Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meditations on Fear

In a meeting last week, the daily meditation was about fear, and how fear is incongruent with faith. If you're fearful, the thinking goes, you're not trusting in your Higher Power. I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't entirely buy it. I like the other saying that gets thrown around a lot: "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." I interpret this as, you may be afraid, but despite this, you do whatever it is you're afraid of because you trust God to give you a hand. Heck, I pray with my eyes open, dude. Sometimes God lets me know to NOT forge ahead if my courage is a stupid idea. Hence I like this old proverb, too: "Call on God, but row away from the rocks."

Be brave, be faithful, but don't be an idiot.

It's why I don't really understand snake handlers.

It's also why I was more than a little amused by a guy in the meeting who told the story of wanting to buy a gun for protection because his neighborhood isn't safe. He couldn't get the gun, though, because he wasn't licensed. He concluded, "God is my gun!"

Meanwhile I'm thinking, "I would just move to a safer neighborhood."

You've also heard that God helps those who help themselves.

Anyway. I've written before about my diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. Think of it as severe shyness or stage fright in social situations, or in situations in which I think I'll be judged. That's rough for a community college professor. But the problem has been under control with various medications: Cymbalta, Ativan, and a beta blocker. Lo and behold, upon leaving rehab, I was advised by both staff and my new sponsor that the Ativan was a bad idea because it's a narcotic. (Now, I've been on this stuff as needed since 1999, and it hasn't been a problem yet, but why tempt fate was the thinking). I figured, "Okay. I'll try."

The first day I set foot into a classroom out of rehab, I hadn't taken my Ativan, but I did have Cymbalta on board and a double dose of the beta blockers. Since the Ativan (think of it as a mild valium) was the medication that calmed down all my panicky self-talk prior to a stressful situation, the committee in my head was chattering full-force. I was terrified. "I'm going to go in, and forget what I'm saying, and they'll all stare at me, and I'll look stupid." "They'll laugh at me." "I'm going to start shaking and get dizzy and my knees will buckle and I'll fall."

Then I told myself, "You've done this a million times just fine." That didn't help. And then I dashed off a mental prayer: "God, help me get through this."

I took a deep breath and blew it out. Then I went in, scribbled something on the board, took attendance, and started talking. I was fine. The hard part had been simply braving it out, going in, and doing it. "Doing it" itself was a cinch. It was stepping into the abyss that had been the problem.

After about a week of this, I decided to try teaching without the beta blockers.

That worked, too.

So now I've been teaching for six months without any chemical assistance except for the Cymbalta. That I can't stop without consulting with my doctor, because you can't safely stop taking an SSRI. You have to taper off. I figure this summer, when I'm not teaching, will be the time to do that.

I don't think this is like the man kicking away his crutches and exclaiming, "I'm cured! Hallelujah!" But it's clear to me it's faith that gave me the courage to walk into my classroom day after day those first few weeks, despite being horribly afraid. I had the wherewithal to do it on my own, but faith gave me the extra little push I needed.

I will also say this. Since I stopped drinking, my anxiety has really eased off, despite taking much less medication. Is that my Higher Power at work?


Phil said...


It's so good to see another person in 12 Step programs who is also working a program of recovery for Social Anxiety.

I also wanted to mention that there is a 12 Step Program for Social Anxiety called "Social Anxiety Anonymous".

It has helped me a whole lot!

Joyce said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for the link...I'll have to go check that out later on today (at work right now). In rehab, a friend told me about "Dual Recovery" programs where people with alcoholism and other disorders (bipolar, anxiety disorders, etc) can get help and not be told to come off their meds. :-)
I am actually trying to get off the Cymbalta and see if I can manage with just beta blockers, but we'll see.... :-)

Come visit anytime