This special post was authored by Andrea Hardee by request of Path Made Clear
Ever since I was little, fear came easily to me. I liked toys like any other kid but going down the toy aisles in Walmart freaked me out. The inanimate ones, such as action figures, were fine with me, but I always worried that some kid (or my brother) would push a button on one of those talking, blinking, demon-possessed dolls and I’d jump out of my skin. And don’t even get me started on bees, or anything that made a buzzing sound for that matter! I could hear them, and I knew they could hurt me, but because I’m visually impaired, I couldn’t see them.
A PARALYZING FEAR
I think it’s the worst kind of fear: you know something’s there, but you don’t know exactly where. Where do you run when something’s constantly moving? How could I escape when cerebral palsy makes my muscles seize up when I’m nervous?
We all have our “bees,” I guess—something that’s dangerous but unseen. It might be there, and it might not.
THE MENTAL MERRY-GO-ROUND
A few years later, when I was around ten, I graduated to more abstract fears like, “What if I get sick with some freak stomach bug and embarrass myself in front of my friends?” That one might be somewhat common for the age, because it ultimately hinges on what other people think at a time when it seems like everybody but you has it together.
Then there were worse fears too—those that formed in my head when my best friend’s brother got cancer. Prior to that point, I assumed that only old people got deadly diseases. But suddenly I understood that kids could get them too, so I worried, “What if I get cancer? What if I die?” At some point, we all begin to realize the world isn’t as safe as we thought it was when we were five.
I guess this is heavy stuff for a ten-year-old to worry about, but consider how tweens these days must be feeling, suddenly freaked out over pandemic viruses, hand washing and whether their masks are on tight enough. I know what that mental merry-go-round is like. I’ve been on it most of my life.
On second thought, maybe it’s more like a tilt-o-whirl continuously being fed with tokens engraved with the words “what if”? Your mind spins faster and faster until you’re disoriented and panicky as those familiar “what ifs” cycle through your head. A cheesy metaphor maybe; but it seems about right. For you, the questions may be, “What if I get COVID-19?” “What if I lose my job?” “What if I can’t get unemployment?” and around and around and around.
MY PERSONAL ANECDOTE
So, how can we get off the ride? Maturity generally doesn’t make it any easier. As adults, we shoulder more responsibility and are confronted with more, tangible fears. But no matter the age, we all grapple with insecurities and tend to forget that we’re not alone. Come to think of it, many of those “what if’s” are often followed by “I,” such as, “What if I am attacked by a swarm of killer bees?” or “What if I get sick?” or even “What if I screw up?”
This last question has nagged at me the most. I don’t know why it’s been such a constant for me, maybe it stems from comparing myself to “normal” people.
When I was born, doctors told my parents that, because of a significant brain bleed, I’d probably be totally blind, unable to walk, and have severe cognitive delays. I realize the doctors were just giving Mom and Dad worst-case scenarios, and thankfully by God’s grace, those didn’t happen. Sure, I’m visually impaired, but I have useable close-range vision and I use assistive technology to help me see distances. I have cerebral palsy, but I can walk relatively well with a cane. And I definitely don’t have cognitive delays. In fact, my cognition is what started that merry-go-round in the first place!
Because of my personal hurdles, I’ve always felt pressure to be just as good as everyone else at the things I pursued. This might sound like a positive, but when the fear of not measuring up to “normal” people creeps in, you can freeze under the pressure of some imaginary standard you’ve put on yourself. You see, in all of the scary scenarios I invented in my head, I came to notice that it was me fighting alone against some thing that may or may not exist, and God and the people He’s put in my life are crowded out by my self-centeredness.
What I have learned is that as long as I focus on what I can’t do, I’ll prove myself right. If, for example, I say I can’t drum as well as Ringo because my muscles are too weak, then I’ll sit there paralyzed, clinging to the restraining bar as the mental tilt-o-whirl spins. My Dad always told me, “Just play anything. Who cares what it sounds like!”
I still don’t know why I was so scared of “looking stupid” in front of my family. But Dad was right: playing something badly wouldn’t hurt me. No one would remember it, so what exactly was there to be embarrassed about? To help me get past this, Dad put on the easiest, slowest and most boring drum parts known to man. I could play those with no problem, and before I knew it, I was playing in front of people, even if they were just Mom and Dad at the time.
Now, nearly twenty years later, I play at my church, where my audience has grown to two thousand, and, incidentally, I now know many more songs than “Desperado” and “Take it to the Limit.” (No disrespect, Eagles fans.)
PEACE IN THE MIDST OF FEAR
To be certain, none of my personal growth would have happened without my family supporting me. And I wouldn’t even be here if God hadn’t defied the odds with a one-pound baby born at twenty-five weeks!
We all need to remember that, no matter what we’re going through, there will always be someone to help us slow down the tilt-o-whirl and lead us safely onto sturdy ground, even when we have every reason to doubt. Throughout my life my anxieties and paralyzing self-doubts didn’t last forever, and this pandemic won’t either. But God, His forgiveness, and our ultimate home with Him in heaven definitely will.
God knows our fears. They don’t freak Him out or take Him by surprise; maybe that’s why He says, “Fear not” nearly 365 times in the Bible and not, “What’s wrong with you” or “Get over it.”
As someone who has had to navigate life with cerebral palsy and the anxiety that accompanies it, I want to encourage you to rest in Jesus and not be paralyzed by what might happen. Instead, live in the hope of what He’s promised, and know that we’re truly 'Worthy' and 'God Approved'—not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what He did for us on the cross.
ABOUT ANDREA HARDEE
Andrea Hardee is a talented and award-winning writer, blogger and music critic. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of South Florida with a degree in English. Most recently, her work has been featured on JesusFreakHideout.com, ClearVoice.com, the flexEngage business blog and in the Thread Literary Inquiry, the University of South Florida's undergraduate literary journal.