Let’s call it like it is, as hard as that is to do. We are all feeling that our very existence is being threatened, and we are scared. Not just possibly my life, or your life, but every level of our existence is in danger. Will we survive? Will our family and friends survive? Will the economy? Will we have a job, an income, be able to keep our house? If we are deeply honest with ourselves, we can admit it: This is terrifying. Each person has a different way of reacting to this level of terror, but for all of us, it is interfering with our ability to live our lives.
We are hearing a lot about the grief and anxiety, but I think we are terrified of admitting that we feel terrified, so we don’t address it directly. Instead, people talk about not sleeping, feeling tense, needing to go for more runs than usual, watching too much Hulu, etc., but we aren’t calling it what it is. Naming gives us the option to take control. Once we name something, we can address it and do something about it. So let’s call it by its name: terror.
Everything we are doing now has turned into a Sisyphean task — we are forcing the boulder of our current work up the mountain of our fear. In the normal life we have left behind, the terrain we were pushing our life and work on was a predictable, if rolling, terrain. There were ups and downs, for sure, but now….now we are rolling the rock of our lives up a very steep hill. Every once in a while, we forget how hard it is and we get a minute of relief, but then we are right back on that mountain, pushing the rock uphill against the weight of our dread.
If we are to defeat the control this terror has on us, the only real choice is to turn around and face the mountain. But facing it means, quite literally, facing our fears of death, and we are lousy at that. We are hard-wired to be lousy at that. We don’t want to feel that we will cease. We are the center of the universe, so how can we end? So unfair! And we might end so unfairly!
Right now we have an opportunity. We get to confront the fact that death is real, that our death is real. That deep part of us that believes that others will die but not us — it has nowhere to go right now. And it just can’t believe that it’s in this situation. We Americans are supposed to be exceptional! We are the best in the world at everything! This can’t be happening here. We have the best (fill in the blank) in the world, so it can’t get me, or my loved ones, or the people like me.
Here’s the genuine kernel of reality that can make this a little bit easier: Once we name it, terror can be less terrifying if we stop resisting it and let ourselves be with it for a few minutes every day. Our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts are not calm now. An honest look inside shows us the mice running around in our thoughts, the hamster wheel of our emotions, our bodies desperate to outrun the existential fear and get off that mountain.
So try this: Take five minutes by yourself in a quiet place. Sit down, close your eyes, and see if you can feel your feet, your legs, the rest of your body. What does your body want to do? Sleep? Dance? Run? Fight? Scream? Laugh? Then pay attention to what you are feeling in your stomach and chest, your emotions. Are they calm, roiled, angry, sad, joyous, anxious, all of the above? Then watch your thoughts. Are they tumbled, jumbled, clear, fast, slow? This is just noticing; there’s no right or wrong.
Take a minute and do what your body wants to do. Punch the air or the bed, run around the house (maybe outside the house?), scream into a pillow, laugh out loud, dance, shake, rock, whatever. Now take a minute and do what your emotions want to do. It may be just like what your body wanted, or it might be doing something creative, or something ordinary and soothing. Then take one more minute to find one simple action you can take to satisfy your brain right now, and make a plan to do it today. Do this exercise for five minutes a day for five days, and look at what happens and how you feel. See if you have a little bit more energy for the things you care about.
This isn’t a fix. There is no fix. But we can take action to allow the terror to have some breathing room, which then allows us to have more energy for the things that really matter to us. Congratulations: You’ve started to accept your true self by feeling and allowing your terror. When we accept our emotions, we start to become free, and can live the lives we dream of.
Follow Janaki Jane on Facebook at Broken and Free with Janaki Jane. Jane has a degree in psychology and has been working in the counseling, training, health and healing fields for over thirty years. She is the founder and program director of the Wide Spaces Community Initiative, “Creating a Community of Belonging and Personal Safety for Everyone,“ a program through the Lyons Regional Library.
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