It is far too early for me to be up. Not because it's 5:23 in the morning as I begin this, but because I've been awake since around 2:30 this morning. I woke up to a phone call. The call was from a colleague advising us there was a Tsunami warning for our area. We are a few kilometres from the inlet here on Vancouver Island, but I don't know if that's far enough away to be considered high ground. Either way, the warning has since been lifted. My husband is fast asleep. But my wonderful brain? CAN. NOT. STOP.
Don't get me wrong, I agonized for a while, but I am not awake because I am afraid. I am awake because the initial fear put me on high alert. The phone call woke up not just my body, but also my brain. And now I can't get it to shut off. But I've been thinking a lot about fear lately. If you haven't already seen it and / or listened to it, you should check out Jim Carrey's full commencement address to the 2014 Maharishi University of Management class here ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V80-gPkpH6M. There are a lot of pearls of wisdom on love and fear and what it means to choose love. I listen to an abbreviated version every time I feel pulled off course.
But I can't really talk about my own fears without talking about where they come from. Hold on to your hat, because it's about to get REAL up in here. Let me preface this by stating that I am lucky. I am happy and healthy and I am fortunate to have people that I love in my life. Even more fortunate they seem to love me back! I come from a great family. A family that endured a lot of struggle, but a great family nonetheless. My parents made so many sacrifices when my brother and I were younger. They worked their butts off so we could have the best opportunities our Saskatchewan grain farm could provide. We had swimming lessons and music lessons. My brother played hockey and volleyball and I was involved in plays and musicals. My dad routinely held off purchasing newer, better farm equipment so he could afford to take us on family vacations. We went to Disneyland, Disneyworld and Expo '86. We drove everywhere in our '78 Thunderbird and sometimes we even slept in the car. We couldn't afford to fly the family anywhere, so we drove. My parents some how managed to afford a cabin at the lake and a boat. I believe the boat was also a '78, maybe a '79. And they kept finding ways to take us to the lake every summer for waterskiing, swimming and hot dog roasting.
Grain farmers. Who have time during the summer to frolic at the lake. How on earth did they pull that off?
But these are the memories my childhood is built on. These are the moments that keep me grounded when the world threatens to sweep me off my feet. I have a vivid recollection of how my parents used to hold hands in the front seat of those long drives. My dad did the majority of the driving and my mother did the majority of the "sharp intakes of breath" and "audible gasps" that let us know she didn't approve of my dad's driving. But the way I remember it, they held hands for the entire drive. It's hard to say why that had such a profound impact on me. But I think it's because I could feel their love. I felt their contentment. I knew they had love for one another, they had love for us, and they were happy. Roughly translated through the eyes of a child, that meant we were safe.
But here's where things turn ... well ... crazy. When I was all of about 11 years old, it became apparent that my mom was no longer herself. While I can tell you what happened, I can never really explain the way it rocked our family's world. I guess the next closest comparison I have (in my lifetime) is when the twin towers were hit. Do you remember where you were when that news story broke? Do you remember what you were doing, who you were with, who told you? Do you remember waiting on pins and needles to discover if this was truly "the end of the world as we know it?" (Sorry, the musician in me had to quote a song!)
I'm grateful not to have lived through war in my country in my lifetime. But when the twin towers were hit on September 11, 2001, I was pretty sure that was about to change. That's the only remotely comparable feeling I have to describe being 11 or so years old, and watching my mother develop a mental illness.
I was terrified.
I felt out of control.
It was the end of my world as I knew it.
More on all of that in future posts, I am sure. But the real nugget I want to get to is fear. Where did my fear come from and how have I fed it all these years? Well, I think the answer to that is multifaceted. I feel the need to reiterate here ... I love my parents. They are both amazing people. Unfortunately, my mom is no longer with us. But I've had a hell of a good life, blessed with so many beautiful moments and amazing opportunities. None of which would have been possible without my parents. Both of them.
Okay, now that my disclaimer is out of the way - in case my father reads this - (I doubt it, he doesn't read much) I feel as though I can drop some truth bombs.
