Fear: Not just a great Mid 90's movie
Mark Wahlberg's character's name? David McCall. My dad's name? Yup, you guessed it. MARK WAHLBERG IS MY DAD?!?!?!
Fear, according to Psychology Today, is defined as "a vital response to physical and emotional danger which has strong roots in human evolution."
Fear can come from a huge variety of sources, and affect us in a number of different ways. Fear can range from the irrational (pogonophobia - the fear of beards), to the common (fear of public speaking), to the devastating (severe social anxiety disorder).
My own journey with fear has been unique and evolved throughout my decorated lifespan. I remember not being afraid in my youngest days. I broke a collarbone, lost a front tooth, and got hit by a car while riding my bike two different times because I was fearless to the point of recklessness and no adaptation to my behaviours despite the experienced consequences.
To this day, I still have a visible scar on my chin from skidding down the road on it after being hit on my bike. I also still don't have a real front tooth, as it's glued to the two on either side of it and not actually in my gums. I somehow jumped from way too many way too high things to prove how tough/crazy I was, and never broke a leg.
I only remember being truly scared once when I was a kid.
Growing up in New Zealand, it was a different time and place compared to what most knew as Canadians. In the early 90's, they only had three tv channels. My mom was huge into reading and outside play, and my sister and I were limited to one tv show a week. This was usually The Simpsons on Sunday nights.
The Simpsons were THE BEST when I was a kid. Hard to believe they're still on!
One particular Sunday night, my mom decided to join my sister and I as we watched our show on the main floor. We had an upstairs to our house that my sister and I had never seen, as that was my former stepdad's space, and children weren't allowed there. My former stepdad was a real piece of shit. Remember how I mentioned that my dad was 11 years older than my mom? Well, my former stepdad was 21 years older. He had adult kids and a former wife that he drove to horrible places (cocaine, rehab, the works) due to his scumbag ways. I was told by my dad as an adult that we moved to New Zealand once the divorce was final because my former stepdad had warrants for his arrest. He was in a biker gang. A real winner.
Anyways, so this night in question he was upstairs and on the liquor as usual. When being on the liquor (Jack Daniels, because his name was Jack. To this day I find Jack Daniels repulsive), he was angry and impulsive and essentially about as much fun as dining slowly on a giant order of broken glass and rusty nails.
Google image searching "Jack Daniels Sucks" gets a result!
Hearing us have the audacity to laugh and have fun together in his house was no bueno in his books. He came downstairs, walked into the room we were watching tv in, and kicked the tv off the stand and against the wall, smashing it to pieces. He then screamed "THAT WAS FUNNY RIGHT? LAUGH NOW!" and proceeded to spend the next few hours alternating between hitting, screaming at, threatening, and holding a knife to each of us. While holding me against the wall with a knife to my throat, I was fully afraid and expecting to die. The "I picked a wrench, because fuck him that's why" quote from Good Will Hunting stands out to me this day because I will never forget staring directly in Jack's eyes as an eight year old with his life flashing before his eyes and refusing to show any fear.
He relished the smell of fear, and decided to dedicate more of his attention to beating on and screaming at my mom and sister. I froze in place because I knew I was powerless and had no idea what to do. We were on an opposite island from my mom's family, I had no idea how to use a phone, and knew nowhere else to run for help as we were new to the street and our neighbourhood was full of total strangers to me. Moving every three months when my former stepdad got fired was so routine to us that I didn't know anyone, or how to relate to anyone. 119 Trewavas St in Motueka, New Zealand was our own personal hell.
We survived the night, and a whole bunch more future torment. I was never afraid again after that night, but the freezing continued. I was a wisp of a kid, and couldn't take three steps without tripping over my own feet. I couldn't speak unless spoken to directly, and couldn't look people in the eye when they talked to me. How would I ever be able to defend myself? All I ever wanted was for the torture and torment to go away. I think this is the source of my extremely long fuse that I possess to this day.
Due to my former stepdad being a big fat biker who I felt would murder me at the drop of a hat, I remained scared of people bigger than me for some time.
