11 April 2007

The "Fear Factor"

Have you ever been startled awake, pulse pounding, breathing rapidly, in a cold sweat? A common response is "oh, it's probably just a nightmare." Yeah? Well, anything that can induce this type of physiological response, can't be a "just".
The brain does not differentiate between what is imagineed and what is real, therefore, it will produce chemicals it needs to protect itself. There are many things that can cause this level of anxiety/fear, from the mundane of -dropping a kitchen knife and having its miss your foot; the near miss when a car pulls out in front of you at 60 miles an hour; when you witness a child run into the street; or a close call when you tread near a rattlesnake. For some people, it might be standing up to speak in front of a large group.

There are no rules for what can cause a person to feel that kind of anxiety, but the physiological sensation is extremely uncomfortable and takes some time to revert back to normal.
The dictionary says:
fear. ... 1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or ...imagined.

anx·i·ety Etymology: Latin anxietas, from anxius1 a : painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill b : fearful concern or interest c : a cause of anxiety2 : an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.

It may be true that 20 year olds experience fewer occurrences of these sensations than do 60 year olds (unless you consider grades and exams are getting caught by parents), because of a certain sense of invincibility, which I am sure is directly related to hormone levels, I digress.

What has brought me to this topic is an increasing awareness of my own vulnerability both physically and emotionally. In the past couple of years for numerous reasons, I have become less agile and more weebly; my balance is not as good, and my responsiveness is slower; I am overweight and out of shape (imagine, if you will, a hard-boiled egg, balanced on two corn flakes). The probability of injury increases with each step.

This past winter, with its enormous snow fall, found me on my generous backside half a dozen times-without serious injury-praise the Lord. Earlier this spring on a casual walk with the dogs, I tripped on a pebble-bang- flat on my face.
Each time this happens, it produces "tension, sweating, increased pulse... and self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it." I'm aware that much of this anxiety is due to the fact that I live alone in the middle of nowhere and realistically, a severe injury, would render me vulture bait. (I am also aware that if I carry my cell phone I would be less likely to feel that anxious).
The fact of the matter is, that while I lead a pretty comfortable life, I've become increasingly aware of danger, and how it affects my life. The feelings of vulnerability and fear are extremely uncomfortable, in part, because in my head I still feel like 20 year old, but also because as an adult; I have seen a lot of tragedy and the havoc it wreaks on lives.

I have launched this diatribe, because of my recent Gila hiking experience. On Saturday, we hiked up a mile long, gradual switch back to the cliffs. It was a series of uneven steps, rocks and carved out sections-which for me was very difficult to walk because of the uneveness and the absence of hand rails. It was even more treacherous, going downhill. The uphill climb, prompted anxiety of the being unable to make it; the downhill prompted abject terror about falling.
Then Sunday, when I had the encounter with the two guys pushed toward me with only a 4x4" wood beam on the ground, preventing me from catapulting down a ravine. My immediate reaction was a startle reflex, after they passed me and I was on solid ground, I began to replay the episode in my mind. I felt extremely vulnerable and frightened-then I got really angry. I created all kinds of scenarios about what I could have done to those f*****s (that ol' "hindsight is 20/20" is really annoying). It was exacerbated when Road Warrior Mandy returned and I relayed the story to her, let me just say that girl has a wonderful imagination. And if you ever want somebody's ass kicked...
The gist of it all, is that here I am three days later, still ruminating about those feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability and fear. My hope is that by regurgitating all these feelings, I will be purged of this haunting specter. Oh, and speaking of specters, and the previously mentioned vultures. I will include a picture of some vultures sunning themselves, courtesy of the Wilderness Lodge.

Next time, I think... a lighter topic. The other 'take home piece that I need to add is that I am extremely proud of myself for taking those hikes -knowing at the outset that they would be anxiety producing,and that I didn't have to do it alone , I had great support.yea!


Wicked Thistle said...

Listen, my little hard-boiled egg, you did some serious ass-kicking on those mountains. Facing mountain lions, ill-behaved subhumans, and squirrels with a taste for human blood (albeit small humans), you just got right in there and did it, anyway. One word for you: Towanda!

Moi: said...

Hey, you did it and faced your fear and lived to ruminate about it. Awesome!

And such cool vulture photos. I'm gonna need me some a them!

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