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How to Live When You Are Terrified of Your Future

Updated: Aug 23


2020


Those four numbers have practically become synonymous with uncertainty, unrest, terror and tragedy. The general public was forced into an uncomfortable mindset that I, and many like me, have existed in our entire lives. Suddenly the world became keenly aware of mortal fragility and many were fearful, if not terrified, of their future.


From the time I was a tiny kid, my mind was frequently plagued by the fear of death. Terror of my future held me in a vice-grip, and as much as I tried to ignore it, the shadows of heartbreak and imminent demise (mine or those I loved) had taken permanent, comfortable residence in the darkest corners of my mind.


Trust me, I’ve lived a pretty happy life, and it’s not like I sat around in black, brooding about the state of the world while refusing to go out. I just found myself worrying... a lot. My friends and most of my family would go out and do things without the slightest worry, whereas I had fun doing those things but was highly sensitive to any potential for danger. I was often on edge at the same time.


I knew my fears were irrational, but couldn’t get rid of them. Embarrassment over my anxiety was just as painful as the fear itself. I knew it wasn’t healthy — plus it was a crappy way to live. As I got older I was able to manage it... at least for the most part. I learned to plow past most of my terrors and allowed myself to live. More often than not, the emotional rewards far outweighed the fear that almost held me back.


One article I read about overcoming fears said to remember that your worst fears probably would never happen.


What if, like me, your worst fears already had?


A friend of mine once told me that the chances of getting killed by an active shooter were one in a million. My dad was that one. Violence feels real to my family. Thankfully, the closest most people come to that part of my reality is watching or reading the news. We naturally learn from our experiences, and I learned to be aware, albeit to the extreme.


The good news is, my desire to change helped me become fantastic at introspection. Over time I started to be ok with my fears and allowed them to work for me. As I got to know others with similar anxiety, especially those who’d lost a loved one at an early age, I realized I wasn’t alone in loathing death.


My misery really did love company — or in other words, people I admired shared my mindset and I no longer felt like a freak. Besides working with a therapist and my tenacious faith in God and miracles, meeting people who understood me was what finally brought me peace and the ability to hope for, rather than be terrified of, my future.


May 21 2019


I leaned back against my chair, closed my eyes and focused on slow, calming breaths. It didn’t work. My mind bounced around from thought to thought like a metal ball in a pinball machine; from what would happen over the next two weeks to how would I keep my weight under control amidst free comfort food to the poor passenger who would be stuck sitting next to me during the flight.


A tall man in his late 50’s eyed the window seat on my aisle, put his luggage in the overhead compartment and situated himself in one of the last window seats on our almost full flight. I reached in my pocket and handled the emergency bottle of Xanax I had reserved for extreme flight anxiety. We would be in the air for less than an hour, but, though notoriously bumpy, it would have to be suffered through drug-free.


I turned to my second coping mechanism and started chattering to the poor man (who come to find out was a doctor) over the empty seat between us. “Hey just so you know I’m a nervous flier. I should be fine but I know this flight can be bumpy so... just ignore me if I act weird.”


He did the right thing and told me why we would most likely be safe. I knew it, but in the moment instinctive terror took over my logic. I’d flown dozens of times but still hated it. (I still do!) He also asked about my reason for flying, and the next thing I knew, we’d been in the air for 15 minutes.


He did the right thing and told me why we would most likely be safe. I knew it, but in the moment instinctive terror took over my logic. I’d flown dozens of times but still hated it. (I still do!) He also asked about my reason for flying, and the next thing I knew, we’d been in the air for 15 minutes.

“This is my first of 3 flights over the next 2 days” I jabbered. “I’m going to Vegas to pick up my friend and her son. . .we’re going to surprise him. . .see, we are all military survivors and are on our way to the annual TAPS National Seminar in DC. My friend's son thinks we’re just going there but what he doesn’t know is that his little buddy will be joining us on connecting flight #3 that will not land in DC but take a detour to the boys' dream trip to New York first. AND while there I’m going to meet with a literary agent about this book I’m writing.”


Notorious turbulence rattled the aircraft and the kind doctor kept the conversation going. One bump hit extra hard and knocked the breath out of me. I looked at him wide eyed and pale and laughed “It’s not like I don’t fly much. In fact, I’m going to have to get over this anxiety since hopefully I’ll be flying a lot more for my book. Oh yeah, so flight number 4 is to Georgia where I’m meeting up with a guy I’ve been talking to online. If he’s as great in person as he’s been over the phone I’m hoping to marry the dude and move to Georgia so then I’ll have to fly a lot more to see my family! So, I’m working on getting over this dumb fear I have of flying.”


The man looked at me kindly but seriously. “I hate to break it to you, but saying you’re going to get rid of flight anxiety is like saying you’re going to get rid of high cholesterol. It's something that is in you that you learn how to live with and take steps to minimize and manage.”

Though his statement took the wind out of my sails a little, it also took a huge burden off my shoulders! I was validated in my anxiety, I was normal, and I didn’t have to beat myself up for the feelings that arose unbidden. Mind, body, and spirit really are so closely connected! Let's not forget the body and the way it obeys the mind.. It’s not like we can think the anxiety away completely--but we sure can manage it.


I Am Giving You Permission


Friends in anxiety, I’m giving you permission to stop fighting the terror you feel and learn how to peacefully live with it. Trauma runs deep and it’s ok to be afraid.


Living with anxiety does not mean you’re broken, so long as you work on it and keep actually living.


Believe it or not, you can live life fully and be cautious at the same time. You don’t have to go to that movie on opening night if you know your anxiety won’t let you enjoy it. It’s ok to be vigilant so long as you can still find joy, get out in the world, and progress.


Maybe I’m flawed in saying this, but after years of therapy, I’m comfortable saying no or saying yes and taking precautions that help me relax and enjoy the journey. You can research where to go and not go in a new city, make sure you know where to turn for help if needed, and take a Xanax or melatonin when you fly. At least you’re traveling!


As you are honest about what you’re afraid of, you can let your fears work for you. As you stop beating yourself up for being afraid and start taking little steps outside your comfort zone, you’ll realize those little steps can ultimately turn into a thousand miles. Each step gives you more confidence and piece by piece gets rid of the terror.


Even if you find yourself back in old habits, you know how to break them. In doing so, you'll experience more faith in yourself, in your higher power, and in your present. You’ll actually have excitement for your future! As I say in my YouTube videos, let your fears inspire you to be brave and live.


By the way, my trip in 2019 ended up being magical! The boys were overjoyed to tour the Big Apple. We ate street pizza, saw The Statue of Liberty, ran across the Brooklyn Bridge and saw Wicked on Broadway.


I took a cab and subway fearlessly by myself to meet with one of the biggest literary agents in the country! She sent her regrets months later, but sitting in her office that day was a dream come true and the next step to our real agent and publisher, hopefully situated in that same part of town. As I sit here writing, I think of JK Rowling and the “no's" she got before her world changing "yes." Angel in Arlington has evolved and is poised and ready for it’s “yes."


Speaking of life changing “yeses," it’s getting late here in Georgia, and my husband is most likely asleep. I’m so glad I didn’t let my terror stop me from taking those four flights that ended up bringing me here to. Until next time, y’all, good night!

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