Several years ago, I had an epiphany about fear.
Specifically, I realized in a sudden flash that what I feared was not the thing itself, but what it felt to be afraid. And so I was afraid of being afraid.
The chest-crushing, breath-stealing, frozen shock of physicality is what I feared.
The desperate grief of the effect on those I loved, and the spectre of their own fear, is what I feared.
The thing itself can be dealt with, or not.
It kills me, or it doesn’t. It creates change or things remain static. I respond or I do not. The thing itself is not logical to be afraid of.
I had this epiphany and then, because living in a metacognitive state is exhausting when the thoughts you’re analyzing are the thoughts you are currently having, I allowed myself to forget.
My sixteen-year-old has a working diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. She’s being treated by doctors and therapists. She takes meds. She goes to therapy. And yet.
Living with my teenager is like living in a hostage situation.
I cannot let her go out alone. I cannot leave her in the house alone without A LOT of pre-planning and as much forethought as possible. I cannot let her have a goddamn phone. I discovered that she was accessing the internet today on her Nintendo DS and turned it off — so she left the house in a rage and we had to call the police.
She is an addict. She is a pathological liar. She knows how to become whatever person she needs to be in order to get what she wants, in that moment.
And so I am continually de-escalating her. Every emotion, every feeling, every desire, is turned up to eleven for her. There is no, I’d like to do such and such soon. It’s, I need to do this today or I want to kill myself. It’s, I will attempt to negotiate every single thing you’ve told me is non-negotiable, and then I’ll run away because I’m angry with you.
It’s non-stop 911 calls, conversations with EMTs and police officers, verbal recollection of the past 18+ months of hospital and acute care stays, midnight arguments, locking up everything she could hurt herself with, cajoling her into taking meds when she’s too angry and upset to think clearly.
It’s validation and reassurance when all I want to do is lock myself in my room and cry. It’s firm boundaries, reinforced over and over and over and over again, never budging, always standing up again to say no, for the thirtieth time, the hundredth time, the thousandth time, no.
It’s living in a state of exhaustion. It’s my other kids in therapy to help them deal with the reality that their sibling is dangerous. It’s operating as if you are calm while being ready to execute on whichever safety plan matches the current circumstances.
It’s taking a hot shower not because you’re dirty and need one, but because it’s a chance to relax and be alone for fifteen minutes. To let the hot water cleanse you and hold you. To remember that your gods and ancestors are here for you. To recite the things that remind you who you are.
Today, reciting the Litany Against Fear reminded me of the epiphany I had before: that I was not afraid of the thing itself, but of the way the fear makes me feel.
I am not afraid of her BPD.
I am not afraid of what she will do.
I am afraid of its impact on my other kids.
I am afraid of the impact on my spouse, and on my relationship with them.
I am afraid of the impact her behavior has on my quality of life.
But these things can be planned for and dealt with and looked at with clear unflinching eyes.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when the fear has passed, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.