It was once customary for women to don a mourning veil after the death of a close loved one. The sheer black sheath, a figurative pall, was used to protect a mourner from the leering eyes of those around her while she was most vulnerable. In many ways, during my years since my diagnosis with a desmoid tumor, fear has acted as my mourning veil. I have existed in a fog, a cloud that I used to shelter myself. In reality, though, it has only imprisoned me.
As much as I hate to admit it, fear has been a protector of mine. It’s the state where I function most comfortably. I’m unnerved when things are going well, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Fear, discomfort, itchy angst, they have become my friends. A relationship built upon a foundation of a chaotic childhood, I’m sure. Certainly not a healthy one, but it has served me well at times.
Like a mother lifting a two ton car off her helpless offspring, I didn’t have to think about what was happening, my only job was to act. There was no time to contemplate the seriousness of this tumor, the potential consequences of my surgery. No frilly emotions to obstruct my path through what I was told needed to be done. I sometimes felt invincible. I was unaware of how very unaware I was. I was hiding in the fog of fear and I didn’t even know it.
I viewed the tunnel vision as a gift, taking the weight of emotions off my shoulder. It did do that, but it also obstructed the whole view. I missed the opportunity to seek a second opinion early on, which very well may have prevented me from having an unnecessary surgery. My need to bore through the process set my treatment back at least a couple of years. The deeper I walked into fear, the more seductive it became. My lack of vision caused me to make mistakes that only made me want to see less and less.
My veil kept prying eyes off me when I felt exposed, letting my expression belie the pain my heart was holding. But what it really did for me was hide the hurt those around me held. The more I kept a stoic face, or better yet a clever grin, the less apt I was to see the sadness in yours. The fear of being seen as fragile was powerful. The fear of seeing my fragility in your tears was unbearable.
Living in fear, relying on that surge of adrenaline, the jolt that let’s you do the heavy lifting with seeming ease, was only meant to be used in short spurts. Our bodies were never meant to hold the tonnage for more than just a few seconds. I did it for years. It was exhausting.
Fear tricks you, it gives life to your insecurities. When your body aches and your muscles can’t take anymore, fear tells you to hold on even tighter so you don’t appear weak. It lies to you, telling you to always be more, do more. Fear says you’re never enough. The same force that pushed you through the hellfire is the exact same one that will drag you back in if you stay with it for too long.
A mantra I heard during a yoga instruction plays over and over in my head these days. It’s not a forcing or a trying, it’s a letting go. For a woman that has spent a lifetime forcing her way through tough times and trying to keep all the chaos tucked in neatly, letting go is not easy. Letting go is not familiar. Letting go is more terrifying than living in fear.
I have slowly, timidly begun to pull back that sheer black gauze. Sometimes, though, when the light comes in and my view is broadened I long to be covered back up. The fallout from my illness has scattered for miles. The further I look the more I see. It’s tempting to let fear obstruct my view again and sometimes I do, if only for a brief time. Then, I remember the exhaustion of holding on for longer than you’re supposed to.
After seeking solace in the bosom of fear for so very long, it feels unnatural for me to let everything in, for me to see you. It feels especially strange to see you see me. I have hidden myself for so long in that fog, thinking I was protecting myself from the pain around me. In reality, it only locked me up with it. The door is open now, the veil being lifted. Letting go is not easy, but I’ve learned that holding on is impossible.
*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Foggy