Monday, October 11, 2010

Fear is a Four Letter Word

Yesterday I went out to the beach; needed some alone time to think about how to handle a situation that arose at work on Friday. Sometimes we have to make difficult choices, so I spent the day weighing the pros and cons...and decided that I couldn't leave my job over something that was only a might happen.

You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.--Mary Manin Morrissey

How are we supposed to deal with fear?  Do we allow it to consume us, to literally make us into a prisoner in our own homes?  Or do we face it head on?  When 9/11 occurred, I wasn't too far from the towers.  I was working in a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. I had 46 people to care for that day, 46 people who were depending on me. None of us knew what was going to happen next. I tried to call home; all I wanted to do was speak to my family.  Oh, I knew they were safe; I just wanted to hear their voices....but the phone lines were down, and I couldn't get through.  I was crying on the inside, my stomach in knots, but I had responsibilities, and held myself together for the sake of my clients.  None of them knew how I was really feeling that day.  

And then came the next day and the day after that.  There was talk of possible subway horrors. For weeks on end I rode the trains frozen in fear, unable to even read a single sentence in my book, yet never giving in.  Oh, I'd be a fool to say I didn't think of quitting my job and finding work near home where I didn't have to travel....and, oh, how many times during those first months did I get myself all worked up over someone on the train and get off to wait for the next one. But, I worked through it; I had to.  Giving in and giving up is what the terrorists want. If I, and others like me had given in, they would have won.  

They say that unless you face what makes you afraid, the   monsters in your mind will bite your behind all the time. Fear is the enemy of life. It blocks what might have been within an endless list of possibilities.  Had I given in, I would have lost a job, of course...but also the pension I earned when I vested...the friends I have well as my own self, for had I given in, it probably would have set a precedence for all the future fears I had to face in my life...

...which brings me to the purpose of the post.  I've worked in my field now for almost 12 years, and in all those years, I had only felt fearful of one client....that is, until Friday.  This one was a fairly new client who has been very intimidating to others since the day of his admission. We know nothing about his psychiatric diagnosis because no one bothers to check before accepting someone, but according to our psychiatrist, he appears to be schizophrenic and  refuses to take medications.  He admits that he hears voices in his head talking to him almost all the time, but he doesn't feel there is nothing wrong with him.  Well, Friday I had an incident with this client.  He didn't attack me physically, but there are other ways to put fear into a person.  I am not going to go into specifics about the incident; suffice it to say, it left me and several co-workers, including my supervisor, pretty much shaken.

I know some of you will advise me to leave the job...and you might very well be right; believe me, I wish I could leave, but I will not leave because I allow someone to intimidate me out of a job.  When I go, it will be on my own terms and a time of my own choosing. When I went into this field, I realized that there might be dangers; I realized that you cannot make every client happy, and there will be some who are angry..but those that do succeed, those that do change their lives around, they are the ones that make it all worthwhile.  They are the ones who make me get up and go to work every day.

Fear is in all of us, and at some point of our lives we have to stop and face it. It's an emotion that is meant to protect us in the most stressful and intimidating situations that we face in our lives. It's not meant to harm us; it's meant to protect....and although it might be scary, we have to face it so we can let it go. We cannot allow it to control us. If we live in fear, we are not embracing and the beauty we witness everyday.

When we think about fear, we think of being frightened, scared and being afraid. Those are all feelings and emotions that we as people experience from time to time and are completely normal. We can go into a theatre and watch a scary movie and although in our conscience minds we know it's not real, our emotions and feelings can get caught up in the story and become literally afraid and scared.

So, yes, I'm afraid, but giving into fear cripples the soul.  The truth is, things can happen wherever you are or whatever you are doing. Look at those who work in the schools, the post offices.  Bad things can happen even when one feels safe in their own home. I REFUSE to let some bully intimidate me. And, to be honest...I don't think he will be back.  One of the last things he asked of our director before leaving is 'So, what do I tell my next treatment program?" and I understand he has already been through a few of them.  So, I'll be sure to be a little more cautious.  Lately I have let my guard down somewhat, so perhaps that is the lesson I was meant to learn...because I truly believe, everything happens for a reason, and there is a lesson in everything.  Here in New York they tell us that all the time...Pay attention to your surroundings...and lately, I have been fairly lax. And my supervisor, too, has learned a valuable lesson that all of us have been telling her for awhile now...Don't be accepting everyone into the program.  Some people are not appropriate.  I'm sure she won't do that again.

Thanks for letting me share.

I have not ceased being fearful,
but I have ceased to let fear control me.
I have accepted fear as a part of life -
specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown;
and I have gone ahead despite the pounding in my heart that says:
turn back, turn back, you'll die if you venture too far.

--Erica Jong--


  1. you are right maybe that was the lesson, i try to look at what i can learn from a situational. But there are things in live where our instincts for flight kick in . I hope this was an isolated incident.

  2. Whew!!!!
    My mother watched an angry exvhusband enter her work place and shoot his wife to death years ago.
    I felt her terror at witnessing this...she went back.
    Also, for years I've watched live and filmed courtroom trials during the week on TruTV.
    Crazies are everywhere. :0(
    Some instances we can handle and others not. sigh!

  3. I work in a municipal court here at the Jersey Shore, near Asbury Park. Most of the time we are behind bullet proof glass and locked doors with several red buttons to push to get the police to us in a hurry. Fortunately, we have never had to use it. However, on court days, the days clients really can get pissed, we are in a different office with nothing between us and the client but half a wooden door. It can be scary. We had one incident years ago one of the defendants threatened us and made horrible racial comments that scared us completely. The officer in the court room came right over and arrested the guy. If i thought of every defendant as a threat I would be crippled. I enjoy talking to the people, the one that are there to pay a ticket or fines. You get to know some of them and the hardships they endure and still they are pleasant. I would suggest calling the police immediately if your client shows any harassing or threatening behavior. Let them handle him and get him place elsewhere and maybe evaluated. DOn't feel guilty. I was at the shore this weekend and have a picture of and old gull on my blog this week. I don't know if he is really old he just had that look in his eyes.

  4. What a profound post. Full of good life lessons. I think your supervisor should help you out with this. If you have clients who may intimidate or threaten you, there must be some sort of protection for you. Back-up, a team approach. Not you all by yourself.

    Anyway, it does sound like the supervisor was a part of this whole thing and has decided to screen clients more appropriately.

    I am glad you have chosen not to give up your job. Especially if this client does not come back. Not worth it.
    Take care.

  5. There are people out there who can't be helped in conventional ways. Most of us lose track of this unless we are exposed to thier lunacy. I am glad you are safe today. Hopefully your supervisor will illiminate the possibilty of this happening in the future. If you haven't done so already, perhaps you should remind her of this. X.

  6. A profound post, Mary! I hope all turns out well.

  7. A great reminder to all of us. I agree with you about not quitting your job. Although you really need to be extra careful there. Wasn't there a fight at work and you were the only one there? I bet you could write a book about the things that have happened at your job. Be safe.


  8. Is there anything else, you can work at?

    Not letting fear intimidate you is one thing. But when the fear is coming from an unstable mad-man... What good does "being right/strong" do?

    Sorry if you don't like my term of 'mad-man.' But isn't he? If he hears voices and will not take his meds and feels he's fine... What other term fits?