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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Getting Out of Fear Street

Fear. 
Stress
Depression
Anxiety.

How do we teach our kids to deal with them? I always think it’s best to model, not teach, and I haven’t done a very good job of dealing with these issues myself. My middle-of-the-night-worrying track record is excellent, which is to say, I’m a mess at 4 a.m. and it takes at least an hour to calm down if I’m really upset.

I try prayer, I try meditation, and it works somewhat, but never completely, especially in the middle of the night. I do better in the day when I can work on a play, book or column. Writing seems to help in ways most other things don’t, and I guess it’s always been that way.

I remember flying to Canada once and someone next to me started talking about a terrorist who blew a whole in the airplane in the exact same row where I was sitting. An infant was killed after this happened.

Of course, I couldn’t just turn off my mind after hearing this story (even though I wanted to smack the person who told it to me, knowing they were just the messenger… but still). Instead, I started writing a story, and somehow it helped enough to get me to calm down for the remainder of the flight. “It’s called writing to save your own life,” my friend Jorie says. I agree.

I also remember flying next to a woman who was having a huge anxiety attack while the plane went through some turbulence. She asked me for help and I managed to get her to think of other things, just by talking about them. We even became long-distance writing friends for a while, which I think was cool.

I think I’ve also told a story on this blog about a young boy who was extremely anxious when his dad put him on a bus to visit some other friends or relatives. I managed to think up a story to tell him and the rest of his trip worked out pretty well when we started talking. Even though I probably only helped him a little; it just felt right and I’m glad I could be there for him.

So, back to the FEAR stuff (I do love the series title Fear Street because I think we all spend a lot more time on that street than we want to admit.) I’m dealing with it this week, and have been for a while, and am still trying to get through it. Maybe one of the best ways to do that is share it with other people and learn about how they get through it.

But whenever you read instructions about how to deal with crises, they always say “Keep calm,” or “Don’t panic.” Good luck with that, I want to say! Someone once told me he thought most of life is about muddling through, and I’d say YES to that, at least for emergencies (but probably everything else too). He was a great friend and colleague who died from cancer.

Before he died, though, my friend married the great love of his life and traveled around with her. He didn’t have a long time but I think what he had was golden. And though I miss him terribly I’m very grateful for what he showed me: find the people and places you love, and be with them and around them as much as possible.

It doesn’t kill the fear, but it can sure give you a way to fight it. For a while.


… For more on helping kids deal with stress and anxiety:

Helping Your Child to Face Fears

Illustration: Jackson O'Brien Muenster