Fear Itself

In his inaugural speech, in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt said “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” He spoke to a nation of people who’d had time to allow fear to spread wide and sink deep – and that is when fear is most dangerous. When it has time to nest and breed in the heart and in the mind.

I was talking with a friend yesterday … or perhaps the day before … and we brought up this quote and talked about fear having no actual reality. I was pretty convincing, if I do say so myself – gesturing to make my point that if you are willing to walk up to the wall that fear can create in your life – and then keep walking – it will dissipate.

tiger-500118_1920Let me acknowledge that there are many fears based in reality. We have a fear system – alarm! alarm! alarm! – in place to keep us safe from lions, and tigers, and bears – oh my!

This ancient, hard-wired system is still valid. To know and respect this fear will keep us safe, and to refuse to acknowledge it puts us in grave danger. I know from the experiences of those who have chosen to turn away from that natural alarm system, to ignore both intuition and common sense, and walk into harm with eyes wide shut.


Beyond fears based on the reality of the situation, there are too many fears based on nothing but fear. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of the unknown. There is no immediate or even potential danger – there is no real risk. But fear does raise its familiar face when we attempt to step out of the familiar patterns of our lives. Many people were concerned about my drive across the country by myself. As if there was something to fear. Many people were concerned about my finding work, home, friends, a future in a place that neither they nor I had ever been. As if there were something to fear.

These fears are opportunities to discover where we need to grow, they are places that we can choose to explore, befriend, and shift from fear into empowerment.


And then … there are the fears that could be real .. and might not … and you just don’t know.

A part of my journey ‘into the west’ was a journey away from illness and toward health. It was a remarkable journey, for me, and I’ve written about it enough in the past that I won’t bore you with it again. But, I have moved through each day over the past almost-year now with deep gratitude for the symptoms of illness that were leaving my life so completely – and for the health that was growing within me.

After fifteen years of pain and exhaustion and feeling like absolute crap every single day – after three major surgeries and two minor ones – this past year has been nothing short of a miracle. And like those bumper stickers suggest, I’ve come to expect miracles.

dance-806834_1920So the past week, when the tide of pain began to rise, I was fine. I know pain … I know how to move with it and how to let it move through me. We’ve developed a dance and we both know the steps and I expected that within a few days, once the damp and chill weather moved on – I would be fine.

But today, the pain, which has visited from time to time over the past year, was joined by a deep fatigue that I have not experienced once since I’ve been here. And I have been afraid. Is this a fear based on a reality? Well, it’s based on experience in my past. There is no way for me to know how long this flare will last and how strong it will become. However, I can choose to continue to expect miracles.

I know that when I begin to experience my own personal ‘great depression’, if I don’t take the time and make the effort, fear will nest and spread and my ability to recover is even more depleted than my energy. I know that there is also the reality that I made choices and took steps last summer which created the physical environment for me to heal quickly and pretty thoroughly. I know that this reality is just as valid as the other one.

Today, I tried to turn away from the reality of the moment. I tried to push myself into activities that I wasn’t capable of doing. I found myself forced to rest, to sleep, to move slowly, slowly, slowly through my day. I sat on the floor and wept and grieved. Then I got up, dusted myself off, and moved on.

The next days will be gentle, easy ones for me. I won’t be attempting to train myself to climb mountains – but I will attempt to take gentle, easy walks in the fresh air. I am so grateful that my work this summer is all free-lance and I can do it from home, for the most part. I can choose to work at a pace where I continue to feel active and involved, because I know how important that is for me, and I can choose to be thoughtful about when and how long I engage in any activity.

Today – I danced with fear itself. I found it to be a familiar partner, and one that was part real and part illusion and somehow, in the end, it was all me.

From my archives: 5/26/2008


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Jean-Frederic Fortier

3 thoughts on “Fear Itself

  1. Milly Schmidt says:

    There’s this book called ‘The Wind Singer’ by William Nicholson, where one of the characters doesn’t experience fear, except when there is a direct threat to his physical body. The protagonist simply couldn’t understand this character’s lack of fear. He explained by saying “why should I be afraid of something that hasn’t even happening to me yet?” I remember trying SO HARD to get into this character’s mind set so I would no longer have to be afraid hahaha.

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