Fears aren’t facts.
This is a concept that I have been conciously grappling with for the past few months. Or, not grappling with per se (it makes perfect sense, on paper)! but really struggling to remember, and to adhere to, at my core.
Stressed. Anxious. Worried. How many of us are all too familiar with these sensations? I sure am. The past few months have been full of stress over my thesis, my future direction, concerns re: family and friends, anxiety surrounding my health and body… This past June I had my first conference as a Master student and I had such worry over returning to Vancouver for it, nearly 2 years to the day since I had moved away (more on that in a minute).
…I can get wrapped up in my worries and carried away. I can wind up so far down some twisty road that it is all I can do to find my way back. You know when Harry Potter tries to get to Diagon Alley but ends up in a cupboard in Knockturn Alley — a noxious, stale, depraved place? It feels something like that. Alone, disoriented and stuck in a small, dark space.
This is where the question of fear vs. fact has really started to help me (that is, when I can manage to think logically and detach myself from the overwhelm of feeling). Is this a fear of mine, or an actual fact? Do I have proof? Recognizing when a worry or stressor stems from fear, suspicion or assumption, rather than clear fact can be a useful tool in easing my mind and finding my way out of that vanishing cabinet in Borgin and Burkes.
For example: I was nervous about that trip to Vancouver because when I was last there, I was incredibly unhappy (although not self-aware enough to realize it until I moved back home and was met by unanimous shock and concern). I used obsessive exercise to distract myself from uncomfortable feelings of pain. I was living with a roommate, previously a best friend, who had seemingly –bafflingly– grown to hate me. I left, thinking no one would miss me–so why stay? In the two years since that time, so much has changed–including about a decade of overdue self-reflection and healing. Still, I was afraid. I feared that I would somehow be transported back in time and find myself vulnerable, insecure and miserable once again.
Fact or fear? Fact: I was unhappy the last time I was in Vancouver. Fact: I believed my friends no longer liked me — or feared they tolerated me, but liked me less than our other friends. Fact: I was living in Vancouver, finishing a degree, experiencing confusing, difficult relationship choices. …Fact: That is not this. Then is not now. Fact: I have evolved from the person/state I once was.
In essence, none of my fears were founded in any sort of fact or truth…they were just fears (“just”). And when I did find myself in Vancouver again, nervous but determined…I was wonderfully surprised by how pleasant it was to be back after so long. I had left on a bad note, but there had also been highs during my four years there. Good memories, previously clouded by a bitter taste in my mouth, slowly found their way back into my mind. Above all, I was gratified by the old friends who went out of their way to see me…because guess what? My fear that they didn’t like me? It was a fear. No one had told me “I don’t like you.” (Okay, that one roommate, but it was fear that let that single relationship poison my view of my other friendships, and of myself).
Now, on a near weekly basis, I am beginning to uncover fears I have treated as fact. For the past 18 months I have been haunted, over and over, by a fear that people dear to me no longer wish to spend time with me–or more accurately, dislike my company because they did (and perhaps continue to) view me as mentally and physically ill. Which I was. About 18 months ago. Yet even as I made huge strides in my health in the time since then, I persisted in imagining myself through others’ eyes — close friends, ex-lovers, even family (my biggest supporters) — and seeing only sickness. Anytime anyone would fail to answer a text or a call, or be unavailable to see me, this story became more and more cemented. Honestly, I cannot count the number of times or people with which this fear reared its ugly head. Yet I had no proof. I never once asked anyone if it were true. Slowly, now I am learning finally to see these stories for what many of them are: fiction. Or to use another Harry Potter reference: a bogart, pretending to be a dementor.
A pretty smart friend (okay, my therapist)! once told me that if I can change something, then change it, and stop worrying about it. And if I can’t? Well, worrying won’t help. My fact vs. fear analysis is something like that. So often now I am finding that the source of my stress or perceived unhappiness is not fact-based at all — and that realization helps free, however slightly, me from the tight grasp of those harmful emotions. Only this week, my Mother reminded me of a Chinese fortune cookie “fortune” I received three times as a child (which is about as many times as we ate Chinese food, since we rarely ever ate out or ordered in): Never trouble trouble ’til trouble troubles you. Perhaps the “fates” were trying to warn me away from becoming the ball of stress that I ultimately did become. Today though, I will continue to question: fact vs. fear? I cannot so easily stop the worry or the instinctual emotions (aka this habit of “troubling trouble” of mine), but I can address and alter my thoughts. I can recognize that there is no proof that two weeks away from my yoga studio will render me too inflexible to perform kapotasana….and I can subsequently choose, deliberately, to let that worry go. (Spoiler: I tested this one and my kapotasana might actually have improved from the rest! Funny how life turns out sometimes).
Fear: Cho Chang will say no if you ask her to the Yule Ball. Fact: You have no idea. And if you’d only asked before Cedric…who knows?
Fact or fear. What fears are you feeding yourself, disguised as fact?