Today, if I’m being honest, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed with things.
I’m starting with a broad topic: fear. But beyond that, it’s all vague notions at this point, shifting shadows on the walls. Or maybe it is clear notions — just too many of them.
All I can do is invite you to buckle your safety belt, place your seat backs and trays in the upright position and enjoy the ride, trusting that this flight will eventually land.
Wednesday of last week, I was out at a local snack shack with one of the kids I mentor — a young lady I’ll call Hailey. Other than us, there were only six other customers in the place. One elderly couple sat at a small table not far away, chatting quietly. A group of four teens huddled near the counter, placing their orders.
If you’d been there, you would likely have thought the place was “dead.” Hailey, however, looked panicked. Her shoulders were hunched, body rigid, as wary eyes darted back and forth between the other patrons. I could hear her tense breaths going in and out.
When one of the young guys wandered in our direction to grab a straw from a nearby dispenser, Hailey cringed away as if he were wearing a black ski mask and brandishing a weapon at her. “I don’t like this,” she murmured in a ragged whisper, her lips pale and barely moving. She swallowed hard. “I really don’t like this.”
In that moment, Hailey was experiencing intense fear.
Until recently, Hailey had always met me at my house for our sessions. When we first started five years ago, fear engulfed her. She barely spoke, answering me with gestures where possible; and when words were actually required, her voice was so timid that I had to lean in to hear her, even though we sat a mere two feet apart on the same couch.
We took baby steps.
I had her work on speaking with gradually increased volume.
I helped her learn to smile. And her mother intimated to me that she’d never heard Hailey laugh out loud before her visits to my home.
I’d have her sit just outside my door where a passerby might hear her while we continued talking (though I don’t know if any ever did).
Her parents worried and wept, fearful that Hailey would never drive. Never graduate. Never be able to work a job.
I’m happy to say that Hailey received her high school diploma this past May. From side streets to highways at rush hour, she drives (and parks, I might add) like a pro. And she’s even worked a few jobs already.
But fear still limits her. So now, we do “field trips” out in the wide world. Little by little, I’m exposing her small doses of the things she’s afraid of — unfamiliar people, decision making in public, and more — all carefully meted out with the safety net an inch further away each time.
I have a close friend who used to have to open her front door, close her eyes and count to three, then run to her car, ducking and squealing the whole way. Why? She was terrified that…