We need long-term strategies to cope better though! And I think the way to address fear of and in the future long term is one of those things that’s simple but complicated at the same time.

Because the way to address our fears of the future is to face them and model the kinds of behaviour that reduce insecurity and support community and communication. That sounds kind of easy to do! Just be a decent person—don’t spread fear or panic—and say what you want or need, and we can nip this in the bud!

That idea gets holes poked in it by someone like me almost immediately! Like, how the fuck am I as one person, in a sea of billions of other people, who faces significant and highly individual struggles, supposed to enact the level of change required to address our society’s ongoing addiction to keeping people afraid?

Like, how the hell am I supposed to do that? Can anyone do that??

I was talking with a good friend last night. She and I have these amazingly real and vulnerable conversations together and yesterday we talked about how difficult it is to live our best lives because of our personal struggles and what we would have to face or give up in order to “save the world” (so to speak). Trying to face my future fears often feels incredibly hopeless. Just like it feels hopeless to look at the state of our world today and see the potential for positive and responsible change.

BUT

I don’t think that means that I should stop trying.

I don’t think that means that I should give up and let my fear consume me.

I do think that if we as individuals tune into our fears, recognize, and begin to address them, we could see change on a bigger scale.

Every time I get thinking about how I can reduce fear in my life and be a positive and contributing member of society, I come back to only one reasonable course of action: take care of myself as an individual first, so that I can then offer more to those around me and in the wider world.

To me, this means speaking up about my needs and wants. It means ensuring that I have reliable support in my life when I need it. It means educating my children about being empathetic and talking about world issues and how they can be thoughtful and responsible citizens. I means putting what little money I have available into the goods and services that I think are best. It means voting. It means protesting. It means writing authentically here on head/strong!

The “Things that Have Not Yet Come to Pass” aren’t real yet. But the fear that surrounds these things, that creates the fearful anticipation of these things, IS real and has real consequences in our lives. So in the end, addressing our individual fears of the future is, I think, the best and only way to change things for ourselves and for our communities.

If there were a magic button, or pill, or treatment that would help me stop being fearful of the future, I would be first in line to try it. But that’s not reality. Reality is that future fear affects me every day, and I suspect it affects many other people every day too. Be we can acknowledge our fear. We can talk about our fear. We can put things in place so that when we are feeling afraid we have something to fall back on. We can kick future-fear in the ass, even if it’s a fight we have to keep having until our fear is overcome by an authentic sense of security and safeness. I hope for you, as I hope for myself, that that level of security is attainable and that we can keep trying and not let fear be the ultimate winner.

xxJ


Reminder: FEAR IS A LIAR. You got this *fist bump*

Fear Part 2: Things That Are

This is the second instalment in a 3-part series about fear. Throughout the series, I’m breaking fear down and looking at it from the perspective of fear in the past, in the present, and in the future.  If you missed the first post, you can see it here. Thanks for reading!


What does it mean to experience fear in the present?

All the mindfulness advice and chit chat about “being in the present” and “staying in the moment” can feel impossible if you think of the present literally. If you consider that it is fleeting, with every moment moving almost instantly from future to present to past, you’ll never be able to be in the present. But if you think of “the present” more broadly, if you look at it as what you’re currently doing/working on/experiencing over a short span of time (a few minutes, an hour, a day), then I think it becomes easier to understand.

So, if we can all agree that “being in the present” means living in our experiences over a short and immediate amount of time, then we can start to think more about what fear does in that space.

After writing about fear in and of the past last week, I realized that it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to think about fear as something from before or as something that’s yet to come. But, I do want to think about how I can examine fear as I experience it now. What I ended up realizing as I prepared to write this is, that fear in the present isn’t necessarily about living through fearful experiences in the moment—I don’t know anyone who can mindfully examine their fear (or any other feelings) if they’re literally terrified, do you?—I think the key to examining fear in the present is to look at how it affects us from moment to moment.

Ruminating on past feelings, or past experiences of fear, is an example of how fear affects us in the present. This kind of thinking can quickly take over and crowd out things like productivity, confidence, or mindfulness. Likewise, if we spend our time feeling fear over what might yet happen, fear also hijacks the present.

If we’re not living in a situation where fear is a reasonable response (like say, if you lived in an active war-zone or with an abusive partner) but we continue to allow fear to sit at the forefront of our minds, then it sabotages our ability to function. Our fear response of “fight, flight or freeze” should only be stimulated in acute situations, but many of us stay in this kind of stress response for long periods of time and THAT is when fear fucks up our experience of the present!

I grapple with past fear and future fear in almost every moment of every day. Somehow these things can co-exist, even though that doesn’t seem to make sense. My anxiety (which is largely the trepidatious anticipation of the future) and my depression (which is mostly a product of my past experience) are ever-present, which means that fear persists throughout my daily life.

Being fearful in the present means that all my actions are affected by my fear. This sounds like a terrible way to make decisions, but there’s some benefit to keeping scary past experiences and apprehensive future possibilities in mind when deciding things.

