Fear is paramount in keeping the human race alive. Fear registers in our Nervous System as an alarm that asks us to move toward safety and away from harm. Fear has served me well…in my past…and occasionally serves me well as an adult trying/having to do adult things.
Yesterday, I was editing a sweet family photo session. In the zone, at the tail-end of finalizing the gallery I heard a rhythmic whooshing sound like an old record player was skipping over the same white noise machine track(…wait a minute…is that not the same sound as the end of the record…which is actually the centre of the record? Not the takeaway Sarah, stay on point. And we all know I won’t…but accurately demonstrative of how hard it is to live in – and probably with- this brain sometimes.) It was an ambient enough sound that it registered as unusual by the fifth, maybe sixth rushing slooooooosh, at which point my brain recognized the previous tell-tale sounds that echoed a clue to what I was now fully acknowledging: the awkward shoving closed of the sticky bathroom door, hot bare feet peeling across the cool linoleum floor.
Then came the calling “Mauuummmm?!” from my ten-year-old imploring me to come see “the problem”. “The problem” as it happens was spilling dirty toilet water over the porcelain bowl and slowly seeping past the tub, now toward the sink and my growing annoyance. My annoyance implored him to turn off the tap at the base of the toilet (like I was sure his Dad had taught him recently in the event he should celebrate a poop liberation with a doling out of too many shit tickets). I am also pretty sure his Dad had given a scaffolded lesson that built upon the preventative ‘if you need to courtesy flush before the final flush to ensure the passing of said poop into the sewer system this is advisable 101’.
So then why the shit was the toilet fountaining crap-water in a lazy river over the bathroom floor?
Because fear. Fear as great as it is in keeping us alive can also shut us down making it extremely difficult to access the higher cognitive function it takes to say “now wait a minute here…my toilet paper wrapped dookie is damning up the toilet flow preventing the necessary exit needed for the usual function of human’s being toilet trained…therefore, before I proceed I must try the plunger…if this fails then I must turn off the toilet tap and continue to plunge and flush intermittently to restore toilet function.”
Instead fear said “shhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiitttttttt” 5 or 6 times. See? One for every additional flush-filling-the-bowl-well-past-full. Only when the overflow occurred did his brain go to “call-mom-mode”.
The notable things about this story for me are as follows, in no particular order:
One – when I asked him if this was an excessive toilet paper situation he owned it and offered an explanation that I quickly debunked for him. He said because he had a friend over he likes to lay down some extra TP to keep the landing quiet…like a secret poop. I asked him how secret his poop was now that it was by osmosis, covering half the bathroom floor? I offered that maybe an audible plop in exchange for a clean, expedient flush was worth it. He agreed with a sheepish grin.
Two – he tried to solve the problem himself but fear kind of got in the way of seeing it through to full resolution. Fear also started the whole debacle because “secret pooping”. But in the end he asked for help, followed my instructions and asked how he could help. This part is significant as I haven’t really mentioned how many f-bombs I was quietly exhaling as I parented the crap (sorry I had to) out of this “learning experience”. It wasn’t that long ago that my anger could make my kid shut down and recoil from me. This time he stood his ground and owned his shit (again, I just couldn’t not). He is growing so much lately and I was weirdly proud of him for showing this level of commitment to helping resolve the issue even with my secret-not-so-secret-swears and seething frustration.
Three – although paralyzed (with the exception of being able to push the big – not little – flush button repeatedly) by his fear, he was able to access one foundational tool in his tool box…and no I don’t mean the plunger…because he did try that and it also didn’t prove successful. He mobilized his nervous system enough to connect with me to help him because he knew I would. It wasn’t the asking for help that moved me it was the way he asked for my help. “mmmmmaaaauuummmm….I have a problem…I need your help,” all while looking me in the eye and not going into a shame spiral that he has been known to do in the past, usually rendering him useless. He was so present to this disgusting, undeniable problem he caused which made it less horrible to manage.
So I do love (or feel amused…but I do love to be amused) when a seemingly random unfortunate event ties into my own messy thoughts and asks for my awareness and consideration. For the past month, I have been feeling pangs of anxiety tighten my chest, the drawing inward of shoulders to protect or cower (same thing maybe?) and the unconscious gripping of molars off and on. Recently those feelings began manifesting into my unconscious with feverish anxiety dreams, that would wake me and fuel this sensory-feeding-emotional cycle I used to experience as my baseline.
And what did I do with those senses and emotions? I told them they were being ridiculous and unhelpful and were frankly unwelcome in my body. They didn’t take kindly to this which is why the dreams I suppose; turn up that volume when she is pretending like we don’t matter, she will come around…she always does.
But the fear…it’s connected to my fear. My fear of failure, of being wrong, of not being enough, of appearing stupid or inadequate, my fear of not belonging and fear of thinking I don’t deserve this. You may notice the aforementioned fears have nothing to do with actually keeping me alive. These are shitty fears, not functional, life preserving fears. They are present because I start my Masters in Counselling Psychology in September. The closer the start date moves, the greater sense of needing to move toward or away from the source of the fear grows.
What I mean by this is sometimes I have an urgency to move toward the program, what can I do to prepare? What can I read in advance? How do I hack into their system and find the assignments ahead of time so I can begin now and keep from falling behind or becoming overwhelmed by the content. Other times the urgency feels like I need to run away from this commitment, quit before I’ve started, do the status quo – what is safe and familiar, keep from spending this massive financial investment.
So apparently I am scared shitless of the choice I’ve thoughtfully made to switch careers in fulfilling my dream of being a therapist at the tender age of 43. And you know what? Fair enough. This isn’t an easy thing.
But thanks to the overflowing wisdom of a crappy situation, I have been able to gain some perspective and be with my fear instead of abandoning it and mindlessly attempting to flush what can’t be flushed. I have found the more I talk about my fear of failure with those who support me, the more my fear turns into a shadowy doubt that lingers in my periphery like the ghost of Eore; not all that foreboding after all. Reaching out, giving voice to it, dragging it out into the light of day allows for a more curious analysis of the beast I build my fear up to be.
I have since been mopping up the spill-over of said fears with support instead of standing and marinading in it alone.
If I can mom the shit out of tainted toilet water lapping over the ugly lino flooring of the main bathroom, I can write research discussion questions and papers. (Not quite sure about the throughline on that one but for some reason I feel this rationale is connectable). One at a time, one foot in front of the other, choosing to learn as much as I can with the brain and capabilities that I own. Armed with the belief that I am here, not only because I am meant to be but more-so because I deserve to be. And when I graduate at 45, 46 or what have you…I will be one step closer to realizing my life’s purpose and guess what…I’m gonna be 45…and then 46 anyway, so I may as well get on with it. Because I am…The Shitmaster.