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Fear can be my friend

Posted Jun 24 2010 12:00am

Source: oddsock

Oh, man – was that ever a close call… I have been juggling money, the past few weeks, making sure that I’ve got enough in my main account to cover the online billpay expenses. Online billpay is awesome, but when you have more than one account and more than a handful of people you have to pay money to, it can get a little nerve-wracking. Especially when the pay dates are staggered.

Hmm… Staggering. Oh, sorry for the wordplay (it’s my last day at my old job today and I’m a little punchy).

Anyway, the other day, I had to move cash from one bank account to the other. One of the problems is that my ATM card for the cash-full account no longer honors the PIN number the bank mailed to me. An ATM “ate” my card a few weeks back, telling me my PIN was wrong, and I had to jump through hoops to get it back. I haven’t gotten around to fixing that. Plus, the amount I needed to take out of the cash-full account to put into the cash-challenged account was more than you can withdraw at an ATM.

I had to go to a branch and get an envelope full of cash. First thing, before I did anything else. I had to do cash, so the deposit would be instantaneous, and we wouldn’t have the problem of those pesky overdraft fees (which really add up!).

My plan was to get the money at the start of the day, then go to the bank in the afternoon, since a branch for the bank for the cash-challenged account is just across the street from where I work. I figured it would be a simple thing right?

Well… Phase I getting the money out got delayed because I forgot that I needed to do a bank run, and I left later for work. Then I remembered on my way in, and I took the detour to the bank. I started out a bit behind. Then my day got busy, I had a Very Big meeting late in the day (6:00), and I got so caught up in preparing for that meeting, I completely forgot about the cash deposit until 6:25 p.m. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but all the bank branches in my neck o’ the woods close at 5:00. It appeared that I was totally screwed.

Hmmm. What to do? I had this intense rush of adrenaline (and probably glucose, since the liver pumps it out big-time when you’re in “ON” mode), and I started to panic. Then I thought – WAIT. What Else Can I Do Besides Panic?

I went online quick, pulled up my bank’s website and scanned through it for signs of any branches that were open later than 5. I couldn’t see any, and there were too many choices to sort through. So, I picked up the phone and called them. The service rep guy on the other line told me that there were some supermarket branches open till 7:00.  GREAT. Rather than have him look them up, I went back online thank you Google Maps and found a supermarket branch that was in a sorta-kinda familiar location.

The directions looked a little tricky, but I jotted notes down, did my damnedest to commit the visual map to memory, and ran for my car which was parked about half a mile away at the “cheap parking lot”.  Boy, am I ever glad I work out every morning and I work on my stamina. I couldn’t run the whole way, but I did manage to do some pretty intense intervals. By the time I got to my car, I was dripping with sweat, and my whole body was pulsing with all the magical stress hormones that cut pain, focus your attention, block out hunger or any other extraneous sensations, and basically get you where you’re going.

I had 20 minutes to find a place that Google maps said was 17 minutes away and get there in time to deposit my money to cover my payments.

Challenge. To say the least.

Traffic, predictably, was not cooperating, and I was losing time. I was literally teetering between desperate determination and abject despair. I started making up a Plan B contingency plan… what to tell my spouse about having forgotten such a simple yet essential task… how to cover the overdraft fees… all that. But I stopped the thinking before it got hold of me. I couldn’t spare the rumination. I had to just keep going.

As I got closer, I realized that I’d either overshot the first turn I’d written down, or there were streets on the map I hadn’t seen. Nothing looked like what I’d written down. In another time and another place years before I would have despaired, given up, and run off to spend some of the cash on something that would make me feel better. Years ago, I would have just gone off and gotten drunk or stoned. But it’s been decades since I’ve touched any controlled substance or a drop of alcohol, so that wasn’t an option. The only option was success.

So, I pulled over and asked a lady walking by if she should tell me where this grocery store was. At first, she ignored me, but I think I was sufficiently desperate that she took pity on me. She stood in the middle of the street and gave me directions, which sounded a lot more confusing than the map, but I went with it. I was losing time rapidly. It was 6:55, and I was still blocks away from this store.

I just kept going.

God only knows how I found the place it was over a bridge and behind a wall, and no rational explanation can account for how I found it. But I did. I pulled up in front of the store at 6:59, grabbed my wallet, and ran inside.

Alas the bank area was dark, and the tellers were all counting their money for the day.

“No you’re closed?!” I panted.

“We’re closed,” said a little man who looked like he was pissed he had to work till 7.

“Can’t someone just help me?” I said, trying not to sound too desperate, and focusing all my energy on staying calm and not breaking down like I do sometimes.

“Sorry,” he shrugged.

