Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

So you have a fear monster... Now what?

It's 3:00 a.m. and you have just woken up drenched in sweat. You feel it more than you see it, sitting there on your pillow, watching you sleep.

"Oh good, you're awake. Let's get to work," it seems to say. 

Of course it might not be on your pillow. It might be on your chest, or at the foot of the bed. Or it might not even be nighttime. I once had a fear monster that pounced in the middle of class, usually as I wrote conjugations on the whiteboard. I'd like to think I was able to smack it down before any students noticed, but you never know. Fear monsters are not just scary, they're also stubborn and sneaky.

Whenever and however your fear monsters show up, there seem to be two basic options:

A) Resignation. Let them have their merry way with you. If your fear monsters are anything like mine, they are terrifyingly creative, and there are probably plenty of scenarios they haven't explored yet.

B) Fight back. I know, I know. Easier said than done. Believe me, as one whose closet contains a small army of fear monsters, I know. Even so, I am finding ways to tame them. Here are three:

1. Sing to them. Or at them. (Not over them, though. If you try to drown them out, they will come back with reinforcements.) If you find something you can sing over and over like a mantra, they will eventually shut up and listen. Lately, mine retreat to the sound of Sanskrit meditation chants, but that's just me. Yours might need Bach. Or Bon Jovi. Or bluegrass. Whatever. I have a hunch it works best if you sing your own song, so choose the one that works for you.

2. Call them out. Heck, give them a name. While they glower on your pillow, go ahead and blog about them, text a friend, write a note. They thrive in dark, secret places, on making you think you're all alone. Once you start showing them for what they truly are, they might just shrivel up like the Wicked Witch.

3. Thank them. Yes, you read that right: thank them. I've read variations of this idea in a number of places, the latest being Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Strange as it sounds, it works. Think back to my last post. Fear in and of itself is healthy. It keeps you safe. The problems start when it runs wild. So next time it breaks into a gallop, don't ignore it. And don't beat yourself up because it seems once again to be winning. Simply say something like, "There you are. I'm not surprised you're here. This IS scary and I'm glad you're here to keep an eye on things. I've got it, though. You go on and rest."

Are any of these foolproof? Nope. Do they work every time and for everybody? Double nope. Do they last forever? I wish. Yet they do help. With time and practice, my fear monsters have come to look more like hissing house cats than man-eating tigers. Best of all, my pillow...and 3 a.m....are once again mine, at least for now.

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