I am really afraid of this virus that I basically haven’t even slept at night for weeks. No matter how much I try to stop thinking about it, it’s all I think about, and I am always worried about stuff. My mother died last year, and I am living with my grandma.
What I’m about to say is going to make no sense, so bear with me. If you can hang in there until the end of this column, you’ll win a free toaster oven.
Think about it like this:
Pretend that you have a rabid squirrel living inside your head. Got it? Good.
This squirrel is your brain. This is not an analogy. Modern science has actually proven that human nervous systems are all controlled by small crazed furry rodents who behave as though they are on their fifth cup of coffee.
Your personal squirrel is CRAZY! He’s always running in circles. He’s never at ease.
But hey, don’t get mad at the squirrel. You need him. This squirrel (your brain) looks out for you. He’s making sure you eat, sleep, do your homework, wear clean underpants, etc. He just gets stuck on some issues.
Speaking of which. My mother was very hung up on the issue of clean underpants. It was as though she thought government employees were going to emerge from the shadows and perform randomized underwear checks. And if I was not wearing clean underpants I would be dragged outside and flogged with rubber hoses.
So before I go on, are you following me? I am saying:
1. Your brain is a squirrel.
2. My mother is obsessed with clean underpants.
This little squirrel will eat you alive. Not on purpose, he just gets so scared that he can’t help it. He probably sits around up there all day, slogging gallons of Mountain Dew so he can keep you awake at night.
Luckily, there is a tried and true way to deal with the squirrel. It is not easy, but it is straightforward. Here it is:
Tire that little squirrel’s butt out.
How do you do this? By letting him go buck wild. Don’t even try to stop him. Just let him run around and scream at the top of his lungs, let him shout, let him keep you up all night with fear.
Whatever you do, don’t try to stop him. Trust me on this, you don’t want to give this squirrel a chance to catch his breath, you want him to get so tuckered out being afraid that he falls asleep.
Here’s the screwy thing about fear. When you’re scared, everyone keeps telling you, “Don’t be afraid.” They say this if it is a groundbreaking psychological concept. As though you’re going to respond, “HEY! Why didn’t I think of that?! I feel better!”
Don’t be ridiculous. Anyone who has ever been scared knows that the more you try NOT to be afraid, the worse it gets. It’s the same with other crummy emotions.
You try not to be ticked off; you get even madder. You try not to be sad; you end up calling in sick to work and watching “Steel Magnolias” in your PJs all week.
Try to not be afraid? Yeah, right.
When I was a kid, I was afraid all the time. My family went through hard times and our lives were a roller coaster ride. I can remember lying in bed at night wishing that these heavy anxious feelings in my chest would go away.
I had so many questions. Would we have enough money to survive? Why did my father commit suicide? What was happening to my family? Would I make it to adulthood? Were government employees observing my underwear sanitation habits? If so, did they in fact possess rubber hoses?
I was the most scared kid you ever met. I’m not a skittish guy by nature. You probably aren’t either. But life kicks us in the teeth, and it makes you that way. Pretty soon, you’re curled into a ball begging for life to take it easy on you. That’s how reality works sometimes.
Well, I’d like to tell you about a friend I once had. I’ll call him Todd. I learned something important from Todd. This guy had gone through some major stuff, a lot more traumatic than anything I ever went through. His biological parents died in a bloody way. When he was younger he had foster parents who abused him until the court finally removed him.
I will never forget when he was leaving for a new foster home. Todd had all his things packed with him. Todd didn’t even seem worried. I of course was crying. I asked Todd if he was scared.
“Well, not really,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because after you’re afraid long enough, you get so tired of being afraid, that you aren’t anymore.”
The county van took him away and I never forgot what he said.
I wish I had something more helpful to tell you. But I’m no expert. In fact, all I am is a painfully average guy. Fear screwed up a big part of my life. And I am sorry to say that fear will probably mess up pieces of your life, too.
Let it. Because it will not win. It cannot win. One day, I promise, if you can just hold on, that squirrel will run out of gas. And it will be a brand new world for you.
Ask me how I know this.
Okay, here’s your free toaster oven.