It often starts out innocently enough, with a simple oversight. Something unexpected happens, perhaps something we have always dreaded, and it is impossible to correct the situation or deal with it effectively at the time. Managing our fears in such times of crisis is important, so that a bad situation doesn't get completely out of control.
As I evaluate my lifestyle I know that I have many opportunities for things to go wrong on a regular basis. I am quadriplegic, but live alone, with caregivers visiting only in the morning and evening. That situation finds me alone during the day and, more importantly, throughout the night. During those times I am dependent on some assistive technology and a communications infrastructure that is sketchy at best. When any portion of that particular support network fails, for whatever reason, I become as helpless as the earliest newborn. If I can't reason or scheme my way out of a bad situation I must deal with an appropriate amount of fear about what else might go wrong.
Some good examples of what can go wrong can be demonstrated by some past misadventures with my telephone. We all know that a nighttime emergency, whether the smell of smoke, strange noises outside a window, or even something going wrong healthwise should result in a call to 911 or whatever emergency responders are present in the community. To do that, most people have access to a telephone. Without that phone, it may be impossible to reach out for help.
I use a speakerphone located on my bed for nighttime calls. That is necessitated by my lack of mobility, due to the quadriplegia, and some limited hand function that goes along with it. The phone set is not hooked to a regular telephone "landline," but instead is part of the service provided by my cable television company that also provides Internet service.
Bundling those three services always seems like a good idea when the bill comes in, but if the cable service fails or electricity is out there is no telephone. That is not an insurmountable problem when I am in my wheelchair during daytime and have access to my cell phone, but that portable device is on a charger during the night, out of my reach.
The speakerphone can fail to work for a variety of reasons: a phone left off the hook in another room, a dead battery, the phone cable becoming unplugged from the wall, or putting too much pressure on the cable which causes it to break. One of the biggest shocks can be caused by suddenly realizing that the speakerphone was not placed on the bed before my help departed for the night. I have experienced phone failure from all of these causes during the past 26 years. Depending on how these failures are discovered, and when, the situation can generate a huge amount of fear.
There is a worst time for discovering phone failure, and that is obviously when there is an actual emergency in the house. A smoke alarm screaming in the hallway, someone jiggling a doorknob, or an excruciating pain of unknown origin may require an immediate call for help. Thankfully none of those have happened to me.
If pushing the speaker button doesn't result in a dial tone, I can guarantee that I'll be wide awake--just as I have been on several occasions. Managing the resulting fear is important, as no neighbors live within earshot of my screaming and hollering so that option is off the table.
At this stage, my pulse will be racing. That is actually a good thing, as the mind works better with greater blood flow.
Managing fear is a multistep process for me. First, is the situation real or simply caused by a bad dream? If real, such as that blaring smoke detector, is there any sign of an actual fire in the house? Could it be caused by a low battery which someone neglected to change when daylight savings time came along?
Is there a chance the noise outside the door might simply be caused by the wind, a pesky raccoon or some hungry neighborhood pet? Could that strange pain be the result of something I ate or drank too close to bedtime? Trying to convince myself of that is a good exercise to while away the time until someone arrives in the morning to fix the phone.
Managing fear is a lot like meditation. I think pleasant thoughts or remember pleasurable moments, while knowing that things could be worse; after all, I am usually in bed, not on the floor. Every time the phone has failed, I strategize about how to prevent this from happening in the future. Subscribing to regular telephone service, using a nighttime checklist, and signing up for an emergency alert service are all possibilities, although each has its drawbacks.
My current lifestyle makes it impossible to completely eliminate the circumstances that engender fear, so it is important that I continue to fine-tune my ability to manage that fear. It is even better if I can subsequently turn it into a positive learning experience.
Are there any situations in your life that create panic or fear? If so, how do you handle them?
© 2013 Michael Collins