Every once in a while they creep up on me. I only know they’re here by the tightness in my chest, by the shortness of my breath, and by the slide show of ‘what ifs’ that flash before me, keeping me awake while I listen to the sounds of my partner sleep.
I’m talking about the Mean Reds. Or, in case you’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Fear (to be more specific, ALL the Fears).
Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds, you mean like the blues?
Holly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?
Holly: Well, when I get it the only thing that does any good is to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then – then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!
When the Mean Reds arrive, my mind is no place for Positive Thought. Positive Thought has left on holiday and is gleefully prancing around Paris, while the Mean Reds have set up camp all around me and are dutifully displaying every horrible scenario that could befall me and my family. It’s a carnival of anxiety, rapid heart beats, and, “What’s going to happen next?”
“What if a dog attacks Judah? Does the sitter know that he doesn’t understand how to be gentle with strange dogs, yet?”
“What if we run out of money? We’ll have to move. Where will we go? We’ll have to move somewhere scary, or worse, somewhere boring.”
“What if Jeremy gets (fill in the blank with some great opportunity)? We’ll have to move far, far away and my grandparents are getting older and I’ll never see them and they’ll never see Judah and we don’t have proper shoes or coats for snow.”
(Yes, I even worry about the good things that might come our way.)
The Mean Reds can be fierce. They have no mercy. They find your worries and camp out there, reminding you of every bad thing that has ever happened to every person you’ve ever known and remind you that it could indeed happen to you too.
The Mean Reds are just crap.
However, if you took a closer look at them, you’d find that they don’t have a lot of substance. The Mean Reds are just this general feeling of dread that we attach to our current situation, like a fill-in-the-blank kind of fear. A friend of mine calls it a “feeling of impending doom.” And if we allow it, the feeling can be all-consuming.
But I have a way of getting around them. Though, it’s really pretty simple, it takes awareness and focus. The best part? It doesn’t involve antidepressants.
I banish the fear, or the Mean Reds, by skipping the near future and focusing on the way-off-in-the-distance future. Fear (in my experience) only seems to attack the near future, the things that are just around the corner. But it leaves the distant future mostly untouched. All my dreams about the life that I’m going to have when I’m 50, or 60, or 83 are all still intact. Fear seems to cling to the uncertainty of what’s immediately next, so I still believe that my dream life is possible at some point years from now even if the present is terrifying.
When I think about my distant future with my husband – actually, whenever I have ever thought about my future with my husband – I see a good life. I see security, laughter, and oodles and oodles of love. I see a cozy and warm home where people love to gather. I see us enjoying a lifetime of success and I see us happy.
I believe that we’re going to be okay because I have to believe that we’re going to be okay. I may feel uncertain about the next step, but I believe with all my heart that we are ultimately going to be just fine. And that’s what gets me through all the rough stuff, all the doubt, and all that dang Fear that keeps me awake at night. The tricky part is stopping myself when I’m in the middle of all that worry to focus on the good stuff.
The thing is, we never know what is going to happen next. So, we can spend sleepless nights worrying about the unknown, or we can take a few slow, deep breaths, and think about the far, far away happy place where we want to end up once we make it through the messiness of right now.
The Mean Reds are a part of being human and dreaming and living with everything you’ve got. If you didn’t have dreams then you wouldn’t be afraid of things going wildly wrong. If you don’t have one already, find your Tiffany’s; find your happy place that wraps you in calm. It can be a real place, like the peak of your favorite hiking trail, or it can be a virtual place, like the dream home you hope to have someday. Wherever it is, find the place where you believe everything is going to be okay, the place where you know it is because it has to be. And when the Mean Reds show up, flag the first cab you see and take yourself there.
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