When I was very young I was frightened at night of my grandparent’s home in Tokyo because I was convinced that there was a ghost that lived in the hallway (do ghosts “live” anywhere?). In tears I confessed my terror to my grandmother, who, in a quiet matter-of-fact manner, told me that the best way to take away a ghost’s power was to acknowledge it by its name and ask it to stop bothering you. Thus, that evening in that dark hallway, holding my grandmother’s hand, my quivering 5-year-old voice asked Mr. Ghost to leave me alone. He never bothered me again.
It’s human nature to turn away from things that frighten us, part of the fight or flight response to which human action is sometimes reduced. I would argue that those are not the only two choices available. My grandmother wisely posited a third option; to face the thing with equanimity, to acknowledge its existence, and to find a way to live in harmony with it.
These days I find that my emotions are heightened and I’m more prone to an instinctive fight-or-flight response. Some days it’s almost as if I want to put my fists up to any bit of bad news (as if I could really fend it off) and angrily rail against the world; on others all I want to do is flee from the bleak state of things, to avoid it completely, to pretend it doesn’t exist. Neither response is really helpful, of course, and reacting this way exacerbates both my depression and anxiety.
As I’ve written before, it’s immensely challenging for those of us who struggle with mental health issues to navigate these tempestuous times; the instability we face at every breaking news update can’t help but intensify the volatility of our own internal states. It’s challenging not to get into a vortex of anxiety.
And although I know I can’t always follow my own advice, if this sentiment resonates with you, I give you the possibility that we need not turn to the harmful poles of fear or fright. Rather, let’s turn to face that which causes us strife, and see it for what it is, without judgment. Acknowledging it, accepting its existence and moving forward inspire of it – this is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
What is your tendency – to fight or to flee? Have you found yourself more angry or more afraid?
My task today: to get outside even though it’s moody cloudy grey day and I don’t feel like running (the activity that usually gets me out of my house). Just finished a leisurely 2 hour bike ride (done!)