A reader asked me to write about dread because she suffers from anxiety and dreads the coming of every day. Here goes. Let's see if we can help bring light out from behind the dark clouds of dread.
Dread is different from and perhaps more comprehensive than fear. To dread means to anticipate with great apprehension or fear. It's the anticipation that can be extended and debilitating. You don't fear the unknown. You fear what you believe is the known, what you are certain will happen.
Dread can be based on a realistic appraisal of your future, and in varying degrees.
- You could dread taking an exam in the morning because you know you are not prepared.
- You could dread going to a dinner where you are expected because you are afraid the buffet will trigger your eating disorder.
- You could dread seeing a particular person because you know from experience that person will find a way to hurt you.
These dreads have practical solutions.
- Postpone the test and study.
- Work with your therapist or support team and develop a sturdy and practical structure for getting through the dinner or rearranging the meeting to a setting where you are not so vulnerable.
- Don't put yourself in the presence of the hurtful person
- Make sure you have a protector with you or notify authorities if that is what is called for.
But what about the nameless dread that keeps you under the covers shaking with anxiety in the morning? This is the dread that has you waking up at night sweating or tossing and turning in bed. This is the dread that paralyzes you and makes the simplest moves in being in the world almost impossible, like being with people, attending events, speaking in a group or expressing yourself in any way. You need to call upon great courage and determination to begin your day because you are so filled with dread.
This kind of dread is based more on your inner life. You anticipate the worst without knowing what it might be. Your dread is based on the anticipation of scenes and scenarios created by your fears. Your fears are so deep they feel more like the truth of your existence. You expect that the worst will happen.
Perhaps you imagine that worst specifically, i.e. how someone will treat you or how you will fail or humiliate yourself in some way. Or perhaps your dread is so great you only know something terrible awaits you in a kind of nameless, space less, shapeless void of a new day.
Don't fool yourself. You are human, alive and aware of your dread. You know people have choices and so do you.
"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
If you dread facing a situation that is beyond your ability you are being realistic, then you have choices:
- Put yourself in jeopardy and deal with it as best you can.(not advisable unless you have evidence that you can face the situation.)
- Find a way to make the situation less dangerous to you and face that.
- Find a way to avoid the situation on a one time basis.
- Find a way to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
- Strengthen and empower yourself to be able to cope with the situation if or when it ever occurs again. (Ongoing choice regardless of choices 1 - 4)
If you dread the nameless, the fantasy, the unknown of the coming day, your choices involve your discovering what the reality actually is.
Soren Kierkegaard described this kind of dread as a constant fear of failing your responsibilities to God. He was speaking and writing as a philosopher about the human condition. Here we speak of the human condition as it particularly relates to a human with an eating disorder.
When you have an eating disorder you have blanks in your psyche that feel like black holes you can fall through endlessly. Your eating disorder is designed to keep your awareness away from those blanks as well as to help you avoid the fear associated with the endless and powerless fall. The eating disorder can work fairly well, but imperfectly. You still get glimpses of your terrific vulnerability and inability to care for yourself. Those glimpses are frightening.
If your eating disorder is not strong and solid enough to block out your sense of being powerless and lost you will dread venturing into social and work related interactions. Play with friends may be inconceivable. This happens often. Regardless of how much you need your eating disorder to ward off anxiety, it will occasionally fail you. And thank goodness! Those failures awaken you to your need for recovery.
Your nameless or unrealistic dread means that you are afraid and certain that you cannot behave in a way that fulfills your responsibilities. These responsibilities include:
- Your own well being and development.
- Your principles.
- The requirements in life that mean survival
Survival requirements can include:
- money and time management
- professional relationships,
- health care
- safe and adequate food and housing
- and perhaps, with Kierkegaard, your responsibilities to your spiritual or religious beliefs.
If realistic dangers are not facing you and you feel helpless and incapable of moving into a new day, if your dread is powerful and slows you down or paralyzes you, then you know it. What are your choices? How can you help yourself?
These are your questions that need addressing with commitment and determination. Many people, books, programs, support groups, health organizations, mindfulness classes, creativity nurturing environments exist that can help you. But you have to decide to move toward them. You start and continue to develop from within. Then, instead of being helpless and incapable you truly become more helpful and capable.
The reality of your solid presence dispels disaster fears based on fantasy or even actual memory.
Helpful Dread Dispelling Activities:
- Work with a therapist
- Take classes in subjects that touch your heart
- Take classes in subjects that teach you the competencies you need in life
- Explore your spirituality
- Nurture your creativity
- Allow yourself to grow and blossom.
Readers, please share your thoughts and responses.
- Where and when do you experience dread?
- What do you do about it?
- What could you do about it?
- How can you begin to equip yourself so you can move beyond dread and into courage and competence?
- If you've weathered this phase of your recovery, what suggestions do you have for others?