In July, a friend of mine was hit by a car while riding her bike home from work. She was doing everything right– like wearing a helmet and using lights for visibility. As a daily bike commuter she had a healthy respect for cars and the unpredictability of the road. She was careful and yet still, she got hit. Luckily, she survived and her injuries were not life-threatening. Her lower leg was badly injured requiring many stitches, and she broke her toe. In the months since July, my friend has been sharing her journey of healing on social media. She has a gift for writing, and she has beautifully described the physical and emotional process of overcoming this trauma. Today she wrote about her commute to work. Yes, seriously. She is back on the bike! It was a gradual process of first riding routes on the greenway and back-roads away from heavy traffic. Recently she got back on big roads and made her way to work the fast, convenient way. She described the importance of living her life rather than living in fear. Taking risks is a healthy part of living life to the fullest; but most of us struggle to know when, where, and how to take those risks especially when getting hurt might be part of it.
In my work as a family therapist I am frequently telling clients that they need to do what makes them feel uncomfortable in order to feel better. Clients suffering from phobias and OCD are best treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and more specifically Exposure and Response Prevention. Exposure Therapy is a process of increasing intensity used to develop mastery over fears.
Several years ago I was out catching bugs on the Sugar Creek greenway so I could help a client who screamed with absolute terror whenever she saw anything remotely bug-like. The first time I met this client she told me “I don’t like anything having to do with nature and the outdoors. No dirt. No mud. No bugs”. Oddly enough, she didn’t mind snakes at all. She showed me a picture of her at a party, and in the photo she had a huge white snake draped over her shoulders. I am terrified of snakes– can’t even look at pictures of them without having an acute physical reaction. We made a deal that as long as she did her exposure homework (touching dirt, looking at pictures of bugs, touching bugs, going to the Nature Museum) I would try and do some work on my fear of snakes.
I am happy to report that she kept her end of the deal, and as a result of her hard work she is thriving and unfazed by bugs. She even participates in an outdoor sport and loves it! Like my friend who is back out commuting to work by bike everyday, she is brave and she is living her life.
If your own fears, obsessions, or other worries are interfering with how you want to live your life–consider doing work with a trained cognitive-behavioral therapist. I am happy to help with referrals or any questions you may have about this work.
** For the record, I should probably do more exposure related to my fear of snakes.