Fear factor

One of my favorite blogs is F*ck Feelings, and last week, they addressed fear and anxiety. Although not fear per se, but rather our fear of fear and anxiety. Oh dear--I'm making this quite a bit complicated. I'll let "Dr. Lastname" from the blog introduce the subject for me:

Fear isn’t all bad (e.g., fearing snakes goes a long way towards keeping you from poison venom). On the other hand, fear itself is stressful and painful, so our first instinct is to avoid it, no matter what…which is, of course, when things start getting really frightening. No matter how much we want to protect ourselves or those we love, it’s not gonna happen, so we have to accept the unavoidable scariness of life (and anacondas). It won’t necessarily calm you down, but it will give you the strength to do what matters, fear or no.

Anxiety sucks. There's no getting around that. Anxiety is also pretty normal. It's when we organize our lives around avoiding or neutralizing that anxiety that it becomes really problematic. Of course, it's easier to say that when you're not anxious all the freaking time, but that's a bit of a different story.

I'm good at avoidance. Like really, really good. When I get really stressed, I turn ostrich-like and try to avoid whatever is freaking me out. If I'm anxious about making a phone call, I put it off. And off and off and then even further off. If I'm anxious about what I'm going to eat, I used to avoid eating, or eat only a few specific foods that provoked the least amount of anxiety. If I'm anxious about what might happen if I don't exercise, I just make sure I exercise. The more I avoid these things, the more fearful I become. It becomes more and more certain that something bad really will happen if I make that call, eat that food, or skip that workout.

From the time I was 13 or 14, my life has been dictated by anxiety, be it OCD-driven (mainly germ and contamination fears), about school/work, the eating disorder, or something else entirely. Through recovery from my eating disorder, my anxieties about food haven't gone away. They're still there. What I've learned in my recovery is how not to let my anxieties about food dictate my life. And the more I disregard the dictates of my eating disorder, the less important those dictates really seem.

True, the eating disordered fears still occupy way too much room in my skull. I still do a lot of things to avoid fears about eating more than what my meal plan ways, or exercise less than the maximum I'm allowed, or eat something that isn't the lowest-calorie version. Some of the reason I haven't challenged these is that they really haven't gotten in the way of most of the things I want to do. The other reason is that, well, I'm scared. I know the anxiety won't actually hurt me, but I don't relish the idea of provoking the anxiety demon. Best to let it sleep, right?

Except that I can't recover if I allow these pretty major fears to dictate my actions. All I can do is confront these fears and stop letting them tell me what to do.


Anonymous said...




Unknown said...

you always have a brilliant way of writing about what goes on beneath the surface-- underneath the physical sensations and behaviors.

you're wonderful.
Hope you have a fantastic day
love, becca

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

@Katerina - "Stay little?" Uh, maybe you need to go back and read some of the past posts on this blog. I think you've missed the point.

(Sorry Carrie, but that comment completely shocked me.)

Regarding fear and anxiety - for me, anorexia is almost entirely anxiety-driven. I know that may sound obvious, but I have to explain this to people with little to no experience with eating disorders. I feel if I can conquer the anxiety - in healthy ways - I might be able to work harder at recovery. But learning how to stop and use healthy ways to deal with anxiety before it spirals out of control has been hard for me. I know all the tips - deep breathing, yoga, meditation, etc. It is the utilization of these things I still need to work on. Anxiety always has been a part of my life; now I'd like to make it a less controlling part - sort of like background noise instead of screaming at me 24/7.

Keep at it - you're doing great!

Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

Haven't checked out the other blog yet, but I'm excited to!

I'm a big proponent of ACT (Acceptance and Committment Therapy) which is all about teaching us to stop trying to eliminate our uncomfortable feelings and start living WITH them - with the ultimate result of the feelings often decreasing (but this is not the goal!). We have to learn that anxiety is not the enemy per se. The enemy (if there is one) is our own battle with the anxiety and the way we let this battle prevent us from leading meaningful lives. I'm no expert on ACT, so check google Steven Hayes if you want to learn more!

Carrie Arnold said...

Um, Katerina? This is a *recovery* blog. I lost over a decade of my life to AN. I've lived little for far too long- mmm-kay?


I've been doing a lot of ACT work, and I find it so helpful. I met Steven Hayes at a conference once- he's a very unusual person, very in your face. Which wouldn't have been so had if Hayes hadn't been eating something with a lot of onions and garlic...

(Sorry, it's what I always think of!)

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read the book by Thom Rutledge, Embracing Fear? If so, was it helpful? I've read the free first chapter and have been thinking about purchasing the book.

Carrie Arnold said...


I love that book. I've found it super helpful

Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

I, too, always love the way you manage to put so eloquently put into writing "what goes on beneath the surface." I have found your thoughts on anxiety and fear and how they have played a role in your life both helpful and inspiring in my battle with OCD. I often feel that I could substitute my particular OCD issues for the ED problems in your writing, and it would beautifully and accurately capture how I feel.

That said, I can think of so many instances in which I have done things not really out of a desire to do them, but out of fear of what would happen if I didn't (and fear of facing the anxiety that such a choice might cause). I definitely admire your strength in continuing to fight back against AN and your ability to share your experience here!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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