tired and scared

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This week I got a great reminder/kick up the arse from the universe regarding the relationship between physiological stress and fear. My partner and I were in Mount Shasta, on the way from Portland to San Francisco. On our one full day in town, we decided to take a walk on the mountain. We were a bit late starting and eventually set off at around 11am for what we thought was an easy hike to Panther Meadow. Turns out I got confused about which trailhead we started on and we walked instead to South Gate Meadow – a longer hike, mostly above the tree line through a fairly surreal expanse of shale that reminded me of some of the desert scenes from Star Wars.

When we eventually got there, the meadow was completely gorgeous…

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and I was tired. A combination of altitude (almost 8000 feet) without enough time to adjust, sun exposure, a longer-than-expected hike and a nervous system still fairly toasted from a lifetime of overload (more on that later) had used up most of my energy reserves. And we still had to hike back… no choice. You can see I look a little less than ecstatic here, because I’m already worried about how hard I’m going to have to push to make it back.

The walk out was tough – sunnier, hotter and harder than the walk in. I had to chant mantras to keep going. By the time we reached the car, I was done. The noise in my head – which had started with a mild breeze of anxiety in the meadow – now amped up to a Category 4 fear hurricane.

“Why didn’t I plan better and take better care of myself today? Why am I still pushing through exhaustion? Why is my body – after I’ve thrown 4+ years worth of healing at it, not to mention most of my life’s savings – still so broken that I can’t handle a little walk? What if I never feel completely better?” And then fear’s trump card… the big one: “What if I end up broke, alone and begging on the streets?” My friend Sam Nolan-Smith calls them the old bag-lady fears. I’d run headlong into a nasty gang of them.

I probably don’t need to tell you that a Category 4 fear hurricane is pretty draining. It sucked whatever I had left and I ended up a hollow shell of myself for a little while. Such a familiar old story – “there is something wrong with me” – and so completely fucking unhelpful.

And… then I saw something important. The impulse to push harder is a pernicious, sneaky fucker and I keep uncovering new, more subtle layers of it. First insight – that impulse is actually fuelled by the “something wrong with me” story. There’s a big clue in the phrase “I’ve thrown 4+ years of healing at it”… because are those really the words I’d use to describe a loving, caring relationship with my body? Sounds more like going to war, which is exactly how it feels when I’m trying to ‘fix’ something about myself.

Second insight – when I am physically tired, it’s exponentially more difficult to a) notice the spiral and b) pull myself out of a Category 4 fear hurricane by c) maintaining the level of presence required to feel beyond the surface level fears. I’d seen some of this before, but I got the lesson differently yesterday. It felt more visceral. And it led to a couple of resolutions.

First, the tiny change – work inside my physical capacity, rather than pushing the envelope (eg. plan a shorter, easier hike than I think I’m actually capable of finishing). Second, the brave decision – spend a little time today (but not too much) sitting compassionately with the old bag-lady fears and find what’s really true.

So that’s exactly what I’ll do. Because there is nothing wrong with me… and the only way around fear is through.

4 Comments

  1. Drew says

    I have found so few role models around taking care of myself in a healthy way. Finding the balance between taking care and sliding into slovenliness feels like a fine line for me. As I struggle with it I wonder who I have in my head about this? Something to ponder today. Thank you for your post.

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  2. Passionkat says

    The Old bag lady fear….brilliant now I know what my condition is called. The sneaking feeling I get when planning something different for my immediate future and not trusting the universe about the how. Your story is inspiring and brave. Sharing these intimate feelings and thoughts makes me feel I’m not alone and I realise we don’t have role models and hear enough about single women and their chosen status in later stages of life. So the old bag lady fear stems from previous ideas that we need to be taken care of….and we clearly don’t as your beautiful story tells us.

    Like

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