Fears

I used to think I wasn’t a fearful person. Armed with statistics and a healthy lifestyle, illness and accidents were part of a lottery I thought I had little chance of winning. Then I was bitten by a tick. Now I see that I had plenty of fears, I just didn’t admit to them. Except for spiders. I was afraid of spiders. Now I’m afraid of ticks.  I don’t know if I will ever willingly go into actively tick- and Lyme-infested woods. Going through the last four years again is unfathomable to me.

The list of my fears is not rational. Is anyone’s? I am scared of, in no particular order, tornadoes, earthquakes, cycling on roads, drowning in the deep ocean, and losing my daughter. Oh, and volcanoes. Being encased forever in hot magma scares the crap out of me. I realize my chances of dying in a tornado, earthquake or fire are slim to none, but they evoke a primal terror inside of me, as does drowning in deep ocean waters. These fears limit me only slightly, but I would think twice before I lived anywhere along the ring of fire, or tornado alley. Now that I live in the suburbs of Denver, fire is not a real fear, but I definitely live in fire danger country.

I am not afraid of flying, drunk drivers, snakes, mice, or smaller spiders. Large, unexpected spiders make me jump, but I’m not gonna die of fright or anything. I should frightened by cancer, falling down in my own home, fire, heart attacks, strokes, and gunfire, but I’m not. I am less and less afraid of death. I do retain a perfectly healthy fear of how I die.

Getting into existential fears is pointless. Of course I’m afraid of failure, success, commitment, being alone, love, not being in love,  and why I exist at all. I’m not particularly afraid of speaking in front of people or rejection. Any sane person should be afraid of being shamed in public or shunned. I think I probably should have titled this ‘My Personal Fears’. Fears, like one’s belief system is highly personal. No two person’s lists are the same, really. I might argue that these two parameters truly define who one is.

This completely informal list of neuroses has changed, obviously. Life experiences shape one’s fears. Fears about illness and aging have moved to the front For instance, is Lyme like polio? Will it come back with a vengeance when I’m older and physically vulnerable? What if I do something foolish, like trying to descend a flight of stairs with two suitcases while I’m traveling and fall? What is I’m working in the yard and have a stroke? I never gave a moment’s thought to any of these scenarios when I was young. The slow, inexorable accumulation of insults, injuries and illnesses has changed my list.

My fear of ticks is actually grounded in statistics and science. Global warming has exacerbated the upswing of vector-borne diseases. Mosquitos, ticks, and fleas hang around longer because there are less sub-freezing days. We encroach more and more on natural habitats of the deer, mice and other animals these insects feed on, exposing ourselves to an ever growing list of diseases. There are diseases in the water and dirt around us. Houstonians know this firsthand after hurricane Harvey. Southwesterners know that Hanta virus and Valley Fever fungus live in the dust and can kill. People who live where mosquitos are know about Zika and West Nile Fever. I don’t think my fears on this front are misplaced.

With Lyme, I have discovered earlier than some people that I am terrified of losing my mind. I think I could live with loss of mobility, or hearing, but I’m not sure. I also think I could live with chronic pain, but I’m not sure. I am positive I cannot live with the loss of cogent thinking.

As I wrote out my list of significant fears, I left out the everyday fears, the ones I have carried most of my life, because I wasn’t quite aware of them. The biggest one is protecting my deaf side. I do not climb trees. I do not place myself in physically precarious situations, like bungee jumping, cliff diving or skiing. I guard that side of myself unconsciously and zealously. This is another fear, like ticks, where my fear is valid and my vigilance necessary. The other constant fear didn’t begin until thirty-one years ago, when Katie was born. I share this fear with nearly every parent, the thought that I might lose Katie before I die is always there, a kind of low-level current that trips when she’s driving late on a snowy night and I haven’t heard from her, or when she gets sick.

Lifestyle and genetic illnesses don’t scare me at all. My biggest indulgences are smoking pot off and on, depending on how sick I am, and salty chips. I don’t have a family history because I’m adopted. Aside from Lyme, I have zero health problems. No high blood pressure, no cancerous moles or heart problems. No medications outside of Lyme. I tend to feel my chances of cancer are dictated by genetic mutations and bad luck, so I play that lottery without worrying. If it happens, it happens. I’ve worn sunscreen virtually my whole life (thanks, Mom!) and have had one sunburn.

So that’s it. A somewhat incomplete list, to be sure, because I could reel off a whole other list of minor anxieties and half-baked fears. But these are the biggies, both rational and irrational. Right now, and perhaps for the rest of my life, Lyme disease remains the hulking specter that overshadows all other fears.

 

 

 

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mouse

This past week, I got sick. A stomach bug. My daughter’s boyfriend caught it and brought it home, thinking it was food poisoning. Three days later, Katie came down with a particularly virulent case. I washed everything like crazy, but it wasn’t enough. Friday morning I woke with a queasy, hard knot in my stomach. Having an acute illness on top of a chronic illness seems a cruel twist of fate. I haven’t been sick since I got sick with Lyme, which, even as I type, sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it’s true. Anyway, at some point in between throwing up and wishing I would die, I remind myself that every adult on the planet has gone through this. Clinton, Trump, hell, probably Jesus himself, have all lain on the floor, sweaty and gasping for breath after emptying the contents of their stomach. This always makes me feel better. Another thought came into my mind: why me? I’ve been wondering that since I got bitten by a tick. A cliched metaphor crept into my thoughts. I feel like the universe is a cat and I am a mouse. Every once in a while, said cat notices me and bats me around for a bit. She grows bored (yes, she. All cats, for whatever reason, seem female to me.) and leaves me to recover, so she can come back another time.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not religious. I hesitate to even call myself spiritual. If I believe in anything, it is the random chaos of the universe. There is no reason that explains why me, or why this. It’s no one’s will, or fated in the stars or any such thing. Lyme has tested my beliefs in ways I never would have guessed. Instead of finding answers, I’ve found more questions. And before I get judged on my beliefs, let me point out that I have tried, more than once to understand what this thing called “faith” is. When I was twelve I tried, praying every night and reading the Bible. Nothing, not one smidgen of connection. I became Catholic when I married my ex. I dragged Katie to church for years, to give her a foundation that allowed her to choose. Katie calls me a born-again Atheist. I’m back in my comfort zone, a place most people would be extremely uncomfortable in, because what I am sure of is that I know nothing.

I have had hours to think about this. Hours where I wish I could pray the Lyme away, where I had never gotten bitten by a stupid fucking tick.Hours to dismantle my vague and uninformed idea of karma, because that doesn’t explain anything, either.  Where then, do I find the strength to get through this latest round? The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s my nature. Maybe I learned from my parents. That’s another thing. I’ve thought about my mother often. I wish I could talk to her, hear her voice when I need a lift. I was reminded sharply, by Katie, that I am now the mom. Even a 29-year-old wants her mom when she’s barfing and pooping all at the same time. I didn’t do much—wiped her face with a cool washcloth, rubbed her back and told her it would be alright. I am the one who comforts, not the one who needs comfort. Who do all of us old ladies turn to when our mothers are gone? Each other? Ourselves? I think my mom gave me the tools to look inward and gather my own strength. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Not too long ago Katie told me the same thing. I was shocked at first. I don’t think enduring is strong, but maybe that is the definition of strength. You do what you can and play the cards you’ve been dealt. There’s nothing heroic about it. The mouse isn’t being heroic, the mouse is trying to survive.

 

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