Don't Be Consumed By Fear

Illustration by Olga Antononoka

By Paul Crouse

"Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not exist in the present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me: danger is real, but fear is a choice.”

-- Will Smith in the movie After Earth

The current morning ritual in my house goes something like this:

Me: (Reading the newspaper) “Oh my God…oh no....OH MY GOD!”

My Wife: “Trump?”

Me: “Trump.”

She doesn’t seem all too concerned.

“Freaking out doesn’t solve the problem,” she said.

As I read the paper, all of my political fears come bubbling up. Will one of his tweets crash the financial markets? Will he start a war with Russia? Will he start rounding up Mexicans and Muslims to put in concentration camps?

My mind does love to play out all of these scenarios just like an apocalyptic movie. And then I catch myself. The sun will still rise tomorrow. The birds will still be singing in the trees. There are still no zombies walking up the street.

“I don’t believe in the apocalyptic until the apocalypse comes,” Barack Obama recently told The New Yorker magazine. “I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”

Somewhere in my education, I was taught to always consider the worst-case scenario so that I would always be prepared. It’s like researching your flu symptoms on the internet and always coming to the conclusion that you have cancer.

There was a time when I believed in the apocalypse. And when it did not come, I started to learn how to stop living in fear.

In the late 1990s, there was a computer bug called Y2K. Computer clocks could not handle the change of the calendar from 1999 to 2000. All of them would crash at the stroke midnight on New Year’s Day unless they were fixed. This was a huge problem because computers run everything in the world.

A friend had told me how her friends in the IT industry were panicking over this. All of society would break down as all of the computers broke down, or so they said.

This freaked me out and I took it seriously. Like a good boy, I researched online and read about how serious people with serious jobs were taking this seriously. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan -- not a "the-sky-is-falling" kind of guy -- was warning of catastrophe if corrective action was not taken.

In one sense, the computer engineers were right. They needed to scare certain people in government and industry to get off of their collective butts to spend the time and money to rewrite the computer code. The problem was that regular Joes like me (with a propensity toward fear) also got spooked.

I ventured into the survivalist part of the internet and started planning for the apocalypse. My housemate and I stocked up on food, water and survival gear. We created quite a bunker in our crappy, old Japanese house.

Then, at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, the lights stayed on. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. People rang the neighborhood temple bells for the New Year like they always do in Kyoto. And the Earth continued its dance around the sun.

Boy, did I feel like an idiot. A huge idiot.

How could this happen? I did good research! Very serious people from very serious news sources warned of chaos!

I never considered that the problem might actually get fixed.

This was a big life lesson for me. I got caught up in the fear. I envisioned the apocalypse and ran with it.

I sought out information to re-enforce my beliefs. If it didn’t fit my beliefs — my fear — I dismissed it.

I also learned that you could always find something on the internet to support whatever you believe. Did you know that Barack Obama is a reptilian alien? Google it. There are people who firmly believe this and think that you are a nutcase because you don’t.

On the bright side, I was able to develop a plan and execute it effectively. But it was based on a fallacious premise. It was a waste of time, money and energy. My life became the fear because everything I did was based upon the fear. I had been swimming in it.

I vowed never to be ruled by fear again. This is easier said than done. It is a process that is still in progress. What is important is that I choose to live differently on the inside. This choice lead me on the path where I learned to heal myself and gain the tools to strengthen, center and empower myself. (I’ll write more about this another day).

So now, when read something disturbing about the new president-elect, I try to catch myself before my mind takes me to another end-of-the-world scenario. And I take solace in the fact that the dysfunction of Washington has torn apart many politicians’ dreams. 

This article was originally published in Star Nations Magazine


Olga Antononoka is a Latvian artist and doctoral candidate living in Kyoto, Japan.