Choosing Not to Fear

Now that my wife and I are empty nesters, we’re making grand plans for what to do with our time. Travel is a big part of our plans, and we have some “bucket list” trips that we’d love to take.

Dreaming about our travel bucket list

At the moment, most of our time is spent in the dreaming stage. We’ve subscribed to some travel magazines, and we’re enjoying looking at pictures and reading about other peoples’ adventures.

One of the articles I read recently was by someone who had visited the Galapogos Islands. As it happens, that’s on our "List of Cool Places to Go. No people live on the islands (though lots of people visit and admire what they see). Because visiting humans never harm the animals on the islands, the animals mostly ignore the humans.

The writer of the article wrote that the naturalist on her tour explained why this is so: “'They choose not to fear at all,’ Tomala said as we turned to the other side of the trail to observe another blue-footed booby sitting on two eggs resting in a depression in the dirt. ‘Being fearful requires energy, and everything in life is energy. If you don’t have to fear, there’s no point in being fearful. So what they’re doing is saving energy, because here they can afford it.’”1

Fear after my follicular lymphoma diagnosis

That phrase really struck me: They choose not to fear.

I thought about the times I’ve been struck by fear over the 11+ years since my follicular lymphoma diagnosis.  Sometimes, it’s a hard, fast, but fleeting fear, like feeling a bump you maybe hadn’t noticed before. And sometimes it’s that long, slow burn of fear, like the one I felt after I was diagnosed.

Like the blue-footed booby and the sally lightfoot crabs of Galapagos, I know that fear can suck the energy out of you. For two weeks after I was diagnosed, I stumbled through each day. I’d burst into tears every half hour or so, worried about my wife and kids. I spent as much energy hiding my tears from them as I did anything else.

My question is, can you really choose not to fear?

Can an emotion so intense be a choice?

Can you just turn off that spigot?

Working through the fear

Maybe not immediately. That initial burst of fear comes whether you want it to or not.

But we can choose what happens after that. We can take action to reduce that fear. We can join a support group, whether it’s in-person or online. Sharing our story, and hearing others’ experiences, can help us understand what our path might be.

We can educate ourselves. Learn what we can about our disease. Knowledge helps combat the fear.

Exercise. Meditate. Eat healthy. Do what we can to save our energy for the things that matter.

And if that fear stays with us, even just a little, that doesn’t mean we have to be paralyzed by it.

Moving forward with courage

We can still move forward, even with fear, but also with courage. Because courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about having fear and moving forward anyway.

Which is an excellent use of our energy.

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