Yesterday, I talked about fear. I told you about my fear of flying, my epiphany while watching a trailer for a Will Smith movie, and my understanding that abortion-minded women too often act out of fear.
I told you that, while I have never been an abortion-minded pregnant woman, I have been ruled by fear, and I have witnessed firsthand its destructive power.
Now I’m gonna do that thing where I tell you something intensely personal about myself. It’s gonna make me feel vulnerable and bad for a while. But every time I do this, it seems like I help a lot of people, and I feel led to keep doing it. I think it’s worth the horrifying naked-in-the-high-school-hallway feeling I get when I share intensely personal things about myself.
Everything I am about to tell you, dear readers, only about three people know as I write this.
I used to have this thing called panic disorder. Panic disorder is like this: you’re sitting at a computer or driving a car or taking a shower, and all the sudden your heart starts pounding and palpitating, you can’t breathe, and you go, “Um, what?” And you’re pretty sure, based on what you’re feeling, that you’re having a heart attack and/or definitely going to die.
There’s an adrenaline surge. Your heart is racing. Your mouth is dry. You’re dizzy. Your vision blurs. You have a fight-or-flight response. There is nothing to fight, so you fly. You get in your car and drive 80 miles per hour to somewhere you think is safe.
I had my first panic attack when I was 23 years old, sitting at my desk at work, minding my own business, not thinking about dying. I drove at dangerous speeds to my mother’s house, where she tried to tell me I wasn’t dying. It got worse. Waves of horrifying, terrible numbness started in my chest and flowed throughout my body. She took me to the hospital. They said: “Oh my God, you’re dying.”
Just kidding. They said: “You’re fine. Go home.”
People think panic attacks start because you’re freaking out about something. They don’t. The physical symptoms come first.
After a while, you become so convinced there is something physically wrong with you that you think the next time you really will die. You go to the ER several times. The doctors keep telling you you’re fine. In between panic attacks, you think, “That could not have just been my mind. There has to be something physically wrong with me.”
So you become excruciatingly aware of every minute feeling in your body. Everything you feel could be the beginning of the blood clot, stroke, heart attack, or whatever, that will kill you. This is called anxiety sensitivity, and this is what I live with now.
In some ways it’s better than the panic disorder. In other ways, it’s worse. It’s death by a thousand cuts. It wears out your energy and your will over time. Just getting through the day can be a struggle. Some days are worse than others. Some days you almost panic, even. But some days are pretty good. Some days you feel almost normal. Almost.
I know what you’re thinking: “Get thee to a pharmacy.” Doctors have offered me prescriptions, but I’m not really into pills. I’ve seen too many cases where the cure is worse than the disorder, and besides: I want to address the source of the problem. And I’m working on it.
Anxiety disorders are a funny thing. They’re different for everyone. Some people, you can tell they’re having a meltdown. But you could sit next to me all day and never know what was going on inside me.
Another weird quirk of mine is that real, external anxieties are a piece of cake for me: if someone starts freaking out and screaming, or a fight breaks out nearby, or whatever, I’m the calmest person in the room. I’m so busy with my own imaginary crises that the real ones are a walk in the park. In fact, they’re kind of refreshing.
There are millions and millions of people who have what I have. I’m not as uniquely wacko as you might think. A lot of people with anxiety or panic disorder end up agoraphobic. They feel “safe” in their home, and after a while they are loath to leave it. I understand this tendency. If I let it, it could happen to me. But I won’t let it.
I will leave the house, I will get on the plane, I will go out into the world. It’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. But I refuse to make any decision based on fear.
Fear is imaginary. I am living proof.
When I hear abortion advocates talk about the fear a woman is feeling, I simultaneously empathize with her and feel utterly certain that her fear is no reason to encourage her to abort.
When we are afraid, reality is distorted. We don’t see things as they really are, and we make terrible decisions. There is no way to know how many young women abort their children based on fear, but I would guess it is a large percentage – maybe even the majority.
Just like I am probably not going to have a stroke later today, the frightened abortion-minded young woman’s parents are probably not going to actually kill her if they find out she is pregnant. Her life is not really going to be over if she has a baby. Her career path will not be impossible.
This is not to say nothing bad will happen. Maybe her boyfriend will leave her. Maybe she won’t be able to hang out with her friends as much. And she most definitely will gain weight.
But in this – as in almost everything – the fear is worse than the reality. As pro-life advocates, when we talk to abortion-minded women, we need to help them see the situation from outside their fear.
Fear has a biological purpose to keep us from danger. It is there so that we run from the hungry lion instead of trying to hang out with it, and that’s a good thing. But beyond that, it is destructive. Danger is real, but fear is a choice. We can recognize danger without letting fear limit us and prompt us to make bad decisions.
The abortion-minded woman should not be told her baby will come out riding a tiny magical unicorn and waving a rainbow wand that will make all her problems go away. Babies are work. Children are work. Her life will be more difficult, more complicated, and less self-centered. But it will also be full of joy, possibility, and love.
It is incredibly telling to me, as someone who battles the dark, destructive side of fear every day, that the people who claim to battle for “choice” also encourage women to act out of fear. Let me tell you this: whatever decision you’re about to make, if your primary motive is fear, it’s probably the wrong decision. Fear distorts, paralyzes, and controls. The anti-lifers use fear to encourage the decision they want. They nurture a woman’s fear, fanning its flames, encouraging her to act based on a destructive emotion.
It is our job, then, to show her the reality beyond her fear. It is up to us to clear away the fractured, mirror-maze image of her future she is seeing. That is fear, not reality. It’s not an easy task, but it’s up to us to guide her out of the darkness of fear and towards the light of a life-affirming decision based on morality, reason, and hope.