If You Want to Recover, Accept Fear

Ioana Andrei

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A year ago today, I had the scariest plane ride of my life.

Not because of heavy turbulence, or even early signs of a pandemic.

I wasn’t afraid of flying.

I was afraid I’d never recover from a syndrome that impaired my brain functions.

That plane journey would take me from the rent-free, unconditional care of my family in Romania to the noisy, individualistic grind of London.

I was coming home.

I was desperate to see my love again. Our relationship had begun to crack under the pressure of long-distance. He’d take me in until I could find somewhere to rent.

He was the main reason I was returning before making a full recovery. Yet, on my way back, I was petrified.

Three weeks prior, a steady recovery from migraine, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction had unexpectedly relapsed.

I couldn’t get out of bed except to visit the bathroom and kitchen. Reading and watching TV worsened my symptoms. To the outside eye, I did nothing. Internally, I cultivated wisdom.

I tipped over the edge of fear enough to know what raw desperation felt like. Few moments in my day did not languish in physical or psychological pain.

I stayed with my aunt for a short while — the person that never fails to greet me with a smile, a compliment, and the best food.

I saw her cry for the second time in my life. The first time was at my grandfather’s, her father’s, funeral.

She said she’d never seen me “like that”.

I said, me neither.

To the outside eye, we were two sad women telling each other how sad the other one looked. But her tears were mirroring what I was feeling inside. Heartbreak.

I set some boundaries. I expressed my need for solitude, rest, and quiet. I was offered delicious food.

Then, my grandmother died.

She didn’t know I’d booked a ticket back to London for the following week. She chose to let go when I most needed to get out of my own head.

I knew my grandmother. She couldn’t resist giving me a good shake-up on her way out.

As I returned to my father’s home, supported the family for the funeral, and saw my grandmother’s face for the last time — I felt a soft wave of healing enter my body.

Painful though it was, I needed reminding of life’s finitude in order to replenish some hope.

A week after the funeral, I panicked. Everything was difficult. Packing two months’ worth of luggage, salvaging the remains of my relationship, questioning my readiness for full-time work, and wanting to hear my grandmother’s voice again.

The unpredictability of the future gave me a headache.

I don’t remember how I got to the airport.

I don’t remember the flight.

I remember only dread.

And then, I remember seeing his face.

It had been only two months, but in over a year we’d seldom been apart for more than a week.

He was my best friend.

Within ten days, he was my ex-partner.

I was able to earn a living again. I was looking for a place to live. I saw progress in recovery.

But the sense of doom lingered. The smallest obstacle would seem to me enormous.

Soon, I realized that the fear sitting next to me on the plane wasn’t worried about my rehabilitation. It was announcing the beginning of depression.

So now, on my back-to-London anniversary, I honor the gift of reflection.

Whilst my external circumstances are different, I can still remember the taste of dread. Like my aunt’s food, it gets more sophisticated with each serving. But the base is the same.

The angst I experienced is a testament to the strength that overcame it. I now know never to underestimate the power of grief and invisible illness.

I have cultivated boundaries and radical acceptance.

Self-healing has emerged as a full-time task.

Who knows where I might be now if I hadn’t got on that plane? If my grandmother hadn’t let go when she did. If I’d remained in an unhappy relationship.

I am deeply grateful for the fear. It was the weight I needed to build my muscles.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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