I like heights. I find that Friday the 13th is often a particularly lucky day, for me. Though I’m a touch superstitious, I’ve never been much disposed to phobias. But about 10 years ago, I found myself starting to get panicky about… I’m almost embarrassed to say it… the bird flu.
I’d think about it and try to stay calm, in the face of heart-pounding, nausea-inducing waves of discomfort. For some reason, I remember watching “Oprah,” and hearing about the virus mutating, making human-to-human transmission possible, and feeling like I wanted to sit in a corner and rock. Attempts to stay rational were futile. I’d remind myself that it was a potential pandemic, that my worrying wouldn’t stop it from happening. I’d tell myself not to think about it.
I wasn’t particularly afraid of getting sick myself, but living pretty far from my family, my statistics-driven mental pictures got pretty upsetting.
It’s not even very much of a mystery—it happened within a year or so after having lost my dad to a terminal illness. The helplessness of protecting my loved ones from the effects of a pandemic—it makes me queasy to think about it, even now.
I dreaded news stories, quiet stretches when I had too much time to think. And it was humiliating, because I knew how irrational I was being. Growing up as the only girl and the baby among my siblings, if there’s anything I’m determined to prove in any situation, it’s that I’m not a crybaby. I just couldn’t help myself. Once it started, I couldn’t fight it.
When fighting it failed, I tried the scariest thing I could think of: I started to give in, as little as I could manage. I thought about what I’d need to have on hand if I were trapped for the three to five weeks they were talking about for quarantines. I put aside some canned goods in long-term storage. I bought a first aid kit for my car. I sheepishly admitted my mania to my family and asked them to think through an emergency plan.
And surprisingly, that was the end. When I would start to think about pandemic flu, I’d remind myself that I knew what I’d do. In owning my fear, I disarmed it.
I suspect I got off lucky. People with real anxiety disorders, with true phobias, struggle much longer and harder than I had to. The answers for them are much more complex than they proved to be for me.
With that said, seldom have I been happier to lose anything.