I started to turn away, then I turned back to give it one last try. I had come so far so quickly, I couldn’t just give up and walk away. “Can someone just give me 30 seconds?” I asked. “I have cash, and I need to put money in my account to cover my online payments. It’ll just take a second…”

“I can help you,” said a woman who was tapping keys on a calculator. With one hand, she slapped a deposit slip on the counter. I scribbled in my numbers, handed her the cash, and in 3o seconds literally it was done.

I’d made it.

Hardly believing my luck, I headed for my car in a daze. Then I realized I was famished and thirsty (when the fight-or-flight impulse subsides and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, that’s very common), so I decided to get a snack. I walked through the store in a sweaty daze, looking for something I could eat that wouldn’t fry my system. I settled on raspberry lemonade and an energy bar. I also picked up some stuff for my breakfast. As I was headed for the check-out, I looked up and saw the bank tellers still working, and I had the idea of going over and giving that unhelpful little bastard a piece of my mind. But after thinking about what might occur as a result nothing good, that I could imagine I decided to just let it go. Steer clear of the bank, and let everyone get on with their evening.

The bottom line was, I had made it, I’d gotten help, and I wasn’t going to have to explain my screw-up to my angry spouse AND pay a bunch of overdraft fees in the morning. Life was good. I could let it go at that.

This little adventure highlights something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately – the difference between anxiety and fear, including the biochemical differences between the two.

Some time ago, I discussed this a bit in the post 

The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety

Fear Anxiety
Fear is an immediate alarm reaction to present threat, characterized by feelings to escape and accompanied by specific physiological changes. Anxiety is a future-oriented emotion characterized by anticipation of potential threats.
Fear mobilizes a person to take action – the commonly known “fight or flight” response. Anxiety leads to scanning of the environment and body, resulting in increased sensory inputs

The “place” where I was the other day was definitely one of fear, rather than anxiety. It was immediate, alarming, and I was reacting to a present threat. I wasn’t all caught up in future-oriented imaginings the threat was right in front of me. I had to get to the bank. NOW.

It mobilized me to take action fighting the circumstances of limited time and fleeing from work to the bank as fast as humanly possible. I also kept “fighting” when I got to the bank not fighting with anyone, but fighting the circumstances I was in. I didn’t give up, till the deed was done, and I wasn’t going to quit until I had some resolution. Even if it was a bad one, I wasn’t going to just walk away from completion.

In this case, fear really saved my ass. That biochemical fight-or-flight drive pushed me, kept me focused, blocked out all sorts of extraneous issues, and it helped me achieve the seemingly impossible finding a bank that was open till 7 in an unfamiliar neighborhood, getting there, and actually depositing my cash where it needed to go. I did get critical help along the way, and for that I am grateful. Another thing the fear helped me with, was overcoming my reluctance to ask strangers for directions or help. I’m notorious for not asking directions. I want to do it all myself. But this time, I made an exception, and am I ever glad I did.

What this experience has taught me is that my body is wired to see me through. I’m designed to get the biochemical boost(s) I need, when I need them. I don’t need to be hesitant about engaging challenging situations. I can step up to them and see them through, rather than hanging back and thinking through every possible scenario, till I’ve talked myself into believing a situation is hopelessly complex and I’ll never be able to handle it.

It’s important to not get stuck up in my head, as I tend to do. My experience the other day showed me how doing that being up in my head afternoon about the evening meeting kept me from realizing I needed to go to the bank. I wasn’t paying full attention to my whole life. Yes, it’s important to have single-minded focus on important tasks, but I also needed to just open up my daily minder and pay intermittent attention to other things going on with me. I also needed to wake myself up I had been lulled into this sort of cognitive doldrums by my incessant focus on this one event of the day. I needed more variety. I needed to wake myself up.

One thing’s for sure I did wake up when I had to get the banking done. All my critical systems fired up again. I was back online. And how. The important thing for me to realize is that no matter how dull I may have been earlier in the day, I did indeed have the capacity to come back online. My pilot light had gone out but the gas was still there. I just needed to light a spark to get myself back in the game.

And I did get back in the game. And then some. Another really important piece of this was that it also showed me that I have what it takes to overcome those kinds of difficulties. I may be somewhat “off” because I’m caught up in thinking about stuff. My pilot light may go out. But I have what it takes to light a spark again, and get myself fired up and kicked into gear. I may not trust my brain all the time, but I can trust my body. My autonomic nervous system is literally built for situations like this, and it’s always available to me, no matter what. So long as I take care of it, it will take care of me. With proper rest and nutrition and giving my sympathetic nervous system a break with my deep breathing (which I now do before I get up each morning) and relaxation (which I do before I go to sleep each night), my built-in regulatory system can rise to the challenges of my everyday life, and help me get where I’m going.

It may not always be pretty, and it may not always be easy, but I can do this thing called living my life. If I take care of my body, it will take care of me.

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