When I was 12, my sister and I were attending the same school in Langley, British Columbia. We would walk home on the same path, but not together because we didn't really get along. She liked to walk and read books at the same time, and I found that super embarrassing. I would intentionally let her get a head start of a few minutes every day so I could make the 25 minute walk home alone.
On my walk home, I saw my sister being bullied by a big fat guy who was older and way bigger than me named Craig. She was about half a block down a street that I didn't need to take, and I saw them arguing. I saw Craig kick her. I was a few minutes from home and decided enough was enough and I went home and got a log of firewood. I had seen my mom smash my former stepdad over the head with one and send him careening into the bushes unconscious. It was Craig's turn. I came back looking for Craig, but couldn't find him. My sister seemed fine, so I decided to let it go.
My powerless desire to avoid conflict continued until I was 15 or so. Until this point, I was skinny as a rake and found interacting with others to be scary. When I turned 16, I was about 220 pounds and finally confident in my physicality.
At this point, for the first time in my high school experience, someone decided to mess with me. His name was Josh, and we were around the same height, but he was about 40 or 50 pounds heavier. Screw it, enough was enough. Josh had stolen my planner from my gym bag, which included the phone number written down in it of the girl I had the biggest crush on. He was sitting behind me in class, and mocking me and threatening to call her and tell her that I was in love with her brother. I told Josh to give me back my planner. He said "make me". I said "I'll see you outside at lunch time." He accepted. I got into my first fist fight. We met behind the Blockbuster and knuckled up. Everything turned out fine and I earned his respect and we became friends. Violence isn't so scary after all. The freezing stopped at this point.
I went on to become very interested in weightlifting, muay thai, Brazilian Jijitsu, grappling, use of force, and a number of other forms of combat. I was officially done with bullies and ready to fight back on behalf of those who were unable to protect themselves.
My bible when it came to developing the confidence and competence to protect myself and others
When I turned 19, I got a job at a not so busy bar named TJ Baxters as a bouncer. It was pretty boring, and we spent a lot of our time watching epic brawls at the bar across the street, Barney's Patio. The following summer, I applied over there and spent the next seven years working there.
Violence never bothered me at this point. Hundreds of fights and altercations, and everything turned out fine. Weirdly enough, in the lead up to a potentially dangerous situation, I developed the shakes in my legs. But not in a bad or scared way, but more of a my body was transferring energy into power kind of way. While my face, voice, body, and hands were calm and rational, my legs would look like they were getting in a workout with a shake weight under my khakis. I didn't learn until recently, this was my body's natural fight or flight reaction choosing fight on my behalf.
Fear was never an issue until I became a dad. When I became a dad, it first reared its ugly head in the form of doubt. "You don't know what you're doing." "You're going to hurt your baby." "Your wife is so good at this mom thing, and you're going to screw it up." After a few weeks, my wife asked me why I would always be on our laptop whenever she was hanging out with me and our child. I was able to confess that I felt lost and afraid and out of my element, and it was serving as a distraction to put the inner voices of doubt at bay until she told me I was specifically needed. I'm the type to never let someone I care about down, and the second she gave me a task I was all over it.
Pure unadulterated terror did not make another appearance in my life until February 28th, 2017. For the first time since childhood, I felt utterly afraid and powerless. And it was for the most random reason that you will never expect.
Our kids were sleeping soundly, and my wife and I were enjoying some "adult time." Afterwards, I was absentmindedly "scratching myself" as men are prone to do, and found a hard bump on my testicle. The wheels fell off. Panic set in. I'm not one to ever let other people worry about me, in fear of seeming weak and affecting how they feel about me. I grinned and bore it to my wife, while falling apart on the inside. I confirmed about 12 times in the next hour before bed that it was still there. The next day, I couldn't stomach the idea of going to work not knowing if I was dying, and looked every bit of it. I finally spilled the beans to my wife, and she insisted I call in sick and call our family doctor. Oh boy, he is apparently off for the week. This is the movie Final Destination all over again. I'm going to be dead by sundown.
I eventually get ahold of our doctor's Nurse Practitioner and she can hear the worry in my voice and squeezes me in that afternoon. She brings me in for the exam, and confirms the presence of the hard lump. Yup. Cancer. Dead. She then with her terrific bedside manner goes on to tell me that her brother in law has testicular cancer, it took six months to find it, and he's still alive eight years later but has to undergo lots of medical procedures to keep that status. Great. Thanks for all the hope you're instilling. She writes me a referral to get an ultrasound to confirm what it is.
