Is it possible to escape from anxiety on a grief journey?

I have been one of the many voices that have encouraged people about the need to not be afraid, to stare down fear because fear means False Evidence Appearing Real. I’ve had numerous conversations highlighting that the only thing real is to have faith, even one that is as tiny as the mustard seed. I have had several opportunities to speak publicly on the topic of fear and advice people about its effect and how to overcome fear.

I have been an advocate for being bold and subduing fear. I have voluminous quotes and biblical scriptures about what to do with fear and anxiety, but here I am with constant fear and anxiety niggling inside me.

Two proverbs come to mind, one from the eastern part and the other from the south-western part of Nigeria. Both saying the same thing about fear. One says “Onye agwọ tara nwere oke ụjọ na-atụ ya ebe idide nọ'' with the literal translation as “He who has been bitten by a snake has a morbid fear of an earthworm” and the other says “Ti omode ba de ibi eru, eru a ba” with the literal translation that ‘When a child gets to a location of fear, the child will be afraid.’

Writing this reminds me of one of the many inside jokes Chidinma and I had about how sentences in Igbo are so long and how Yoruba words always seem to sound so much like drums!

Side note, I am tempted to ask you to send me a video or voice recording of yourself attempting to read these proverbs aloud via social media (I am sure your attempts will make me burst with laughter).

Ok back to what I was sharing about fear and anxiety.

It can become easy to begin to measure how others should deal with their fears because we have either conquered or never experienced the type of fear that they’re currently experiencing. I am also finding out that there is a big gulf between theory (having the right information) and practical (putting the right information to use) even though one needs to have the right information. I am finding out that there are times when one gets overwhelmed by fear, a certain type of fear one hasn’t conquered before.

I had now reached a new personal destination of fear, if you remember, I told you last week about how I felt anxious as though another impending doom would happen any moment.

This new destination was one that I have no notes to compare with. One that no one around me appeared to have spoken about, my immediate responses were some attempts to ignore and dampen these fears, the more I tried, the more it felt gloomy. You say Tolu, why don’t you put these many quotes and scriptures you have to use? Why not listen to some of the recordings or transcripts which you had used to encourage others to be strong?

Perhaps you may be able to partly understand what I mean by the sentence, ‘continuously feeling anxious' as though another impending doom would happen any moment’ with the following illustration:

Imagine you had completed the most important examination of your life, it was one of those exams that were difficult, you were not confident when you did it. The result of the exam would have a significant impact on your future. The exam is so important that the minimum pass mark for it is 80%, anything below that is a failure. You have also been informed that the success rate of those who sit this exam is low.

The exam result would usually get to you by post, and you knew that the result post day was fast approaching. In your case, your letter did not arrive on the day it should have been. Your friends had begun to receive their results through the post. One by one they call you, with mixed outcomes, some passed, some failed, but your letter has not arrived. You begin to lose your peace, frown lines are now beginning to find their resting place on your forehead.

It’s been over a week and your examination result isn’t still out, your life appears to hang because all your friends appear to have received theirs . You have become so worried and accustomed to arriving at the door before the post woman gets there, so much so that you now know what the footsteps of the postwoman sound like.

Several thoughts race through your mind, you muster the courage to contact the examination board who assured you that the result was sent at the right time and would send you another copy via post. All you wanted to know was if you had passed the exam, they didn't budge to your several pleas on sharing the exam result with you over the phone; they also wouldn't email it to you.

Are you still with me? Compounding your anxiety and fear are the daily check-ins from friends who are also concerned about the delay in your result. Well let’s fast forward, on this fateful day, the postwoman delivers your letters and in the pile of letters was this long-awaited result. Let’s pause for a moment.

Open white A5 envelope | Balanced Wheel | BW

Now that this letter is finally in your hands in a white A5 envelope, do you feel relieved or tense, do you open the letter immediately or wait and pace about for moments before opening it? Finally, you decide to open the letter. The feeling you feel in that split moment while opening the letter is what I describe as fear and anxiety. That was what it felt like and it sometimes still feels like that.

When Chidinma died, on my way home from the hospital, I had said to myself that I don’t ever intend to visit the hospital again, well at least for the foreseeable future. I suppose that visiting the hospital was now one of my many fears I had. If you remember that I shared with you that in the early days I binged on movies to numb my mind.

One of the things I find relevant to now share with you is how I found those movies even harder to deal with, even though they momentarily helped me escape from my new reality. It appeared that I was set up, it didn’t matter which genre of movies or series I was watching. I never knew that most movies almost always had a hospital scene in them. I would find myself not thinking and then some character would either be ill or would have an accident and the next thing they were in the hospital. I would find myself staring at my laptop screen, immediately out of breath, and repeatedly making my reinforcement statement of not ever visiting the hospital again.

I would change the movie or series, only to find in the next one that a character died, this endless charade of escaping and rude awakening was annoying and frustrating. Did I have some moments of anger? I will share that with you separately.

Each time the phone rang, or a message came in, I would feel like I was about to receive terrible news. I would panic whenever the children cried, or something didn’t look right. My arms would tingle, and my heart would race, and it was like I was back in that initial moment of loss all over again. I found myself being unable to think about anything else until I had “proof” that everyone was OK.

I am learning that anxiety and fear show up in everyday life, it’s a part of the journey and there’s almost no escaping it, only way is through it.

Tolu Olajide's Signature

To Be Continued Next Wednesday...

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