Two weeks ago, I was confronted by my single biggest fear: losing my health insurance. Just the thought of it, now, after the moment has passed, makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

I was fired, but then not fired, and then returned to work, and it’s been all sorts of crazy.  My first thought when I was told I was being fired was, “This is bullshit.” My second thought was “Oh my God, my insurance!”

This was a Wednesday. My insurance was good through the following Saturday.

I have the most horrific angry-cry of anyone I’ve ever known. I cry when I’m angry. And it’s so very, very ugly.  I can’t breathe. Any makeup I have smears, and my face screws up in some horrific beast-like visage.

Minus the orgiastic swimming pool

The woman from HR was telling me about my termination, and I was doing math in my head. Well, Enbrel is about $2500/month without insurance. Rasuvo is about $500. I have x many doses left. But the Synthroid, and the lah-dee-dah…

My anger gave way to fear, and I drove home in a daze, adding up imaginary numbers because I didn’t know how much Synthroid costs without insurance. I didn’t know the price of other medications.

Once upon a time, probably in another dimension, certainly in another life, I wrote a blog post entitled “Cure Fear Now.

I didn’t remember much of it other than the catchy title (I’m a big fan of cool titles); instead years later, I’m left with merely the feeling of ebbing ego as I thought I had managed to purge myself of my fears, in essence curing them.

As if fear were a disease I could rid myself of.

What if fear, instead of being like an abscessed tooth, something to be rid of and remedied through antibiotics, were more like an autoimmune disease? Beyond the concept—at least for now—of eradication and cure? Something that, as of now, cannot be cured but only managed?

“Conquer your fear,” positive people selling positive books through positive Facebook ads tell you, as if it were a single enemy that could be managed by simply capturing their flag.

As if fear were a single enemy, a single terrible enemy with a single terrible goal to make our lives more miserable.

 

                           As if. 

 

But that can’t be right, can it? Fear serves a valid purpose. It sparks caution and care; it provides warning and wariness. It’s the warning system that tells us that something isn’t quite right.

Pain has purpose just as fear does.

Without pain, we would put our hands on the hot stove and do definite damage. We wouldn’t know when our teeth were abscessed, when our body has reached its limit, or that an bone has been broken. Without fear, we would walk into traffic, attempt to leap tall buildings, and do all sorts of crazy stuff that could have dire consequences.

Perhaps pain and fear are friends. They certainly serve us.

What if, instead of treating pain and fear as enemies, we actually treated them as friends? Uncouth, ill-behaved and narcissistic friends, but friends nonetheless?

What if we could unwrap the tangled rudeness of our fear and pain, thanking them for their assistance, yet giving them some etiquette and manners lessons and telling them to settle the fuck down?

What if we treated them more like mystical beasts and approached them with curiosity yet caution? “Come here, you gorgeous beast, you,” we could say, perhaps in the voice of the Tenth Doctor. We could put on our glasses, avoid the paralyzing tentacles, and actually get to know it?

Maybe we could find the pain behind the pain and the fear behind the fear.

Funny thing I’ve discovered: the feeling is rarely the feeling. Or rather, the source of the feeling is rarely the actual source of the feeling. When I’m angry, there is always a driving force behind my anger at the current target. It is rarely, if ever, truly about the person I’m angry with. But that’s something I only discover after the moment. Seldom do I think, in the moment, “Hey, I’m merely annoyed at you, I’m really angry at someone else who did the same thing.”

When I’m afraid, same thing. And pain—well, that’s a weird one. Pain actually happens in the brain, although we feel it in our smarting part. While it may seem like it’s in our fingers or our feet or our shoulders, it’s a process that actually ends in the brain. The inflammation strikes a certain place, screaming and yelling, and the nerves relay those messages to our brains.

If only we could make our brains stop hurting. 

Pain and anger and fear always have a cause, and sometimes that cause is not what it appears to be.

There is so much pain and fear these days. Especially these days. Is there more than yesterday? I have no idea. A year ago? Probably.

What I do know is that if I try to suppress them, deny their existence, it’s like taking steroids: perhaps I’ll feel better in the short term, but there’s always a price to pay later.

Because pain and fear always multiply. They always multiply. They become infectious, tainting oh-so-many facets of our lives. They create a cycle: One speck of pain or fear becomes two, becomes four, becomes eight, and we’re left drowning in our ever-expanding sea of pain and fear, which then creates the fear of drowning which then becomes two new fears, becoming four, becoming eight.

And we become paralyzed. Unable to think, unable to function due to high level pain and fear. And suddenly, we’re judges, passing down sentences for the crime of being hurt or afraid.

“You’d think we’d have some compassion for ourselves, bound up in emotional chains the way we are, but we don’t. We’re just disgusted with ourselves because we think we should be better by now. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.”

        Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

Maybe instead of planting a flag, we should plant a flower. “Thanks for your assistance; here, have a flower,” we could tell it, “but you need to settle the fuck down. Cause I appreciate what you’re showing me, but I got shit to do.”

Tell them we appreciate their warning, but we will not become paralyzed by them.

We have to cut through the pain and fear and anger in order to think. Just to think.

Because we can’t think if we’re suffocating, we can’t think if we’re buried in them.

I’ve heard that everything can be a teacher if we allow it to be. Everyone, too, for that matter.  Is there a lesson to be learned in pain? In anger? In fear?

I wouldn’t go so far to say “Everything happens for a reason,” but is it possible to skew our perspective, see things from a different angle?

Is it possible to learn something new from our old fears and pains and angers?

Perhaps fear and pain are like autoimmune diseases: we can manage our symptoms some of the time—maybe even most of the time. Until there is a cure, we must hope for remission and make the most of it.

Maybe that’s the only lesson they offer.

But then again, maybe not.

But I think it’s worth exploring.

[Image Credit: Ezzie Izzard via Pinterest

Doctor Horrible via Reddit

Tim Curry via Rocky Horror Picture Show]

Fear as an Autoimmune Disease

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