“Being aware of your fears will improve your life,” the fortune cookie reads.
That’s probably true. I feel, lately, there is something off, deep-seeded in my core operating system. Like a computer virus, downloaded surreptitiously with a Game of Thrones torrent.
Symptoms of the hack include minor self-destruction: relentless picking, biting, and chewing. I gnaw on a fleshy spot behind my lip when I’m concentrated in thought. My finger nails are jagged, no strangers from my munching. There are red mounds on my scalp, where I dig welts that scab over, creating temples of reprieve which I can later tear off, triggering surges of dopamine to my brain.
“Stop picking, T,” is the phrase I hear most from my boyfriend K’s lips.
What is wrong with me? Surely, if I’m subconsciously hurting myself, something isn’t kosher deep down. Maybe I should adhere to the fortune cookie’s advice. Practice awareness of my fears, I decide.
Turns out, I’m scared of most things.
I’m not quite an agoraphobe, but I often hide away like a hermit. I work from home, so it’s simple to avoid the public. I lull in the comfort of four secure walls and one steady roof, where I work, rest, and partake in passive recreation like reading and writing and watching Game of Thrones.
I do leave the house, on occasion.
When I buckle up, on route to get groceries, my mind flashes to the accident that, statistics show, could likely happen. A head-on collision as a drunk driver crosses the dividing line. A T-bone crash as I pull out of the parking lot. A smash to the driver’s door as I roll into an intersection on a late yellow.
When K and I discuss moving to the West Coast— of buying ocean-side property and spending the rest of our lives eating salmon we catch and mushrooms we forage— I kill the mood.
“We’ll need an earthquake readiness plan,” I caution. “It’s not so much the earthquake itself that worries me, it’s the tsunami that will follow. We’ll have, like, fifteen minutes to get to higher ground. What if the espresso machine crushes your foot in the quake? How will we head for the hills then? Your limp will slow us down and we’ll become sushi.”
I drop hints to K to buy a tsunami survival pod. It’s a bright red capsule, made of aircraft grade aluminium, so it’d be an unobtrusive addition to our domestic décor. Yes, we are still landlocked in Calgary, but you can never be too prepared!! Besides, isn’t the gift of safety such a romantic anniversary present? Hint, hint, K. I know you’re reading this. Get the pet-friendly model.
Salmon will poison us with radioactive spills from Fukushima. Red meat will infect us with mad cow disease. We’ll all become zombies, and, really, with Trump as President, we should just hole-up in a fallout shelter, hidden away in the Canadian Shield.
My imagination is a haunted rollercoaster ride. A hypochondriac since reading my parent’s medical dictionary at eight-years of age, my anxieties about health and safety only escalated with the “smart” choices I made as an adult. Like becoming a lawyer.
Not the kind of lawyer who reviews contracts to make sure the commas are in the right place. I became the type of lawyer who spends months—more often, years— navigating clients through the worst times of their life, steering the course through personal injury and medical malpractice litigation. Unless you’re slightly deranged (which most trial lawyers are, no offence), court is no fun. Even worse then having to go to court, is having to go to court because you got rear-ended by some bozo distracted driver, suffered a brain injury, and now you can’t even complete a crossword, let alone perform your demanding job.
While biking home from the law firm, my mind would float off, casually narrating how my case would unfold if I were to be smacked by a car. Forget taking time to smell the roses. Consider saving those minutes to fantasize about your examination for discovery.
My brain was rewiring in all the wrong ways.
Ironically, we exploited fear at the law firm. We studied it, mastered it, and used it to power-up our light sabers like Sith Lords. When I pointed this out, my boss replied, “Obi Wan Kenobi lived in a basement suite, Darth Vader lived in the Death Star.” Good point.
You see, our brains aren’t elegant computers, designed with flawless precision and zero inefficiencies. Rather, our pre-frontal cortex—the part of the brain distinct to homo sapiens, that controls our higher reasoning, like, say, not freaking out when a spider lands on your knee because you know the spider isn’t harmful and you could just relax and brush it off—is just duct taped onto our mammalian brains, which in turn, is stapled to our reptilian brains.
The reptilian brain has two functions when it’s stressed: fight or flight. And, as someone who often hits the flight button in response to any uncomfortable situation, like a pilot ejecting from a fighter jet, I can tell you, it’s powerful. Tap into someone’s reptilian brain, and you can sell them Lysol for douching, the Trump Presidency for blue-collared workers, and gas masks for dogs. You can sell a jury your client’s case.
My stress management style is basically that of a newt. I scurry off on my belly to hide under a rock until the danger passes. I feast on mosquitoes and swamp water. Life isn’t bad as a newt, really. Truthfully, I prefer it to fighting Jedis. As Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Wasn’t Yoda part of the newt family?
Photo Credit: Laura Lynn Petrick, Copyright 2017