Original Date: MAY 31, 2016
ON a recent backpacking trip to the Deschutes National Forest I learned something very important about myself; I learned that fear is a driving force in my life. I am a fearful person. I allow fear to permeate my thoughts and stunt my actions. I imagine all the potentially negative outcomes to any action and err on the side of inaction. I ignore or devalue any potentially positive outcomes even when they are much more likely. At times these fantasies are so overwhelming and horrifying that I am frozen with debilitating anxiety. This extreme case happened a few days ago.
My brother I had been planning a backpacking trip for months. I spent so much time at REI preparing for this adventure and when it came time to head up to the mountains I thought I was ready for anything. But all the gear in the world wouldn't help me with the unrelenting fear that occurred as soon as the night fell and the internal fear machine kicked in that first night. Lying in the tent in the dark, with thousands of frogs raucously belching for 6 hours, my mind began twisting the cacophony into impending doom. Sometimes it was screams in the distance but mostly I anticipated bears or cougars skulking around the tent looking to attack and eat me as soon as I fell asleep. Even as I attempted to sooth my self with a rational outlook the intensity of my fear was unstoppable.
The next day as the light grew and I regained my sanity the fear was replaced by a sense of shame at my lack of courage and psychological control. In the back of my mind I knew that another night was coming and I didn't want to let the fear win. I didn't want to admit to myself or my brother the severity of the anxiety and I was not going to puss out and ask to go home. Fuck that. So we picked up camp and explored more of the trails and settled on a new site closer to the trail head and along a swift river. We were no more than an hour from the car and with hours of daylight we could have easily just went home and part of me wanted that more than anything. We came here to camp and be in nature and I knew that to give in to the fear would not only be esteem shattering but disappointing to my brother.
As the second day grew to a close I found that as I stayed busy preparing firewood, making spears, or a poor attempt at a bushcraft fence that my mind was calm and unencumbered. After we watched the fire wither away into embers we retreated to the tent for the final night. We played cards for a while but soon I was alone with my thoughts and as I stared into darkness the theater of my mind stormed with a jumble of tension and horror. I wanted to cry but instead clenched my fists with frustration and after hours of torment I realized something. I realized that this was just a symptom of a fundamental personality trait. I began remembering other times in my life where extreme pessimism weighed me down. Times where I felt stuck in my body and out of control of my mind.
This realization was crucial because I identified the root of my distress. I wasn't afraid of bears or cougars. Instead I have a deftly refined ability to think negatively that has permeated my life in one form or another for a very long time. It has stopped me from speaking my mind, from taking action and living in the moment. So, as I lay there, epiphany in hand, I began an impromptu mantra:
-I do not want fear to run my life.
-I want to be more courageous and brave.
-I am powerful
I repeated these lines over and over in my head until I became relatively relaxed. Not completely relaxed, but I could see that I was telling a story of despair in my head and that the real story would not end so tragically. I accepted all the emotions I was having but identified fear as only diminishing my will and power.
Fear was the only problem. I could fight a bear. Fuck bears! I had my brother to help me and I had a spear right out side the tent. I would murder a bear or at least go out fighting. Also, as we later googled, the odds of being attacked out in the woods are super fucking low. In fact one article explained that being in the woods may be the safest place a human can be. Throughout this trip I realized how brave and compassionate my brother is. We were very in sync and I learned how similar we are and I love his ability to enjoy life.
Now I have to catch myself as I create stories of horror and remind myself that I will not let fear run my life. Fuck fear.