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Living with your potential death over your head is enough to cause fear in anyone, but I had issues with fear long before that. I’m a terrible flyer. Really terrible. Didn’t use to be. Loved flying till I was 18. I think it was a combination of age making me more aware of what I had to lose, a genetically predisposed phobia/learned behavior (I’d been watching my mom clutch my dad’s hand on planes since I was a child) and a trigger incident. On a flight to Dominican Republic for my grad trip something went awry. It was so much turbulence that the oxygen masks released and the prettiest girl in my school passed out and peed her pants…the things that make an impression, right? I remember thinking the flight was freaky. Not scary. Just bizarre. But for the whole week of the trip I had dreams of standing on the ground and watching my plane crash. Night after night I watched my plane crash into the ocean. It was awful. By the time I got on the flight home I’d developed some real anxiety and I’ve gotten progressively worse ever since. These days when I get into a plane my blood pressure skyrockets. I wait till the last minute to get on. I have to touch the outside of the plane as I board. Superstitiously, I used to have to eat peanut M&M’s and have a ginger ale, but now I have to take xynax just to function. I grab at the seat in front of me like it’s going to stop me from falling. I plug my ears and fold over onto my lap to pretend I’m not there. I cry and shake during turbulence. It’s ridiculous. On my last bad flight they actually moved the guy beside me and sat a flight attendant in his place. She was lovely but I wonder how bad I’ve become that the flight crew felt that was a necessary precaution.

If it was just flying I’d think I was normal. But lately I’ve found myself overloaded with fear. It’s discouraging and unfortunately, relatively justified. We just passed the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 and I recently watched the 9/11 Documentary shot by the 2 French filmmakers who were at ground zero at the time.  I lived in NYC on 9/11. In the heart of the West Village at 14th & 8th. I was lucky enough to be in Toronto that day visiting my parents. I was scheduled to fly back to New York on 9/12. Needless to say I didn’t. My cousin called me after the first tower had been hit. I sat in shock watching it burn and saw the second plane fly into Tower 2 in real time. I couldn’t reach anyone in New York on the phone to see if they were ok. All I could do was watch the events unfold. When the buildings eventually collapsed, I cried so hard. I cried for all the people that were lost, for the fear they must have felt before they died and for a future in which that kind of atrocity existed.

I remember when I was 9 or 10 and I first learned about nuclear bombs. I ran crying to my room but didn’t want to be alone, so I ended up collapsed half way up the stairs weeping inconsolably. I feel the same way about it today (peppered with more anger). Why would we create such a thing? Why are people stockpiling them? Why would you launch one? It literally makes no sense to me. No one wins. You launch at us. We launch at you. Everybody loses. It’s over.

I mistakenly read Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic novel ‘The Road’ because it had such terrific reviews. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Oprah book club choice. NY Times best seller… It was a brilliant book and I loathed it. I could tangibly feel the bleakness and despair of his atomic bomb world. The dust and debris blocking out the sun more than a decade after the fact. An earth without color or warmth. A planet without animals or birds or fish or plants. No sounds other than human agony or the collapsing of old infrastructure. I was traumatized by the world Mr. McCarthy painted. I kept reading in hopes of the redemption that never came. I am scarred by that book. By the possibility of such a future. If anything though it made me appreciate our world more. The colors. The sounds. The beauty. I hope against hope that man really is smarter than history shows him to be. That there’s a possibility we can go the other way. Pull ourselves back from the brink and do good by our future.

The problem is, even when I feel I can go forward believing the best in man, I read an article like the recent cover story of Newsweek, “Are you ready for more?”  and I throw my hands up. The article is about killer storms. It basically says we shouldn’t be worried about man we should be worried about nature. It explains that with all our climate change and environmental damage, we are looking at a future of more and more natural disasters. Horrors that make Katrina look like a blip. It doesn’t matter where you go, no one is safe from the increasingly prevalent and treacherous storms. What the *@#^?! And I can’t say living in California helps. After the earthquake in Japan I had a bit of a melt down. I told Sean that I thought we should move (we didn’t), that I thought we were next (Japan was again), that we weren’t properly prepared (we weren’t). So, we spent a fortune on Disaster kits and I tried to teach my 3 year old what to do in case of an earthquake – where to lie (near a big piece of furniture to hope to capitalize on the “negative space” rule when your roof falls in); how to cover your head to protect it from falling debris and glass; to stay away from windows and chimneys – I still panic when my car stops under a bridge. I often wait before the bridge, instead of moving up and under, much to the chagrin of the cars behind me. Trying to be helpful, Sean told me it won’t be the earthquake that gets most people it’ll be the tsunami that follows. He thinks that’s good news because we live in the valley and not by the ocean. All it did was serve to make my summer visits to the beach more stressful.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling gripped by fear. I worry about drunk drivers and child molesters.  I worry when Sean goes away without me.  I worry about the prevalence of drugs available to my child. I worry about predators. I worry about war. I worry about the economy and China owning us. I worry about dying young and leaving my kid without a mom. I worry all the time and it makes me a drag. I envy my husband and his endless optimism. He lives seemingly without fear. He just sees the best case scenario and functions with that knowledge. I’m lucky to live in close proximity to such a force. I can only hope Loch takes after him.

After all, what do they say… Worry doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it just takes away today’s peace.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. margot #

    Great post Leigh!

    October 31, 2011
  2. Love that flow chart!! If only it was as easy as just ‘deciding’ not to worry. Seriously, though, that is a lot of fear. Thank you for sharing so honestly.

    November 1, 2011
  3. Lisa Coulter #

    Wow. Good to know I’m not alone as a worrier… thanks for sharing (and for making me realize I’m not crazy)… 😉

    November 1, 2011
  4. The Road? Why did you do that to yourself?

    Hey—Have you explored trying to find the balance between being informed (world events including horrible atrocities that worry you/politics) so you feel current and intelligent, and fluffy, non-serious fun like painting your apartment the newest shade of blue for the coming fall season? Am I making sense? I’d love your thoughts on that.

    November 6, 2011
    • I think I balance out my worry with a moderate to severe television obsession. Like Vampire Diaries and the Secret Circle might be my newest shade of blue. I love you Bets. xo

      November 7, 2011
  5. It does seem to be the older you get, the more you recognize what you have to lose and then the fear has room to grow. Thanks for sharing!

    January 12, 2012

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