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Touching Fear–Guest Post with Nicky Mendenhall

When I read my friend Nicky Mendenhall’s December 4th blog post, I knew I had to ask her permission to repost it on WomanPause. I am grateful she said yes.

We talk a lot about fear on WomanPause. I often borrow the title of that oldie-but-goodie book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and discuss how fear should not be shunned—or even feared itself (have you ever been afraid of your fears?) Fear is a sign that we are on to something important, that we are about to step out of our comfort zones, that we are making the space for growth and change. Yes. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

 

In her post, Nicky talks about another important act we can do with our fear—touch it. It can be so healing when we allow ourselves to hold the fear instead of run from it. “Fear is just a feeling” and feelings cannot harm us. I’ll leave the rest to Nicky below. It’s a short post about a small incident that made a huge impact on her.  Nicky’s words touched me in a big way. Enjoy.

 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment or send me an email. Let us know the ways or times that you have touched fear.

See you on March 1st!

XOXO

Diane

 

What is Fear Anyway?

 

Early one morning, I was standing at the kitchen counter gathering a handful of red clover herbs from the jar in order to transfer them to my French Press where I make tea to hopefully make my bones stronger, wondering how I could do this without making a mess on the counter which would irritate my clean-freak partner, (he doesn’t say anything but I see him cleaning it up quickly & imagine his disgust). In the midst of this reverie, I suddenly saw something, not out of the corners of my eyes, but from the bottom of my eyes, below my glasses. The “something” moved and startled me. Immediately I guessed it was a mouse.

I looked but there was really nothing there. Nothing. Except my fear. I put my right hand on my heart and said to myself, “Fear is just a feeling.”

I ended up saying it several times. “Fear is just a feeling.” I calmed myself down. The ability to accomplish this has taken more than a decade of Freudian psychoanalysis. And still, it wasn’t easy to do. But I didn’t run out of the room. There wasn’t even the blood-curling scream that my parents said would wake the dead.

 

“I Felt a Tenderness Towards Myself … and the Sadness Was There Too”

 

Instead, I told myself that even if it was a mouse, it was not going to hurt me, something I’ve heard countless times after I’ve screamed during the years I have been terrified of mice. The knowledge that I wouldn’t get hurt never helped before but on this morning, it seemed to make sense in a new way.

I could hear the reality of the advice when I tamped down my anxiety and fear.

Synchronicity was definitely on my side when shortly after that, I sat down to meditate. Tears came to my eyes when I read the first part of the reading Susan Piver chose for the day, one of Pema Chodron’s jewels:

“If you touch the fear

instead of running from

it, you find tenderness,

vulnerability, and

sometimes a sense of

sadness.”

I felt all of that – I felt a tenderness towards myself that I could actually calm down, I appreciated how vulnerable to this fear I am but didn’t let it take over. And the sadness was there too. Sadness about another good friend who died, this time of COVID. Larry, a friend who supported me professionally from the very beginning of my career. And then grieving Bill, my social work friend and member of my first writing group who also died of COVID. And still, of course, grieving my woman friend Jeanne from TN.

So many feelings and they were all available to me because I touched the fear.

If you’d like to learn more about Nicky, here’s her website. You can also revisit our interview here. And if you want to check out her new book Fear, Folly, and Freud: A Psychotherapist in Psychoanalysis, about her journey through psychoanalysis, here’s the link.

 

6 Comments

  1. Janet Rodriguez on February 15, 2021 at 10:37 pm

    Interesting piece here! I love the reaction:”A mouse is not going to hurt me.” I’ll carry that with me today.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2021 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks, Janet! I actually have to talk to Nicky about this–I LOVE mice! I used to live in a house in the woods and we’d get mice so often, the cats didn’t even bother with them! I’d catch them in Have-A-Hart traps and send them on their way outside … and not one of them ever hurt me!

  2. Sarita K Sid on February 15, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    This is an interesting and very timely piece on fear; what it is and what we can do with it. Thank you for this novel approach, Nicky, and thank you, Diane, for sharing this insight it with us 🙂 It’s fascinating that we can ‘know’ something but be unable to assimilate it into our being for many years. This is also a strong case for patience with ourselves.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2021 at 8:41 pm

      I love this Sarita: “This is also a strong case for patience with ourselves.” Soooo well put!!

  3. Alison McGhee on February 15, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    I love this, Diane. Lately, and strangely, people keep telling me how fearless I am, and I keep saying I am NOT fearless, I’m scared of so many things, and this essay really speaks to me. Thank you.

    • Diane Gottlieb on February 15, 2021 at 4:44 pm

      Oh, Alison, I think fearless does not address who you are! Brave warrior woman who feels fear but does not let that stop her–is more like it! XO

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