This is the third blog post in my series “A Year Without Fear.” The theme of this blog series has generated a lot of talk, and a little bit of controversy. The comments went something like this:
“Can we really live completely without fear?” …“Should we even try to live without fear?” …“Can’t fear be a good thing, even though we don’t like it?” …“Isn’t it the fear that reminds us we’re all human?”
I suppose what I mean when I reference irrational fear is really the feeling of anxiety about things over which we have little control. When we’re anxious, we’re afraid—we may be afraid of being rejected, afraid of losing a loved one, afraid of losing our job, afraid of being found out in some way that makes us feel unlovable. We may feel afraid and anxious and have no idea of the cause.
I have a beach cove I go to when I need some Zen time or a quiet place to write. It’s a beautiful part of Laguna Beach, my home for the past two years. It’s generally unknown to tourists, hidden away down a long path and a steep flight of stairs. There are shallow caves along the back of the cove that provide some protection from the sun in the summer, and in the winter make for some great little writing spots.
That’s where I am right now—tucked away in a shallow beach cave, writing, listening to the crashing waves inch closer to me as the tide creeps in. I have other favorite writing spots too, but I come here when I’m having an off day, which for me means a day dealing with unchecked fear and anxiety.
by Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
It may come as a surprise to some of you that I struggle with fear, but I do. Let me clarify that—I struggle with irrational fear. Some fear is good. Fear keeps me from taking a shortcut down a dark alley at night, from going into basements when I hear creepy noises, and from jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Rational fear is not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about the what if fears.
The what if I never get tenure and lose my job fear. The what if I run out of money and become homeless fear. The what if I get cancer fear. The what if something bad happens to my son fear. The what if I make another bad decision in a relationship fear (which is closely related to the what if I die alone fear). And my most frequent fear visitor, the what if I take a huge risk in my quest for a meaningful and relevant life and fall squarely on my face fear.
These are the types of fears that I have far too often awakened to , with a rapidly beating heart and quick breath, mind racing, before my logical brain steps in to rationalize them away.
I have been told how nice I am my entire life. This is usually a great compliment to me. I love it when people tell me I'm nice, because I am nice. In fact, throughout my life I've tried my best to be kind, caring, empathetic and helpful to just about everyone I meet. These qualities are the bedrock on which much of my identity is based.
I have learned over the years though that "nice" is good, but "too nice" is not. "Too nice" is the person who doesn't like to ruffle feathers. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to set boundaries. "Too nice" is the person who is afraid to say no. "Too nice" is the person who I used to be (and still am, sometimes).
When I reflect back on my life and my various relationships -- with men, with friends, with family, and even with some co-workers, I can now see how being "too nice" was my way of ...
Aging can be difficult, even for the most hardy. Our hair follicles die, our bodies ache, and our skin sags. A few weeks ago I went to a concert and had to stand for five hours and my feet still hurt (and so does my left hip). And recently I've noticed I have to be very careful with my chin placement, especially in photos (it's either that or demand Photoshop rights from all of my friends and family), because if I don't, my once proud chin collapses into a series of smaller, less proud "chins," sliding right into my neck.
Aging can be difficult for everyone, but I think it's particularly difficult for women. Of course, many middle-aged men struggle with aging as well, but I do think middle-aged women have it worse. Maybe I believe this because I'm a woman, but I really do believe this.
Women experience more pressure to remain youthful, both in physical appearance and spirit. We may be well into the newest millennium, but men still have the advantage of more vocational opportunities, greater personal freedoms, fewer social stigmas, more mentoring opportunities, and more social outlets than women.
Society dictates that women are pretty much washed up by the time they're 50, and if we have the "misfortune" of being single, well then, forget it. In fact, a 1986 Newsweek article entitled "The Marriage Crunch" coined a phrase that may forever be cemented in the minds of anxious middle-aged single women everywhere, when it satirically sounded the dire warning that a never-married, college-educated woman over 40 was more likely to be "killed by a terrorist" than get married.
I've been thinking a lot about New Year's resolutions, and why they are so hard to achieve. And this led me to thinking about why change is so hard, and how most of us have a vision of how we'd like our lives to be, how we'd like to change, what we want to become, but for whatever reason, we can't seem to get there, at least not completely.And then that got me to thinking about why the actual process of change is so unsettling, particularly for those of us in midlife and beyond. What keeps us rooted in place, rather than forging ahead, despite our deep desire for change?
Today I had a fight with God when I was driving in my car. Well, I don't really call God God anymore, now that I no longer follow a traditional religious path, so in reality, I yelled at God-Universe-Higher-Power-Guardian-Angel (and yes, I'm still trying out different names). But that's not really important to this story. What's important is the fact that I yelled and I yelled (and thank god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel for Bluetooth, so other people on the road would just think I was yelling at someone on the phone).
You see, I'm on a journey in search of my heart-career. It's an exciting experience, filled with joy, wonder and meaning. But I've also experienced some suffering lately, because I'm in a holding pattern, waiting for god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel only knows what. I hate limbo and I get really impatient when I have to wait too long. Normally I do a great job of holding it all inside. In fact, typically I appear quite stoic in the face of suffering. But every so often, I get overwhelmed with negative thinking, and I begin to feel impatient because I'm really putting myself out there in a number of ways, and not much is happening, and I'm 54, and time is ticking, and that makes me angry. It also makes me afraid.
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This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer masks and a lot more fun.