Slow Fear and how to respond to it

Slow Frar.001

Most of the fear I’ve felt in my life I’d classify as Fast Fear: threat and response are immediate. Whether you flee, fight, face or freeze, your arousal level is high and adrenalin, pumps. Your fear and your response are locked together in a single intense moment.

These are supposed to be the moments when we find out about our character. I think they are the moments when we find out about our chemistry.  My chemistry’s first response to Fast Fear is to slow down time, focus my attention and shut down my emotions as far as I can. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s a reflex, not a choice. This response means that I often gain a false calm. I don’t let myself think about anything except what to do next. When the moment is over and Fast Fear has had its way,, I’ll be hit by emotions that no longer seem to have a trigger: tears, anger, joy.

In the past two decades, as people I loved started to die on me and my body and mind finally accepted that I was neither immortal nor invulnerable, I’ve come to recognise the existence another, more pernicious, kind of fear that my chemistry does not have a reflexive response to. I think of it as Slow Fear.

With Slow Fear, the threat is continuous and progressive rather than immediate. The response needs to be sustained for a long time. Constant high arousal is not an option. The answer is not to flee or fight or face or freeze but to endure.

This is not a sword being swung towards you in battle, it’s a sword hanging by a thread above your head when you cannot move.

Slow Fear is a dread of inevitable, inexorable, incremental loss. It’s the kind of fear that comes with the first suspicion of the onset of Alzheimer’s or the discovery of a lump in the breast, or, in my case, a slow but progressive deterioration in vision.

I’m still working on my response to Slow Fear. I know it starts with denial. I try to forget about the thing I fear because focusing on it all the time will break me. The longer I try to do this, the less effective it is. If Fast Fear is an ambush predator, Slow Fear is a patient stalker. It holds its place, at the edge of my awareness, wearing me down, slowly eroding my will and my hope.

My second response is the Dune gambit. I use a modified, shorter, more aggressive version of the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear:

I must not give in to fear
Fear is the mind killer
I will use my mind to pass through my fear
ahredding it until it is obliterated
And only I remaim

This isn’t quite as pretentious as it sounds. It moves me from denial to data gathering and analysis. That puts me right in my comfort zone. It makes me feel stronger. It replaces ignorance with knowledge and uncertainty with probability.

Sadly, sometimes, the knowledge only helps me see Slow Fear’s shape more clearly and probability predicts only when my stalker is likely to pounce.

The fear of blindness has been stalking me for a while now. I have ignored it. It hasn’t gone away.

Today, I finally had the tests that say I do not have a progressive eye disease that will take my vision from me. My stalker has dropped behind me a pace or two. Now a packmate of his has taken a position at my heals, one that whispers that my sight will never get any better and may still become worse. That not being blind is not the same as being able to see.

This is a smaller but more muscular Slow Fear. I can ignore it for a while yet. Then I will have to meet it and adapt.

In the end, Slow Fears always win. They cannot be defended against, only endured.

If they can be defeated at all it is by taking every opportunity to do more than endure. To outpace the stalker for a while by giving, getting and sharing joy. Acceptance is not necessarily defeat.

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