Fear is an experience. And just like every experience we choose how we respond to it. Fear doesn’t need to be dissected and placed into categories like logical or illogical, rational or irrational and so on. Just as we find joy, sadness, and confusion, we find fear.
Just five months after my open heart surgery I was sitting on the couch in my living room, staring at a blank TV screen while the cat meandered around the coffee table.
Each morning after breakfast I would put my exercise clothes on, I would drink a big glass of water and then head for the door where I found my sneakers. I would take a seat on the couch and put those sneakers on, but instead of getting up and going outside I would sit. Just sit there. For hours.
I did this every day while my wife was away on business. Every morning I planned my jogging route and every morning I never went. I would sit, back straight, feet on the floor and just looked at the room around me wondering if I would ever change.
There are so many wonderful quotes about conquering your fears, but it is hard to remember any of them when the fear is sitting on your chest and tugging at your heart with every inhale.
I had left cardiac rehab supposedly in a place where exercise would be a natural extension. But in the outside world, with no nurses or heart monitors, how was I supposed to know if that jog up the hill would cause my heart to explode into a million little pieces?
My heart had been damaged, and despite the surgeon bypassing a pair of blocked arteries I was still unsure of what else could go wrong in there. The way I saw it, sitting on the couch instead of jogging around the neighborhood was the path that would be least likely to sing me back home to the emergency room.
There is a point when the experience of fear becomes a series of fears that, depending on your perspective, can alter your future and bring you to places once thought impossible. At some point the fear of one’s heart exploding is surpassed by the fear of doing nothing.
Later, I surmised that the single act of contemplating the explosion of my heart was, at best, a waste of my time, and, at worst, detrimental to my mental and physical health.
Risk is only relevant if one has something to lose. One of the great blessings of my life was meeting the woman that would become my wife and eventually starting a family. The curse of that life change is that I have much more to lose.
As I sat on that couch day after day I would sink deeper into a malaise that, if left unchecked, would most certainly devolve into depression. Each evening when I would take my unused exercise gear off, I would promise myself that tomorrow would be different.
It was never different, until it was.
One afternoon I put on Falling Faster Than You Can Run on my phone, planted some earbuds in their proper place and took a walk. A long walk. Up the intimidating hills in our neighborhood, across to the other side of town and then right down Main Street where I stopped for a decaf coffee to cap the ride.
It felt great. I went the next day, and the day after that, until it became just something I did. As the winter rolled on I felt better, looked better, and was starting to dream of running trail races once the Spring rolled into town.
There is a point during the slide where one needs to decide when fear will do more damage. The fear of not exercising slowly overtook the fear of exercising. Remaining stationary, feeding into the anxiety of a post heart surgery mindset was chipping away at my will to do anything productive.
But as I allowed myself the space to be honest I could see that changing the route I was taking was the only way to make tangible differences in my future.
Recently I have been hit with a similar apprehension to exercise that I can only surmise has something to do with an altering risk tolerance of some kind. We all have so many factors to consider when planning our days, but when we continue to put off the self care that is paramount to a healthy life, there should be an alarm that opens your eyes and begins to ask the hard questions.
Today I reminded myself of the secret that came to me a decade ago while I was jogging on the Cape Cod Rail Trail during Take 52 of the Get into Shape TV Movie I was starring in. This secret, this understanding, made me realize that taking risks was essential to getting the thing we wanted most out of life.
My realization that every misstep, false start and hiccup along the way just meant that I was one step closer to reaching the goal I set for myself. Instead of looking at those false starts as failures, I began to look at them for what they were; good practice for grabbing the reins and taking control of my world.
The first half of this year was abysmal in terms of my athletic and physical goals and my overall health suffered for it. The good news is there is still half a year left, and I’m not dead yet. Not by a long shot.
The next time you say “tomorrow’s going to be the day,” or you go off your new healthy diet pattern or sneak a smoke after work do not kill yourself over it. Instead, welcome that action and let it be known that you will try harder the next time the urge hits.
Instead of wandering around in a distasteful haze of apathy, write down your plan for the next day and how you are going to attempt to turn things around. One day it will click. One day you will do all the things you have been training for all these years.
One day you will have the strength. One day you will be resilient. One day you will follow in the footsteps that your mind has set forth for you to become the truest form of yourself. The form that will inspire others, and the form that will give you everything you ever wanted.