I used to have horrible panic attacks. It is hard for me to believe it now, but fear consumed me.
In 1990 I made a wonderful friend who taught me how to get past my fears. It took a couple years but when I was ready, she told me to make a list of everything I wanted to do but was too afraid to try and then pick the most preposterous thing on the list and just go do it. Now you would think that would be insane but for some reason, I said ok. I made my list and have spend the last 20 years doing just that. Here are some of the highlights of this journey.
The most preposterous thing on the list was to sky dive. In July of 1993 I took the plunge, literally! I did a tandem jump. We had the jump recorded so I had proof that I actually did it. It was a little tiny plane with only one seat for the pilot and we went up 10,500 feet. You can see in the video the instructor ripping my hand from the door and pushing me out of the plane. It was exhilarating. I did not pull the rip cord so it didn’t count as an official jump. The jolt of the parachute releasing is a feeling I will not forget. Then we just slowly floated to the ground, looking at the beautiful scenery. I still remember every moment of it as if it was yesterday.
When I was in early middle school I took piano lessons and quit when there was going to be a recital. I wanted nothing to do with that. I had always wanted to take lessons again, just for the enjoyment of doing it. I found a teacher and took lessons for a year. About two months into the lessons, guess what? A recital, poop. But this time, I did it. I asked if I could go first so that I could get it over and not be intimidated by the other students. He agreed and I played my two songs, Fur Elise and The Sting. They were not great, but I got through it. My teacher told me technically I was a good player but I didn’t play with any passion. That was fine with me. I marked another item off my list.
I loved to go to the movies and to the beach but was afraid to go by myself. Now I had a new found confidence and did both. Turns out I love going to the movie alone and I can turn a weekend at the beach alone into a personal retreat. Both are fantastic. Two more items off the list.
I had trouble driving in traffic. When we lived in Dallas and I had to drive on the interstate, I would drive a few miles, pull over and cry, and drive a few more miles. And I was afraid I would have to parallel park so I would not go places if that was a possibility. It goes on and on. The driving issue was pretty well taken care of when I got a cell phone. Turns out I was more afraid of getting lost than anything so the cell phone eliminated the fear. In 2001 I drove to Helen, GA by myself, not once, but twice!
Illness of those that I love was a huge fear. How do you handle it, what do you do? It was not an issue in my life but it still was a constant nag. I decided to volunteer for Hospice. I took the classes necessary to learn their theology and got my first patient. I asked for a nursing home patient because I didn’t want to be totally responsible for anyone. Of course, they wouldn’t permit that anyway but I didn’t know it at the time. I learned so much from this experience, when the time came, I took a second patient. It was a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I did it. I learned to listen in a brand new way and I met two amazing women in their final days. Someday I hope to volunteer for it again.
Today I took my first ice skating lesson. This is the final thing on my list. My sister Patti started taking lessons last week. She asked if I could still join the class and they said yes. The security of Patti being there was comforting but as it turns out, Patti wasn’t able to go today so I started the journey alone. I wanted to bolt and run but I didn’t. I went anyway. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I put on my skates and walked over to the instructor. First thing she taught me was how to fall. I did not want to fall and didn’t do it well. I decided right then and there that I was not going to need that skill. I am stubborn! As we got on the ice I started thinking that at 54 I really didn’t need to do this. Very few people knew about my list and no one would blame me if I bolted. But, I would know. So onward ho! I cannot believe how fast an hour lesson goes. I was exhausted at the end. But I did it. I managed to stay upright, looking like a zombie trying to keep my balance. I did not fall, no broken bones, no concussion, just a terrific feeling of accomplishment. I will be there front and center for my next lesson.
Through this journey, I learned that some fears are normal and even good. I also learned that knowledge is powerful. I cannot expect to know everything. Skills have to be learned. If I want to grow a beautiful rose garden, I need to find someone who has one and allow them to teach me. Somehow I had a disconnect and thought as an adult I should just know everything.
I am not free from fear and anxiety but today when it rears its ugly head I just say to myself “Marilyn, you jumped out of an airplane, you CAN do this!” and off I go. Life is sweet.