My dad is an awesome person. If you know him, you probably like him. However, my dad has a couple of ... let's just call them colourful quirks ... that make him the great man that he is. First of all, I'm pretty sure he's a pyromaniac. I'm kind of joking, but also not really. As evidenced by the several out buildings on our farm that no longer exist, I think the local fire department in "Hometown Saskatchewan" might just back me up on that. Another one of my dad's idiosyncrasies is that he is an interrogator. Have you ever read the Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield? It's an interesting story with some interesting themes. It's been years since I read it, so I'm going to give a personal summary based on recollection here. If you want an accurate representation of his words, please read the book!!! There is an interesting summary here on how the "control dramas" are used in relationships here ... https://www.relationshipspecialists.com/media/the-four-control-dramas-from-the-celestine-prophecy/
However, for the purposes of our discussion, the Celestine Prophecy theorizes that, based on our childhood experiences, each person will grow up to exhibit qualities of one of the following control dramas: The Intimidators (which is essentially another word for bully). These people try to control you via threat. The Interrogators (my dad and my brother - bless their little hearts). These folks control you by asking you questions for the explicit purpose of finding fault with your answers. Another way to think of this personality type is "The best defence is a good offence". Aloof people (self-admittedly, my ex-husband), who draw people's energy and attention to themselves by acting withdrawn and reserved. The personality type that forces you to engage and give energy to determine the aloof persons state of well being. And finally the fourth control drama is the Poor Me. (My mother and perhaps through modelling her behaviour, myself). These personalty types tend to relive past traumas for attention, or focus on the hurting rather than the healing. The control aspect comes in by making others feel guilty or responsible toward them. Keep in mind, these are just principles from a book. None of these personality types are particularly flattering, but it's interesting to see which one could apply to ourselves.
So now try to picture, if you will, my father ... the interrogator, and my mother ... the paranoid poor me in a loving marital relationship. (And I assure you, it was loving!). But can you see any potential pitfalls? I should also mention, that long before my mom became ill, she was prone to worrying. Not the usual cases of anxiety and fear that we all go through. I mean she was a worry wart! Like a super power, she could leap to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound! If my dad didn't come home from the field in the usual time, it meant he was in a ditch. (Although, this is perhaps a reflection of my dad's driving). If Dad set a fire to burn stubble in the field, it meant he hadn't set a fire guard around the perimeter and the entire country side would go up in flames. (Er ... once again, not out of the realm of possibilities here).
Do you see the problem? My dad's confident carelessness (that lucky horseshoe thing, where he keeps tempting fate by doing slightly unsafe things, but totally gets away with it somehow leading him to believe he's invinceable) and my mom's overanxious spirit (anything that can go wrong, not only will go wrong, it already has!) were not an ideal combination. Of course that was only one aspect of their relationship. They had a lot going for them that was good and loving and wonderful. But I get anxious just thinking about how my mom felt every time my dad lit a fire on the farm. My heart rate has actually increased by simply recalling memories of my dad's several injuries spurred on by confident carelessness. Broken bones from driving the ATV too fast, second or third degree burns from opening a radiator cap when it was still too hot ... the list goes on. (And on, and on).
But my mom worried about everything. I swear, if worrying was a full time job, she could have easily supported our family. And likely yours as well. But here's the thing:
I am a highly sensitive person. In recent years, there's been more recognition for people like myself. Have you heard of empaths? Well, you can believe in it or not believe in it. But I am definitely an empath! I have spent my entire life as a human sponge. It took me YEARS as a child to figure out that a ton of what I felt on a day to day basis wasn't actually my own. This perhaps affected me so much because I grew up on acres and acres of land. I grew up with nature, not people. And so anytime I found myself in crowds of people (at school, at social gatherings, at church) I was BOMBARDED with emotion. Have you ever walked into a room and felt immediately put off? Have you ever wondered why? Like, you came to this party to have a good time, and there's lots of people here that you know and like, and you bought a new dress and you look really pretty but ... nah. I don't want to be here. This is the story of my life. (Well, I don't always have a new dress or a good hair day, but you get the point). It took a long time for me to process that maybe I was picking up on someone else's bad mood. Perhaps there was someone else at the party who really didn't want to be there. Perhaps that person was dragged there somewhat unwillingly by a friend or spouse. But I felt those emotions exactly the same as if they were my own.
So, if you're still with me ... holy cow, thanks! But I promise you I'm about to bring this home. Can you imagine what it felt like to grow up in a house with my father the interrogator, critic, confidently careless wonderful man that he is, and my mother, the poor me, worry wart, paranoid schizophrenic with a huge heart?
I'm a right bit messed up! But I am learning to recognize that all this fear is learned. It's not actually mine, so I don't want to hang on to it anymore. I used to agonize over the nature vs nurture aspects of my mom's illness. Like, was I destined to get it because it's hereditary? I mean these things are common among family members, just like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Or ... was it more likely that I'd model that behaviour anyway, because that's how I grew up? I was nurtured with fear and raised on worry. By my father I was nurtured with criticism, which basically makes a person afraid he or she will never be good enough.
Well I've had enough of this! This is the year that I conquer fear. And I will do so by realizing that none of the fears I have are my own. These are things I borrowed from parents, teachers and friends. These fears aren't mine. These worries aren't real. They are possibilities in an unforeseen future, but they are not reality. They aren't real. They're not mine.
Everyone in my family (my husband and my step-kids) are terrified of spiders. I am the spider killer at my house, although our youngest is getting pretty brave in this department as well. But honestly, if I can wear my big girl pants and save my family from spiders, then I'm going to wear my big girl pants and save myself from a lifetime of unnecessary worry and fear.
And you should too!