Everyone has fears. Some fears are healthy and some keep you stuck. They keep you from doing something, deep down, you really want to do.
For a long time, I was fearful to hike and run because I didn’t want my back to hurt again. Once, when I was a wildland firefighter, I was too fearful to ride in a helicopter with a crew I had never met before to get an aerial view of the burned area. I took a trip to Baja Mexico once and found myself on an amazingly beautiful, remote beach with only time and my snorkel equipment. I was too afraid of the water to go explore the reef and tropical fish in a place I will never find myself again.
I’ve learned to meet most of my fears head on and go after what I want. However, sometimes fears rear their ugly head in unexpected places and can be hard to reconcile.
The day I found out that Gretel had Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD), I thought her hiking days were over. I was beyond ecstatic when the vet told me, with the proper rehab, she could be out on the trails again. I patiently waited for 6 weeks while she was on crate rests for the day she could venture out.
I was so excited when I go the go-ahead to start taking her on trails. I took her on her first short hike last week. She went nuts bounding through the grass and trying to chase birds. She was like a pinball on the end of the leash. Then came the fear.
The plan was that I would watch her after that first hike and, if she seemed to do ok, we would do one that was a little harder a couple of days later. We didn’t.
I’ve been watching Gretel like a hawk since that first hike. I was so worried that she would have a setback and we would have to start the recovery process all over. Worse, I imagined her bounding through the grass and suddenly being paralyzed. Any soreness or stiffness from the first hike was very minimal or possibly imagined. I put off the second hike though because I kind of wanted to keep her in her little bubble at home. I let my fear stop us.
We have a pretty realistic rehab team. Their goal is not to have me 100% prevent her from doing things that may hurt her. They want me to minimize easily controllable things like jumping off the couch at home but they know it’s going to happen occasionally no matter how hard I try. They don’t want me to stop her from things that are a tad risky but that have more benefit to them than than negative possibilities (like hiking). Instead, their aim is to make her stronger so her body will be prepared to handle those things and she won’t hurt herself doing them.
I know that I can’t treat her like glass just because she has IVDD and that doing so a) won’t prevent re-injury and b) would make life less enjoyable for her.
In my case, I eventually found “miracle” running shoes that allow me to run without the back pain (I’ll share more about that another time). My passion for hiking overcame my fear of hurting myself and I started getting out on the trails more. I pushed myself physically past where I was afraid to go before. You know what? Not only did it not hurt, I started feeling better and stronger than I had in a long time. Although it wasn’t the same beach, the last time I was in Mexico I pushed through my hyperventilating episode, stuck my face in the water, and swam around in a coral cove to explore the underwater forest (there were even stingy stingrays and stuff!).
I spoke with the rehab doctor about my fears for Gretel now that she’s beginning to hike again. They checked out her motor skills, muscle tightness, and said she was the same as she has been before that first, little hike. They reminded me what signs would indicate that I need to back off on Gretel’s hike training. I asked them to review some of the strengthening exercises so I was sure I was doing them right. I’m having trouble figuring out how to consistently fit her exercises into my schedule so I’m signing us up for a weekly conditioning class until the habit has formed.
Bit-by-bit I whittled away at the source of my fear around Gretel hiking. Yesterday we finally took that second hike. It was longer, and Gretel was just as nuts on the leash, but it didn’t seem to phase her. She was one happy dog.
My point is that fears are a natural thing but you shouldn’t let that stop you from doing what you want to do. Maybe you can’t run a marathon but you can start with a 5k… and them maybe do more. Maybe you’ve not comfortable with a 5-mile hike but you can take more walks in the wooded park by your house until you are.
Facing fears is all about setting up your circumstances to minimize the fear and then doing it anyway. I would argue that if there isn’t a little fear involved, it’s really not an adventure.
Is there something you want to do but are afraid to?