Become Friends With Fear

Last updated: January 2023

When I was diagnosed with AS, along with the pain, stiffness, and fatigue, one of the most debilitating symptoms was...fear.

If you obtain an injury, for example you sprain your ankle, it may hurt a lot. It may cause enough pain to keep you up at night. But there is one thing it won’t likely cause: fear. You are told it’ll improve and you know it, you are not attached to it, it doesn’t become something you fear. However, if you were told this sprain was progressive and it could get worse and was incurable, suddenly that small injury even though it has the same symptoms becomes scary and fear begins.

With AS, when I was diagnosed, I starting looking up the condition online (terrible idea for the most part) I would hear stories of how bad things could get. I had developed fear of the future. Hearing about disease progression and what it could mean for my life. Fear of being on medication for the rest of my life. Fear of losing much of what I enjoyed doing like skateboarding, being generally active, spending time with friends.

Most of all, fear of fear itself

Fear is not unproductive, fear is something that is part of human nature. I was just using fear in the wrong way. I let fear cripple me. Take someone who does a tightrope walk across The Grand Canyon. Many would label that person fearless. The thing is, there is no such thing as being fearless. This person understands fear, respects it, becomes friends with it and embraces it. They do not try to make it go away, instead they acknowledge it as part of life. By allowing fear to be as it is, they are not in the grip of fear and they are not in a negative stress response to the fear. They are able to stay calm despite the fear.

Accepting fear was a huge realization for me

I used to always want fear to go away, to disappear. By beginning to accept that fear of AS would not go away by force or repression, I felt less overwhelmed about the condition, and importantly less stressed. Chronic fear of AS led to more chronic stress, chronic stress leads to fatigue and pain. So by actually allowing fear into my life, symptoms decreased.

This may sound like an article promoting the health benefits of fear. It is not. What I am saying is that fear is something that is part of human nature, and it is up to us to whether we diminish the fear by allowing it to be as it is. Or add fuel to the fire by trying to fight fear which then burns more powerfully.

So think of the phrase: "Don't be afraid," and adapt it to "Allow the feeling of being afraid." This is what diminishes the grip of fear.

This is not an overnight change but a practice and overtime I found that I was less and less afraid of AS and any remnants of fear of AS I use to drive me forward in life.

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