Jenni Osborn


Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

This phrase, that began life as the title of a self-help book more than 30 years ago, and has spawned a whole industry of its own, is particularly relevant for me this week as various things have collided together making me more anxious than I would have been previously about going on holiday.

I recognise the extraordinary privilege of being able to go to Italy for half term and I’m rather frustrated by the anxiety hovering around the edges. But hovering it is and I am drawn to the need to stare into the abyss of swirling emotion, to allow the waves of dread to crash around me, to acknowledge that there is real risk so that I can choose how I want to live my life.

Some of you will know that I have had some significant health episodes in the last 10 years – bowel cancer being the first occasion when I came face-to-face with my own mortality, aged 34. By the time I reached 40 I was living with almost constant pain in my neck and shoulders, which only 2 years later was diagnosed as arthritis in my cervical spine. Then at the back end of last year I was blue-lighted to hospital with suspected stroke symptoms, twice in 10 days. This once again meant confronting the distinct possibility that my body was failing in a way that I would never have been able to anticipate. Thankfully, my subsequent MRI scan was completely clear, leaving all the doctors I saw scratching their heads about what it actually was. But in with all the other tests I had at the time was another diagnosis lurking. This one IS life limiting, it’s a heart condition that’s super rare and has serious consequences/risk: in affects only 1 in 750,000 people, the cardiologist who first raised the possibility said he’d never seen it in a women before, and most startling of all, it causes sudden death! The good news with this is that I’m considered low risk, and there are things I can do to minimise the risk even further. The rather-anxiety-inducing news is that the things I can do to minimise is not get sick, because where high temperatures and dehydration is risky for all humans, for me it comes with the heightened awareness that too much pressure on my heart could prove suddenly fatal. Enter, stage left: the coronavirus or Covid 19 as it has now been designated by the WHO.

So I have two significantly life-limiting conditions, both acting at a fairly ‘low’ level at the moment but both could have considerable impact whilst away.

In our family we have a mantra that I often bring us back to when we have days like this one: I can do hard things. It’s been the kind of week where everyone’s rather frazzled, teenage hormones raging and anxiety levels riding high. Such that my usually happy, school-loving teenager had to be compelled out of the door this morning in a hot mess of tears and protestations. He’s home again now and while he hasn’t had the best day, he’s got through it, which is the main thing.

And so, I will choose to live my life in abundance, not to hide myself away in the hope that this will keep me away from potential life-limiting situations. To go head-on into the situation that makes me fearful and anxious because to avoid it is to allow the fear to win.

I will go on holiday with my family and I will simply deal with additional pain this might bring. I will not allow news reporting to send me into hiding.

After all, I can do hard things.