Remember that bit on “Animaniacs”, the one called “Good Idea/Bad Idea”? I keep thinking about it as I’m writing this. Mr. Skullhead usually only had to grapple with things like: “Good idea? Stopping to smell the roses. Bad idea? Stopping to feel the roses.”


Classic Mr. Skullhead.

In real life, though, the consequences of fear can be much more serious.

Like, it’s a good idea to sign your kids up for swimming lessons and keep a close eye on them at the beach so they stay safe in the water. But it’s a bad idea to never go to pools and beaches altogether because of the remote possibility that your children might drown, even in shallow water.

Or, it’s a good idea to not climb into the leopard enclosure at your local zoo, but it’d be a bad idea if your fear of a leopard attack kept you from even looking at them from a safe distance with a barrier in place!

Or what about these:

Good idea? Not leaving a party with a stranger.

Bad idea? Not going out at all because you’re afraid that everyone will try to kidnap you.


Good idea? Taking a cab or staying home when you know you’ve had too much to drink or if you’re high.

Bad idea? Not driving anywhere, anytime because you’re too afraid that you might get in an accident even just popping out to get some milk.


Good idea? Letting your daughter stay home from school when her tummy is upset.

Bad idea? Taking your daughter to the hospital every time her tummy is upset because you’re terrified it might be appendicitis or a perforated ulcer or Cholera or Dysentery or cancer or…or…or…


When I’m in a bubble of fear…okay, maybe it’s less of a bubble and more of a vise-grip with razor sharp edges or some other horrible torture device…when I’m deep in the grips of fear, I really do get stuck there: fear becomes my present and my present becomes entirely obscured by my fear.

I lived like that for many years and it was awful.

It was worse than awful, actually! And I’d never want to go back to living in survival mode again! But I know that lots of people do live like that! Lots of people remain in bad situations or continue to make bad choices because they’re so deeply ensnared by their fear, no matter how irrational or ridiculous it may be. My fear kept me in unsafe and unhealthy spaces (both mentally and physically) for well over a decade. It’s not an easy thing to overcome.

So on one hand, fear helps keep us safe—it protects us and warns us and sometimes, we really need it. But our response to fear can be unhealthy and I think the biggest thing to consider when talking about fear in the present is that we have to tread lightly along the line between being too fearful and just fearful enough.

Because of my past experience and all of the counselling and learning I’ve done in the last few years, I now spend a lot of my mental energy checking in with myself to make sure that I’m thinking about and doing things rationally and responsibly. Using tactics like The Bizarro World Technique , creating Positive Belief Records, spending time outdoors, doing some physical activity, or simply pausing for a moment and turning towards my feelings are all things that help release me from the clutches of my fear.

I say “release” a bit hesitantly, actually. It’s more like “lessen” or “diminish” because fear still never completely leaves me. Or, if I work through it for one issue, it pops right back up for another one, so there’s this ongoing amount of effort I have to exert to keep it in check. As an abuse survivor and a person with mental illness, I continue to have to practice relieving myself of fear and trusting not only myself, but others, to keep me safe.

Remember, fear is a hungry bitch and likes to be fed! So I try to tame her growling stomach by feeding myself hope and love and awareness and mindfulness. I throw shitty thoughts into Bizarro Land or I take a break and check in with someone I trust. I search for moments with people whom I feel secure around and try to relish moments of relaxation, no matter how rare those are. I aim to follow the clichéd advice of trying to conquer my fear without letting fear conquer me, but I do it thoughtfully and with a mild amount of skepticism about following anything that pops up on a Pinterest board or Instagram feed.

Does fear continue to run your daily life? What do you do to help work through it in the day-to-day?


Next week, I look at how fear in and of the future plays into our lives. ‘Cause I seem to know a helluva lot about what that feels like and may have a thing or two to say about it.

Til next Sunday, keep kickin’ ass. Keep punching fear in the face.

xxJ


Another way to put fear in its place? Keep a “Brave Camoll” nearby. Because if you can’t be brave, at least he’s got your back.

Fear Part 1: Things That Were

This is the first instalment of a three-part series about fear. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to break fear down using the past, present, and future. I want to explore how fear affects our lives and what strategies we can use to cope with it. Also, which strategies suuuuuuuuuuck and are super unhelpful, because that’s important to know too. So enjoy! (Or don’t? I’m not going to tell you how to feel, but like, I hope you like it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!)



LOTR for life! Also, a frighteningly accurate depiction of anxiety.

Fear is a bitch.

It’s true! Fear is the worst.

I suspect that fear is the culprit behind the vast majority of the struggles people have with just about everything. Anger, sadness, embarrassment, resentment, judgement, ego, narcissism—you name it, I think fear is the root cause.

Fear has been and continues to be a big part of my own life, playing a starring role in the abuse I experienced and feeding into the mental health struggles I continue to have.

So I want to break fear down; I want to dissect it into parts and try to look at the different ways fear plays into my life and the lives of others. Today, I’m starting by looking at fear in the past. And also fear of the past, which I think is an important distinction.

Little bit of a story time:

I vividly remember moments of intense fear in my childhood. Moments like being three years old and waking up in the hospital post-tonsil removal surgery, likely drugged up, and completely terrified because I had no idea where I was, I was freezing cold, and I had no one with me.

