Taken by the hubster on the Maine coast
Intense cold is scary to me, but then so many things are. Over the last couple of decades, one of agoraphobia’s many little gifts has been to heighten my awareness of much of the danger out there that I never would have noticed before.
It’s made me conscious (sometimes paralyzingly so) of how unbelievably fragile all this is.
Before the fear came I used to live in a luxurious world where I could still take what I have and love for granted by just assuming that everything would last. But that sense of safety is long gone. In it’s place came the (existential and largely useless) knowledge that every breath, every desire, every heartbeat, every moment of touch or warmth or joy is actually teetering on a razor’s edge above a chasm of eventual loss, and the sheer size of the realization started causing a kind of perpetual, emotional vertigo.
On the inside I started dropping to the ground, squeezing my eyes shut, and white-knuckling onto anything that felt even remotely stable. On the outside it became increasingly difficult to leave the house. Needless to say, the change wreaked some widespread havoc on my daily routines and commitments, but life has a way of incorporating even the more difficult things and, with enough time and practice, I eventually began to get the hang of the swings.
On our recent trip up to the cabin during a winter storm and cold snap, as usual, I was obsessively clear on how vulnerable we were. There the hubster and I were, driving along through the mountains, nothing but the thin walls of the car and a working engine standing between us and exposure, hypothermia, or worse. I was acutely aware of what a flimsy, fragile bubble it was, carrying us along through a hundred miles of frigid landscape, and in all honesty even once we got up to the cabin I didn’t feel that much more secure.
All the necessities were laid in of course (because being afraid all the time makes one a stellar planner.) We had water, food, firewood, tools and supplies, warm clothing, everything we needed to secure our survival. But even so I knew that if something went wrong, something as simple as a power outage coupled with a broken window during a storm, a whoops! moment with the axe, a snowshoeing misstep, or some bad food, things could get complicated in a hurry.
Ordinarily, there’s a fantastic and really helpful illusion that says, given enough effort and planning and control, life can somehow be made secure. Unfortunately, I can’t access that illusion any more.
(Why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?)
While even I know that some activities are less dangerous than others, still, I can’t shake the reality that there will never be such a thing as completely harm-proof or hurt-proof or loss-proof or safe.
Knowing this mostly scares the bejeezus out of me and make me want to withdraw. But then I remember this quote from Helen Keller:
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. I love that. I love that Helen Keller said it, this other woman who also lived with a challenge that made it harder to navigate life. It’s like a mantra that helps me find a way out of the holes I fall into, a rope tied around my waist so I can never completely disappear. Living with the perennial tug of agoraphobia as I do, it’s so easy to get sucked down into the creeping paralysis of chronic fear again, to wind up curled in a ball back in the bedroom, or frozen for hours at the front door just staring at the handle.
It just seems so weird sometimes, how somebody as naturally adventurous as I am could wind up grappling with such an odd and opposite kind of illness.
For me, learning how to live with chronic fear has felt like learning how to live on a schooner. It’s different from living on land. The surface beneath my feet heaves and plunges and rolls now in a way it never did before, and I’ve had to develop my sea legs in order to keep from being tossed off and battered and drowned. But over time I’ve gotten better at the shifting balance, learned how to read a horizon that’s constantly rising and falling, rhythmic and grinding, as the level of my daily fear ebbs and flows. Gotten better at reminding myself every day, every hour…every minute sometimes…to try to relax and just roll with it. To take a deep breath, then stand up next to my fear and hang onto it’s hand for dear life, rather than letting it run around crazy consuming everything I love.
I’ve gotten better (while I’m oh-so busily preparing for the the end of the world) at remembering, oh yeah! Of course it’s terrifying. Life is a daring adventure or nothing.
Which makes it a little easier, each time, to face forward, lean into the wind, and let myself either fall or fly.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn