Fear is Information

A few days ago a friend stopped by between here and there. When she got out of her car, I saw she was bent over by at least 30 degrees and walking stiff-legged. I hadn’t seen her in a few months and I was a little stunned. As it happened, she’s also the friend that argued with me about my hip surgery insisting that I hadn’t had my mobility restored but “augmented.” That made me furious and I don’t get angry all that easily. I was ready to set her straight on that when she arrived, but when I saw her I thought, “We have a bigger problem now.”

She’s a very controlling person with strong opinions. I don’t like confrontation (she does), but I have confronted her before back when I was negotiating for my house and she was my agent. I also, frankly, think she’s kind of an idiot. Many of her opinions about things have been refuted for once and for all by solid scientific research, but I just let it roll away into the twilight zone of illusion. I’m not a person who has to be right, even when I am.

So, instead of telling her not to argue with me about stuff I know (like my own hip surgery and repair) I talked to her about her mobility. She was very defensive and attempted denial. “It doesn’t matter what you think,” I said. “Just get X-rays so you know what you’re dealing with. If it’s something, you need to know.”

“So I know what my options are?”

“We don’t always have options,” I said. A person with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis has the option to have surgery or ride around in a wheelchair. I know she’s not a person who “believes” in objective reality, but it’s there, nonetheless.

Even then she’s (allegedly) going to get the X-rays and show them to her sister, a chiropractor, rather than let the doctor read them. I just figure “Whatever.” Then I tried to explain what long-term pain and challenged mobility do materially to our brain, the organ, not our mind the ephemeral entity.

Either that got her attention or she decided that agreeing with me would get me to shut up.

But, if you’re curious, what pain and being crippled do to our brain is this:

People with unrelenting pain are often depressed, anxious and have difficulty making simple decisions. Researchers have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger these other pain-related symptoms. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It’s stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections.


What’s more, a person in this situation — because it evolves slowly — has a tendency to accept the unacceptable — like my friend walking like that, and excusing it by saying, “I just drove 3 hours.”


I said straight out, “That doesn’t wash in real life. These are not symptoms of driving. They’re symptoms of a physical problem.”

I think that whether she does anything or not (it’s her life, her body) she knows I care about her. There’s not much more I can do.

I’m still fighting the brain changes every day. I was essentially handicapped and in pain for a decade. Sometimes I’m amazed by what I’m able to do now that I couldn’t do for a long, long time, like figure out a solution so my back storm door doesn’t keep breaking, like cutting back an unwelcome elm tree, like basically figuring out anything.

Today I filled the tires on my real bike which I haven’t ridden in more than 2 years. I was determined to ride it. The whole scenario reminded me of taking out my new Cross Country skis the first, second, third, fourth, fifth times. I felt a nagging apprehension, fear, that threatened to hold me back from doing something I wanted to do. As with Cross Country skiing, I didn’t know if I could ride, but I have no rational reason not to.

My fears are about getting on and stopping at a stop sign. I have to figure out a way to get on when I’m afraid? unable? to lift my leg over the bike. For now I lay the bike on the ground, straddle it and pull it up, but that isn’t what I want to do. So, as I wheeled it out of my yard onto the driveway and laid it down to get on, I felt real terror. What if I fell? Could I get up? Would I be hurt? Then my X-country ski voice said, “Don’t fall. Just ride. Just try. See what it’s like. See what you remember. Stop while you’re still having fun. Get on. Who cares how?”

It was a fresh and lovely morning. I rode a couple of miles where I wouldn’t have to deal with stopping. I thought of how nice it would be ride where I walked Bear in winter. I appreciated how much faster and more exhilarating is than walking. I tested out the gears since it had been so long since I’ve shifted bike gears. I think the seat’s too low, but? I don’t know. I decided to take it to Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa and get it fitted to me. It’s a small bike for a small person — maybe too small? I don’t know. Then I turned into the alley and felt the clutch of fear at the rough curb, the rutted dirt and without thinking I was in a solid mountain biking position on my bike. I felt a little spring of joy in my heart.

I might get this. “Keep trying, every day,” said my Cross Country ski voice. “It’s almost as good as snow, remember? Remember how you rode on all those dirt trails in California imagining you were skiing? It will get you through the summer. Don’t give up.”

I came in the house and cried. Fighting fear is very emotional. You hold it back until you can release it. It’s a very good feeling.

18 thoughts on “Fear is Information

  1. “A person with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis…”

    That is both my wife and I. I’ll get knee surgery soon. She will wait until she’s almost in that wheelchair.

    We got rid of our 15 speeds and bought Townie Electras instead. Big fat seat for bums with no padding. Really easy shifting. I got the 7 speed. She got the 21 speed really cheap and rides it like a 7 speed. They are cruiser bikes meant to be ridden upright and not for touring or racing. They are comfortable and not for “performance”. Makes it MUCH more likely I’ll ride it.

    • I like my bike a lot, I think. I have to get to know it better. I am thinking of getting an occupational therapist to come out and show me how to get on the damned thing. Our brains are weird.

      I’m anticipating knee surgery next spring, but I didn’t want to do it this year because I was to X-country ski this winter and I have learned rehab can be kind of long. So, sometime in the fall I’ll get an exam and schedule for March or April. My leg is so bowed it’s amazing I’m not shooting arrows…

  2. I just read an incredible book, “The Brain that Changes Itself.” If you haven’t read it, Martha, I heartily recommend it and would love to hear your thoughts on it after (if) you read it.

    • That’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and the seasonal stream that drops down from the mountain in regular surges — like wave sets — every spring making waves big enough for wake boarding! It’s a wonderful wonderful place.

        • I’m not wake boarding. I walk in the stream with my friends and we have as much fun as any wakeboarder 🙂 But it’s amazing how it looks like a California beach during the “surge season.”

    • I don’t think she will, but that’s her. We can’t make anyone what we think they should be. It’s hard enough to make ourselves what we think we should be. 😦

  3. It took me months to swing my leg over while getting on and off. I crashed once. Just a lot of road rash from the gravel. I’m still riding and getting better.

    • Wow. I needed to read that this morning. I saw a guy yesterday — a young guy — who was way too short for his bike and he was getting on and off. I’m still scared. I have to do it, though. Thank you.

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