I highly recommend all dads become one with this
Interestingly, she is more concerned with my actions and appearance than the bump on my nut. She observes that I'm fidgety, nervous, pale, twitchy, distracted, and picking and clawing at my face, cuticles, and anything else I can get my hands on. She asks a bunch of questions, tells me "I think you're having a panic attack", and writes me a script for some medication to calm me down and a referral to the Social Worker at the Family Health Team.
I go home to call for an ultrasound, and the phone system is down for the entire network of ultrasound clinics. Yup, Final Destination is real life. Dead by sundown. I start calling ultrasound clinics between here and Buffalo and can't find anyone to answer let alone get me in that same day.
I go to the main office in downtown London, and a lady comes out of the back to confirm the infrastructure failure, and notices that I look like I've seen a ghost. I choke out what's happening, and she books me an ultrasound for later that afternoon via email out of a combination of empathy and pity. I get the test done.
The next day, I get a phone call from my doctor's office that my doctor has unexpectedly ended his vacation early and heard about my current state and is able to see me if I can get in. Yes, as a matter of fact I am off again on the second day of the busiest month of the year for me.
I head on in and see him and he immediately examines me and tells me "yeah it's there but I think it's a cyst and that you're going to be totally fine," I am sure that he is wrong and it's super cancer and it's a miracle I woke up that morning. In the meantime he too addresses my current state and runs me through a diagnostic test of Likert scale type questions. It turns out it's a standardized test for anxiety and I score a 19 on a scale of 0-21. Anything higher than 10 is considered severe. My fear of having cancer, missing it for too long, dying because I didn't catch it. and not being there for my wife and kids and blowing the only thing I ever wanted in life, which was to love and protect them is overwhelming. What happens next is super interesting. I get written off work for six weeks. I get a phone call the next day to see the social worker. She refers me to a therapist, and a six week Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program that she is running. I get a phone call the day after that from the ultrasound clinic with the radiologist's report. Turns out yup, its a cyst. Totally normal for dudes in their 30's to develop. Holy shit. I'm not going to die?
But at this point, I engage on the most important, valuable and life changing medical journey possible. I discover that I have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. What I learn about this disorder teaches me that I've actually had it, undiagnosed and untreated since the severe trauma of my childhood. The tipping point of losing control and feeling fully powerless didn't rear its head as an evolved adult until I faced the fear of dying due to something entirely out of my control once I finally had everything to live for and more.
The journey I entered was incredibly valuable. I had 12 sessions with a therapist, and 8 sessions of a 2 hour CBT workshop. I started an anxiety medication. I began sharing my past, my thoughts, and my feelings with my therapist and then my wife as well (she knew, but there was a lot she didn't know as well.). I began to free unburdened and enlightened for the first time ever. I made sense, and was able to finally start figuring myself out. My moods, my reflexes, my reactions, my instincts, my challenges.
Since this experience, the fear has not come back. Like early 2000's rapper Bonecrusher famously rapped, "I AINT NEVA SCARED."
I'm outside of the club.....
I'm loved. I'm supported. I am not broken. I'm fixable. I'm accepted. I'm appreciated. I'm competent. I am needed. I am okay. I will be well. I will be a great dad. I will be a great husband. I will be here to see my kids thrive and happy as adults. I will retire to a nice villa in the south of Italy (or trailer park in Florida?) with my beautiful wife and we will live out our days with sunsets, wine, fine foods, fires, long walks, and love.
There's nothing wrong with struggling. There's nothing wrong with doubting yourself. There's nothing wrong with feeling weak. There's nothing wrong with being scared and needing help. There's nothing wrong with getting help. There's nothing wrong with therapy. There's nothing wrong with medication. It's not your fault. You belong, you're worthy of support, and you're worthy of help. I've been down the darkest paths. I survived. I fell seven times and got back up eight. I made it to the other side. I wasn't broken in the process.
If you can relate to any of this, then you deserve this all as well. And more.
Some important resources: