Fear of the unknown – the subject of this post applies to running, life and anything and everything in between. I’m going to share some personal struggles I have and have had with my own fear of the unknown and all the avoidance, denial, attempts at control, and other maladaptive ways of coping that I’ve seen myself cling to when life gets scary.
Fear of Pain
My life is full of examples of how I’ve attempted to control my fear of pain. The pain I’ve consciously and unconsciously inflicted on myself is much safer than potential pain coming from outside forces that I can’t control. Some people might look at me as a runner and say that training for and running marathons in and of itself is an attempt at inflicting a controlled degree of pain on myself at regular predictable intervals, in order to “train” myself to deal with pain of unknown origin. There is some truth to this, although running now occupies a place near and dear to me in my life, I do find comfort in creating stress and some pain in my life because I feel it makes me stronger. And why do I need to be stronger? Because of what’s out there, that I’m currently unaware of, that might require me to be as strong as I possibly can be. Of course, a higher VO2 max and the ability to run 26.2 miles if I had to will not save me from most of the pain I fear. But it makes me feel good to know I’m keeping my body strong. What do you think? Does the pain, or sometimes-uncomfortable self discipline we inflict upon ourselves train us for the pain that might await us? Or is it a maladaptive way of dealing with the fear?
Fear of Emotional Unraveling
This is similar to the fear of pain, although with this I’m focusing only on emotional pain and potential unraveling. The fear of “losing my sh*t” if you will. We all experience emotions, and at some point we’ve all had some scary emotions that made us feel out of control, possibly helpless, hopeless, and just all around horrible. This is part of being human and part of living. But, from a social perspective, most of us are uncomfortable discussing these emotional experiences and they do continue to hold a great stigma in society so we a) avoid them b) deny them c) try to control for them d) let them damage our self esteem and trust in ourselves or e) some combination of the above. So how have I dealt? This is a big one I’m working on. Again here running is a large part of how I’ve dealt with this fear for all of my adult life. Running purely as a physical activity releases endorphins that help me feel a lot more “in control” of my emotions in daily life, this is a major reason why I continue to do it regardless of goals or races or whatever. I’m able to process and deal with emotions so much more productively when I’m running and for hours afterwards. It’s a great thing, mostly. Running can also be a way to avoid things in life that are causing great stress. For example, 2 years ago when my daughter, then 5, was diagnosed with juvenile onset scoliosis that progressed really quickly, on the surface I was dealing with it really well. But inside, I was avoiding emotions. I was tunnel-vision focused on my running, and, although I thought it was helping me deal with the emotions around her condition and eventually impending surgery, I was running from my own fear of falling apart. I would have nightmares about her surgery and then go out and run miles and miles to forget about it. It sort of “worked” but I never really dealt with any of it, and by the time she had recovered from surgery I was heading toward injury, underweight, and my overall health was kind of a mess.
Fear of Regret
Fear of regret is similar to a fear of failure for me, except it includes all the nagging little thoughts of what I should be doing, should have done, wanted to do, want to do, promised myself I would do, etc. All of the dreams I’ve had and plans I’ve made in the timeline of my life, beginning somewhere around “become a famous singer” at age 5 to “write a book” at age 15 to “build a meaningful career” at age 22 and ends with where I’m at now, with lots of little life chapters completed but seemingly more and more being discovered now than ever before. Does that make any sense? Basically, there’s a lot I want to do in my life, and a lot I feel I’m capable of that I haven’t made happen yet, and I fear that I might never make any of it happen and have to live with the regret of not knowing what could have been. So I keep myself busy with “projects.” Maybe it’s a marathon, a blog (this has turned into quite a project) a coaching business, or even cooking experiments. I try to do a lot so that hopefully when I look back, I won’t be able to find a place for regret. The problem here is that I’m still not sure what it is that I really want to do. So I do a lot of things, and hope that I can feel proud of these accomplishments. But there are still many things sitting on the shelf that are staring at me as I’m writing, and I know that if I don’t go visit them at some point, I WILL regret it. Only one life and only so much time.
What are your biggest fears and how have you coped with them?