For the last ten years or so, if I’m scared of something, I run toward it at top speed. Top speed for me, that is, which equates to that of a hedgehog with bad knees trying to run through beach sand. Do hedgehogs have knees?
Well, there are exceptions to that first statement, and bears are one of them. There is video footage out there of a young grizzly bear that my best friend Barb spotted just off the trail while we were hiking, years ago, in Glacier Park, Montana.
My voice can be heard in the background saying, “Barb… Barb! That’s a bear, you’re supposed to be going THIS way!” and when she swung her cellphone around to get me in camera range, I’m walking backwards away from her, along with our other friend, who also had the sense to back away. Then Barb went back to filming the bear.
If it had been a wolf, on the other hand, she would have left footprints on me or anyone else in the way as she headed for the car. Ask her why she’s scared of wolves, and she’ll tell you bears just want to be left alone, but wolves look at you as lunch. Or an appetizer, if you’re small. However, since 2000, there have been 45 humans killed by bears in North America, and only two by wolves. Fears aren’t always rational.
The reasons for our fears also aren’t always apparent, but we can sometimes figure it out when we start looking back.
For instance, I was extremely obese most of my adult life, up until I was 45 years old. And I most likely got that way because I was afraid. The 20-20 vision that hindsight brings shows it was probably a protective mechanism to keep me safe from my father, my abuser while I was growing up. The abuse began when I was 14, and I left home at 17.
He died when I was 44. Shortly afterward, I finally shed my security blanket of fat after undergoing a gastric bypass. Before that, I spent nearly 30 years in a prison built of fear, a prison of my own making. During that time, I never, ever asked myself why I was heavy. I just gained weight, dieted, and gained some more.
Fear also drives good decisions, because the other half of deciding to have the surgery was my mother’s heart issues. She had her first heart attack at the age of 51—not coincidentally at all, she had it the day after she left my father for good. She lived another 20 years because she lost the weight, got active, and got the care she needed—and I knew, if I didn’t lose the weight, a heart attack was in my future as well.
Everything cascaded out of that decision, most especially my need to run directly toward my fears, arms wide open, and embrace them instead of letting them rule me.
For instance, I was afraid of flying. Well, actually, I was afraid of takeoffs and landings—the flying part didn’t bother me a bit. So, when I’d lost about half my body weight, I became a flight attendant. A sky waitress. A silver cart tart.
However you wish to refer to the cabin crew (and I would not use the last two in front of a flight attendant, by the way), becoming one will cure you of aviophobia. Unfortunately, it pays almost nothing, so I couldn’t make a living at it. Now I avoid flying, not out of fear, just hate the hassle and expense compared to driving.
That first decision also led me to pull the plug on my first marriage, and that is actually how I ended up here, back in Texas. Seven years ago this June, I married the love of my life here, and he brought with him two amazing people who call me “Mom.”
Thinking back to that beginning, and my bear scare, even if I hadn’t been backpedaling for all I was worth, the bear might not have attacked—but it might have. Some fears really are reasonable. A lack of rational fear would have you petting some grizzly bear on the side of the trail while it tried to gnaw your arm off. Not a good thing.
But I’m thinking out loud irrational fears can imprison you.
Maybe it’s time to ask yourself, if the thing you fear was to actually occur, then, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
But don’t forget to ask yourself, “What’s the best that could possibly happen?”
Because sometimes it does.
Lisa C Hannon’s email is email@example.com. She lives and writes in West Texas.