I remember at age five, waking up from a nightmare where I imagined that my mother’s head fell off, which was a terrifying and visceral experience for me at that age!

I remember being ten and hiking in the mountains with my family on a trip to the west coast of Canada. I decided to walk atop the raised barrier guiding us along the path and protecting us from literally falling off the edge of a mountain. I tripped and fell, only to be caught in one of those slow-motion-like moments where it’s as if you can watch yourself in a weird, suspended reality but are actually helpless to stop whatever bad thing is happening. As a child, that fall seemed terrifying; I’m not sure if it actually was, but I do remember the intense relief I felt when a woman on the path below caught me and stopped my descent down the mountainside.

So clearly fear has been a companion for most of my life. I’m sure all of you could also think of fearful experiences from your childhood. These would be moments that stand out in your life, either reminding you to be grateful for your health or your loved ones, or leaving you with physical or emotional scars as a testament to the scary shit you went through.

Research tells us that young children need moments of failure, risk, and yes, fear, in order to develop skills like resilience, self-awareness, coordination, problem solving, and grit. It makes sense, right? But in a healthy, typical upbringing, fear should sit at a level where it offers at most a strong warning about the dangers of not being careful, or brings home  the reality of the “real” world so that we learn to be smarter.

To me, anxiety is really just a manifestation of fear; it’s a prolonged sense of being afraid that ebbs and flows to an extent, but can also become a part of daily living.

As I grew out of my kid-years, fear became a stronger presence in my life. I coped by turning against myself inwardly, while pushing myself to appear confident and strong outwardly. I’m not saying that fear was the only thing present in my life as I grew up—not at all! I felt joy and excitement and all kinds of other feelings! But fear was always lurking in the background, sometimes taking centre stage, and ultimately leading me into bad relationships with hurtful people that set me up with the life I now find myself in.

The scary moments in my childhood did little to prepare me for what it would be like to live in fear on a daily basis. In fact, those experiences I just described, and the other, similar ones I had as a kid, say nothing of the anxiety that became my companion over those childhood years and truly manifested in my adolescence and young adulthood.

To me, anxiety is really just a manifestation of fear; it’s a prolonged sense of being afraid that ebbs and flows to an extent, but has ultimately become a part of daily living.

I think fear is what allowed me to be victimized. Fear kept my mouth shut when I should have spoken up. Fear let me be vulnerable to the wrong people. Fear made me a perfectionist. It told me I wasn’t good enough. It said that I was ugly. Stupid. Too sensitive. Too emotional. Fear stole my self-confidence and pushed me to strain against it and keep pushing until I burned myself out.

Pretty much, fear made me it’s bitch.

Sound relatable?

This brings me to thinking about my fear of the past. I’m sincerely afraid to delve into my past because I fear being brought back to the deep, dark chapters of my life, when despair and hopelessness were the most pervasive feelings I had. As someone who has been suicidal, manic, and everything in between, there are just too many times that I shudder to bring up. It’s physically painful to think about these memories; I’m not kidding! Every time I post something here about my past, every time I talk with a counsellor, every time I see a baby photo of my kids, or I come across something that reminds me of my marriage or my wedding, or even things like high school or that ridiculous childhood dream about my mother’s head falling off, I have an emphatic response that zooms me right back to that moment and I feel it as if it’s happening all over again. It takes hours, or more often days, to move beyond those feelings.

So what do I do about it? What can you do about it when you start down that rabbit hole of reliving your worst moments and memories?

Well, oftentimes the best strategy I have is to distract myself from it. Short-term, distraction is a great tool for preventing you from following that White Rabbit into Wonderland. But it’s not a great long-term solution. Long-term, I’ve learned that I need to devote more energy and time into acknowledging those moments of struggle so that they become easier to face. I’ve had counsellors describe this approach as “turning towards” your feelings, or “looking at them with detachment.” You could even suggest it’s a type of exposure therapy. However you want to describe it, turning to look your fears in the face can be a powerful strategy in learning to manage them and move past them in order to lessen their grip on your life.

Sometimes, we can choose to look back at painful things and this can be an empowering way to re-frame the experience of reliving difficult or scary moments from our memories. But sometimes our fears from the past get triggered unexpectedly. Someone says or does something, or you see a movie or hear a song, or smell or taste something familiar and it brings you right back to that awful, terrifying moment. These are the hardest occurrences of fear to manage. They jump out at you like high school kids at a tacky Halloween haunted house fundraiser. It doesn’t matter that they are ridiculous; what matters is that they still scare the shit out of you!

Why is it so damn hard to face our fears of the past?!

Because fear is a strong, mother-fucking beast! That’s why it’s so hard! And that’s why I can’t say everything I want to say about it in just one post. So I’ll stop here for today and ask you to look for another instalment next week. Until then, I’m going to try and imagine that you’re out there, kicking fear in the ass and, if even only for a moment, or only in a very small way, you’re recognizing your strength and your resilience and continuing through the fear. Remember, the scary stuff in that haunted house is all just smoke, mirrors, and a gawky teenaged kid in a Jason mask.

xxJ