Fear Response

bicycle and mural

In the not so distant past, my reaction to fear was to have panic attacks that turned my body into the enemy, which was a good distraction from battling ‘the thing’ that was making me afraid in the first place. Such attacks are rare now and when they happen, it’s on a smaller scale.

Face your fears… that’s my current motto. I believe whatever I fear is usually an exaggerated, worst outcome scenario that only exists in my imagination. If I face the situation, I find that I really had nothing to worry about or that what I had to face was something I could handle.

But now I’m wondering if some fears are of a nature that the best thing to do is listen to them. Perhaps saying “No” is another form of bravery, another way of facing the fear and deciding this is one mountain I don’t need to see close up. Perhaps it’s okay to be a chicken sometimes.


Recently I faced an old memory and did not handle it as well as I thought I would. This has me more curious than upset. How deep does trauma go that it can rear up again in physical and emotional ways – not as intense as the initial event but still surprisingly strong and exhausting. To feel unsafe when your brain keeps reassuring you that everything is okay is strange and disconcerting. That solid groundedness I believed I had mastered seemed less assured. I didn’t expect to still be vulnerable to emotions that I thought were long gone.

I was drawn back to an earlier me, and oh, I grieved for that poor woman. But I also realized I wasn’t her anymore. Well, I am her but there’s been many layers piled on top and braided around her that have strengthened the rope. There have been many good memories since then that she can rest in, see herself in. Still, having those emotions come up made me ask myself how do I know when to face a fear and when to listen to it and decide to play it safe?


I’ve been looking at horse boarding ads, hoping to find that perfectly rare situation: a stable less than a thirty minute drive away, adjoined to a park with horse trails, a smallish barn without the drama and competitiveness that can exist in large barns, and a place within my price range.

I did not find this perfect scenario. What I found was a stable 30 minute drive away with a short trail on the property, a mix of ages and disciplines, a good sized pasture for Luke with a large run in, and a good sized indoor and outdoor arena. And it’s within my price range.

I didn’t go to this barn and have an immediate “this is perfect for me” feeling that I had when I visited the place Luke is at now. But then the reason, the person who made the barn a home for me, is no longer there. She moved on to a new phase of her life while I remained behind, hoping that the barn would still work for Luke and I.


It hasn’t been a question of horse care — the new owners have taken good care of Luke. But I’ve missed the friendship and the camaraderie with other boarders. I’ve missed trail rides and seminars. Even though I don’t like busy barns, I miss the companionship of being around other horse people. I began to suspect that I was hiding away, remaining in a state of mourning for how things had changed. How could it ever possibly be the same or as good as it had been?

Of course, it couldn’t be the same. It would be different, but maybe different would be good too. Still, sometimes what we miss most in our lives is what we also fear going after.

I used the excuse that Luke was doing well where he was and I didn’t want to risk his heaves taking a turn for the worse or having him get picked on by another horse. But as I found myself going to the barn less and less and dreading it every time I went, I knew something had to change.  I’m not sure I’m making the right move, but I am making a move. If the choice I’ve made doesn’t work out, then I will try something else.

That’s something else I’ve learned — choices are not sentences that you have to live with forever. You can change your mind and pick another option. You handle whatever comes — including the grief that always seems to come with change, even if the change is something you want.

Reflections on where I was five years ago and everything that has happened since then makes me shake my head in disbelief. I would have never imagined my life was going to be what it is now. All my planning and worrying and trying to control the outcome is not what brought me happiness. It’s been people who came into my life and all that they have meant to me.

So I’m still not sure I’ve worked out how to recognize the fear that I need to walk towards and the fear I need to walk away from. Perhaps it’s a matter of whether walking away makes me feel better or worse. And perhaps it’s walking towards the fear that opens the door of possibilities.


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  1. I love what you say about choices not being sentences that we have to live forever, it’s so important to realize that and be brave to follow that wisdom if necessary.
    I think there is no general answer to the question when it is right to run towards our fears and when away from them. Fear may both limit and protect us and perhaps if we are honest with ourselves, we understand what’s the case or rather will gradually understand better and better… Good luck with the new stable!

    PS I’m so happy you returned to the black and white photos in your posts, their documentary look accompanies your reflections wonderfully!

    1. Thank you Petra! That little discovery about choices not being an eternal sentence was a big one for me. Takes a lot of pressure off. And I’m glad you like the black and white. I really have started liking it more than color but not everyone responds favorably. It’s fun to experiment!

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