I am going to shamelessly employ a Harry Potter analogy without explaining it. If you haven’t read the books, go do that instead. They’re way more interesting than this blog.
Avoidance is one of the big features of anxiety disorders. When things scare us, or worry us, we try not to think too hard about them. We try not to talk about them. We try not to focus on them.
If you want to test this, bring up death some time at a dinner party. Watch as everyone tries to redirect you. They’ll try to talk about almost anything else. They’ll even flatly tell you that they prefer to focus on life.
People avoid what they fear.
As a parent, with anxiety, parenting a child, with anxiety, this is probably more poignantly obvious in our house. We avoid. It was true for me growing up too. There were some things you just didn’t talk about. Illness, disease, death, mental illness, sexuality, or any of a host of other things that are a part of life.
I was thinking about this, as I’ve been reading and trying to figure out how to help my little family build a happy life. One of the fastest ways to break the fear that grips us so often is to face it. Head on and without avoidance.
We can’t pussy-foot around our fears, calling them in so many words “He-who-shall-not-be-named”. We have to face them. We have to approach that queasy, jittery feeling in the center of our chests and chant at it, loudly, “Voldemort! Voldemort! Voldemort!”
So, in this house, we have long conversations about death, about fire, about illness, about choking, about moving, about not being around each other, about not liking each other, about not loving each other. We talk about things that make my chest tight and make me want to tell my daughter to “not think about it” or to “just go play”. We don’t do that though, because avoidance makes things grow.
Fear grows powerful in the dark.
We shine light on it. We drag the fears of spiders, of being alone, of dying out from their dusty corners and we iterate them. We catalog and investigate and discuss and delve. We talk about probability and inevitability and eventuality. We talk about plans and uncertainty. We talk about that ooky feeling in the pit of our stomach. We talk about avoidance. We talk about reality.
I think that the whole lot of us might need to do this. All of us. Let’s talk about death, poverty, inequality, hate, fear, mental illness, discrimination, war, illness. Let’s talk about it. Let’s face our fears. Not to be morbid or depressing, not to make ourselves afraid, but to see if maybe if we start talking these things begin to lose their power over us. If maybe if we face the world, if we yell “Voldemort”, if we talk about all of the fear and shame and worry, then maybe we can let it go.
It’s always easier to fight the things that you can have a conversation about.