Fear, Guilt, and Something Real

Today I watched a video of a young man speaking at a press conference about his experience of being attacked by a mountain lion.

I wanted to trade places with him.  He had been part of something real, and I wanted to feel what he felt.

For that brief moment of his life, when his arm was locked in the jaw of the big cat, he could only think about one thing.  One pure thing.  Not his cellphone.  Not his car insurance.  Not the Kardashians.

Another video.  Another day.  A bird strikes the engine of a man’s ultralight airplane.  The tone of the engine changes and smoke billows out.  His wife is in the seat behind him.  He tells her he’s going to set it down in the fields below.  She is not shrieking hysterically.  They are both calm.  Soon, the plane thumps its way roughly through the soybean crop.  They come to a stop and they are alive.

In both stories, the people involved demonstrated something like bravery, maybe involuntary bravery.  They had no choice but to use their fight response.  There was no flight option available to them.  I think some people are at their bravest in these involuntary situations.  I think I am one of those people.

The sad part for me is that those types of situations make up less than a fraction of a percent of an entire life.

For me, my flight or flight response would kick in at the office.  Deadlines.  Emails.  Tough Conversations.  The stress would mount.  I would feel the bile rising up in my throat.  My chest would get tight.

I would zone out.  Stare at the computer screen.  Take a walk.  Drink some water.  Sit in the washroom and cry.  Nothing helped.  Inevitably, I would quit my job.  I would choose flight over fight.

Last week a man was walking toward me brandishing an axe.  I saw the axe and I assessed a potential threat.  I played out a scenario in my head of how I would dodge his swing, get low, take him out at the knees, get his axe, and possibly chop his balls off.  The situation was involuntary and there was little time to act, so I felt brave.  I felt ready.

How can someone be brave in a life-threatening situation, but shiver and shake and cry for his momma in a seemingly innocuous situation (like too many deadlines at work)?

I think it mostly has to do with guilt.

At work, I would always feel a lot of guilt.  Guilt that I’m not performing well enough.  Guilt that I’m not taking enough work home with me.  If I approach a task in this way, I might let this person down, but if I take a different approach, I might let that person down.  Guilt.  If I skip this task to go to a meeting now, I might have to work late and then my wife will be mad. Guilt.  My work life is interfering with my kids’ life, my social life, my sex life.  Guilt.

All the different work-life balance scenarios can weigh heavily on some people.  People like me.  People who prefer concrete tasks and think in black and white can freeze up because of all the decision making required.  And they will feel guilt.  Guilty that they are too much of a fucked up loser to just go into work and get the job done.  After all, that’s what all the successful people in their lives are telling them to do.  They’re telling them how easy it is just to go to work and make money.

How would they act if they were on a plane being hijacked?  Would they turtle-up and hide, or would they take action?  For me, I don’t know how I would handle the fear unless I was in that situation, but I know one thing about the fear.  It would be different than the fear I feel at the office.  It would be different than a fear of failure.  It would be a pure fear.  A fear of something real.

And there would be no guilt.  The motherfucker doing the hijacking will have made it crystal clear where he stands.  The inrush of adrenaline would be balanced by the simplicity of the scenario.  The responsibility in my day-to-day life is so confusing and convoluted compared to the clarity of a bad guy vs. a good guy.

That’s why I fully believed Mark Wahlberg when he said this in reference to one of the flights on 9/11:

If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’

I believe him.  I don’t think he needed to apologize for saying that.

Oh, and the guy brandishing the axe?  That was just the school bus driver.  He was using it to chip the ice away from the sidewalk in front of the steps of his bus.  I mean, come on, I live in Canada.  I’m more likely to be attacked by the mountain lion from story #1 than an axe murderer.


10 thoughts on “Fear, Guilt, and Something Real

  1. Everyday you show up and do as best as you can, is another day in you are choosing to fight. So don’t feel guilty but instead find the right balance between all the areas in your life.


  2. The stress of the working world is long term, never ending and accumulating. That will make anyone cry. Life or death adrenaline rushes can heighten senses & dull pain. The ability to effectively use the adrenaline makes all the difference. Work force non-life threatening adrenaline-worry has nowhere to go and there is no relief. It is toxic soup for the body…hence your indigestion.

    Too much of our modern world is not ‘real’. It’s just the Kardashians, politicians & the MSM. 😖☹😠

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lots of mundane real-life shit stresses me out too yet when I was involved in an armed robbery and had no idea what was going to happen or what the thieves were prepared to do, I found myself remaining extremely calm and getting out of it in a freakishly good state. Previously I would have assumed I’d be crapping myself in such a situation.

    But lately I have been trying (not always succeeding mind…) to just try and care a lot less about stuff like work and thinking TOO much about other people. In other words, putting myself first above feeling guilty for upsetting somebody else because I DO believe that a lot of people sense the way you are and just take advantage anyway, consciously or not. I think it’s fine as long as you aren’t intentionally being an asshole to others or seeking to cause harm/hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for talking about your experience. You share a good strategy for managing stress in real life. Someone once said to me, “Stress is for people who give a fuck.”. I guess giving less of a fuck and putting our own feelings a little higher wouldn’t hurt.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d definitely recommend the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. Not saying it’s necessarily a life changer (though it could be) but it gives you a lot to think about and some new perspectives to at least consider. I’ve read it twice now and personally get a lot out of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that physical courage in an emergency is a different animal from chronic anxiety … social anxiety or otherwise. I am a pretty big coward physically … but far, far more so when it comes to what people think of me.

    Have you read the book of Age of Anxiety? I can’t remember the author’s name, but it’s a research/memoir book about his personal struggle with anxiety. It’s helpful, and in some instances hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I have not read that book, but I should check it out. There are so many books on the subject, it’s good to get a recommendation from someone who has gone through it.

      Liked by 1 person

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