Two weeks from today, I’m moving across the country. More importantly, I’m moving away from home for the first time.
The entire experience of preparing to move out for the first time has been….well, whenever people ask how I feel about it, the answer is always “Excited and terrified in equal measures.” It’s a bit like venturing out into a forest, alone, at night, with only a vague idea of where the path is and no map to guide you – only the advice of others who have completed the journey and wound up on the other side of the woods no worse for the wear.
Okay, so that metaphor was perhaps a little dramatic (I’m a writer, cut me some slack!) but you get the picture: Equal parts thrilling and mind-bendingly terrifying! It’s been the cause of more sleepless nights than I’m willing to admit, my overactive imagination conjuring all sorts of “what if” situations, at all hours of the day (and night).
To be honest, I am really afraid. When I realized I had less than three weeks until I moved out, I actually dropped what I was doing, paralyzed with sudden fear and anxiety.
I’m afraid to be away from my family for the first time. I’m afraid of the unknown variables that this situation is presenting me with – rent, roommates, a full-time job, managing to move all the way across the country by myself. I was even afraid of really silly “what ifs” that my imagination likes to throw at me (“What if I get bitten by a mosquito and contract dengue fever? Will I be able to call into work sick with dengue fever? How many cases of dengue fever are there in that area of Florida, anyway?!”).
It’s kind of exhausting. After all, I haven’t even moved out yet!
Despite this, the fear isn’t as bad as it was at the beginning. Fear is….I view it as a kind of a tool. It has a purpose – to keep us sheltered away from potentially dangerous situations. The knot in your gut whenever you’re suddenly in a situation that might turn sour is entirely legitimate. Fear keeps us safe, to a certain degree. Humankind would not have survived very long if it hadn’t been for a healthy dose of fear!
Simultaneously, humankind wouldn’t be where it is today without courage, bravery…whatever you like to call it. Fear can help keep us safe, but it can also hinder. The gut-rotting terror of an unknown situation – and subsequent avoidance of it – can mean bitter regret at missing out on an experience , whether a learning experience, a thrilling story to tell later on, or a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Fear has a place: It’s just up to you to discover in which place, exactly, it is the most useful.
Once the presence of mind to know the difference between a real fear and an unfounded fear (“Will I get dengue fever?”) has been attained, a funny thing happens – things that used to be terrifying aren’t so scary. Especially when you ask yourself, “Will this keep me safe, or hold me back?” the place where fear actually belongs becomes very obvious. Once the intuition knows what’s what, fear becomes a tool to gauge the world around you, rather than something difficult, heavy, and unwieldy to grapple with.
Your mileage will always vary on this, of course – I still have screaming anxiety sometimes – but it’s a freeing sensation. Butterflies in the stomach still occur, but they’re no longer steel-winged gut-tearing butterflies of crashing-burning doom. I’ve found the proper place for my fear, and I can move forward and see what adventures life will bring me.*
*But this knowledge of fear doesn’t mean that I’m going to out base jumping, cliff diving, or alligator wrestling. There’s a difference between “bravery” and “recklessness.” Sorry, base jumpers/cliff divers/alligator wrestlers – I’m just not that extreme.