It Is Okay To Be Scared
At the carnival, my five-year-old daughter was immediately enamored with the huge, colorful Ferris Wheel. Children her age were riding it with their moms or dads and smiling and squealing.
Even before my disclosure day (D-day), which brought many new fears into my life, I had a fear of heights and of being trapped: not being able to leave whenever I wanted. The Ferris Wheel combined both of my fears into a single, carnival ride.
My daughter kept her eye on the Ferris Wheel even as I said, "Let's check out the petting zoo!" I pulled her along, hoping she would forget about the Ferris Wheel.
My D-day was very dramatic. Actually that’s an understatement. I won't go into the details, but because of the way my D-day went down, I could not hide my reaction from my daughter. At age three, she saw my uncontrollable crying, the panic attacks so severe it looked like I was having seizures, my inability to eat solid food for two weeks, and the disassociation: my staring off into space for long periods of time, overwhelmed and lost in a sea of pain.
As a parent, I already knew my daughter was always watching me. I was very much aware I was her role model. So from D-day on, I felt like a constant failure. I was the mom. I was supposed to be teaching my daughter how to be resilient in the face of hardship. Yet I could not stop or hide the crying, panic attacks, and terrible grief and pain.
When we finished with the petting zoo, my daughter immediately pointed at the Ferris Wheel and said, "Let's ride." I knelt beside her and gently reminded her, "Mommy is afraid of heights and feeling trapped."
"I know," she said. "I'm scared too. Let's ride it anyway!"
As she pulled me toward the Ferris Wheel, my heart was pounding, and I started to sweat. Once we arrived, because there was no line, the man immediately opened the gate and ushered us in. My daughter paused for a moment to look up to the top. For someone just barely over 3 feet tall, it must have looked like a skyscraper. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it.
The man helped us into our seat. He fastened the big seat belt around us both. Then he snapped into place the thick iron bar that would prevent us from leaving, or falling out of, the seat, and checked to make sure it was locked.
I started to tremble. "I'm scared," I said. My daughter scooted over close and wrapped her arms around my waist. "It's okay to be scared," she said, "because when you're scared and you do it anyway, that's what it means to be brave."
Surprised, I asked her, "Where did you learn that?"
"From you, Mommy," she said. "You taught me."
Suddenly the man pulled the lever and up we went, holding on tight to each other: up, up, higher and higher into the bright blue sky— and beyond to a place neither of us had ever dreamed we could go.
In her Journey to Healing and Joy Workbook, Marsha Means quotes Robert Suby to remind us that challenges and hardships are a very real part of life. Everyone has them. To try to hide our hardships (or hide from our hardships) only creates anxiety and shame. And hiding our struggles gives our children — along with anyone else who knows and observes us — a false impression: life is problem free and hardships only happen to other people.
In fact, the new brain science reveals it is important to walk toward (not away from) life’s hardships and the emotions they create, because our response to life's hardships and challenges — how we embrace and experience the difficult times and difficult emotions — determines our resiliency.
There are so many good books on this topic, such as the award-winning Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham.
My daughter’s motto has become, “I’m scared, and I’m doing it anyway!” And, unaware until she pointed it out, this has become my motto too. I have learned it is okay to feel hurt, overwhelmed, and scared in response to hardship, because if you are never scared, then you never have the opportunity to practice being brave.
Mother’s Day Blessings to all of our brave and resilient readers!
Grace & Peace,