Throughout my life I've been afraid of so many things. I’ve battled many fears but I’ve also found the courage to face many of them as well. And what I’ve found in facing them is that what waits on the other side of those fears Is usually pretty magical.
When I was a little girl I remember I would lie awake some nights, tears running down my face, as I anticipated my walk to school the next morning when I would have to walk past the house of a neighbor with a really mean dog. I was afraid of all dogs, but this one especially because the family who owned the dog would tell everyone in the neighborhood that he only bit strangers. And I was, in fact, a stranger to this dog.
I would wake up every morning and have to muster the courage to get past their house on my way to school. Most times I would run as fast as I could till I got a few houses up and felt I was in the clear. Looking back I can’t believe how much stress and anxiety I caused myself as I imagined the worst case scenario that ultimately never came to be. We do this often to ourselves though, don’t we? We allow our fears to conjure up the absolute worst case scenario that typically never actually plays out in reality.
In my adult years, one of the biggest fears I have grappled with is a fear of flying, more specifically, a fear of flying away from my family. I fear the worst case scenario being that something would happen to me and my sweet babies would have to endure the loss of their mother, a loss I know all too well having lost my own mom when I was 24.
Over the past 10 years while running my non profit, Project Scleroderma, there have been many times I had to travel away from my family, often pretty far distances. A few years back I was invited to attend an international conference in Bordeaux, France. I was terrified to take this trip, as I typically am when asked to travel so far. But when I signed on to take this trip I decided that this time it would be different. When I committed to make the trip to Bordeaux I also committed to myself that it was time to change, time to overcome these fears and shift my focus. My dad was traveling with me for this particular trip and I was so excited for us to do this together. And truth be told, the little girl in me hoped that somehow by having him with me that he could save me or undo the situation if anything went wrong.
We boarded our flight from JFK to Bordeaux and I was pretty calm for the first half of the flight. But then somewhere over the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the pitch black night, we hit horrible turbulence. Like the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. In that moment I completely lost my shit. I started to hyperventilate, tears rolling down my face as I grabbed on to my dad’s arm for dear life. All I kept thinking was “you should not have come, why did you put yourself in this position!?!” It was awful, I felt completely out of control. But that’s when it hit me…it hit me that I had zero control over this situation and that’s really what I was most afraid of.
And in this moment of panic I somehow found the brain space to ponder how our fears are often deeply rooted in the simple idea of not having control. When we obsess over a situation that we have zero control over there is absolutely no chance of any other result to come of it but extreme anxiety. In this moment of panic, as I came to this realization, I reminded myself of my commitment for this trip, to overcome the fear. In that moment I knew that if I didn’t do something to de-escalate my fear and panic then I wouldn't be able to say that I successfully faced and conquered my fear. Something deep inside me just couldn’t let that happen. I had to do something to change the cycle, to shift the habit of panic and fear.
With that, I started some deep breathing exercises and began repeating a mantra to myself over and over. In mind I was saying “I am not my fear, my fear does not control me”. I said this to myself on repeat until the turbulence eventually subsided and I was able to calmly ride out the rest of the flight.
We made it to Bordeaux where we rented a small apartment in the heart of the city for our stay. Our second night there was Valentine's Day. My dad and I had an incredible dinner together just a short walk from the apartment. It was a rainy night, and the city looked magical as we walked the dimly lit cobblestone streets with our umbrellas. That night we had some of the best food and wine I've ever tasted. The next day, when I was done with the conference I came to attend, my dad and I walked all over the city, taking in the beautiful architecture of this amazing old town. We stopped in little corner bars for beers, small cafes for french fries and pate, and we sipped espresso while snacking on delicious fresh made croissants and quiches.
For some reason France had always been the place I dreamed most of visiting, and it did not disappoint! It was everything I had hoped it would be, and to share this with my dad was simply priceless.
As we were leaving town, headed to the airport in our Uber, I thought about all that I would have missed had I let my fear detour me away from this trip. I was so grateful that I had chosen to face my fears and take the chance, because in doing so I was able to experience a once in a lifetime trip with my dad, and to experience a place I had always dreamed of visiting. I went into this trip with extremely high anxiety, but I was able to leave with a new found sense of courage and personal power.
As I look back on this trip with deep gratitude, I am reminded of how important it is that we face our fear of not having control. Because when we face our fears and let go of our need to have complete control, that is when life produces some of the purest, most magical moments we could ever dream of.
See below for some photos of our trip!