Looking back at the year, 2020 was really interesting for me.
It was a pause; an opportunity to sit with ourselves amid a chaotic time.
Many people turned inward to spend time on their personal development. Others immersed themselves in their family, building stronger bonds—and hopefully not getting sick of each other.
Pre-pandemic, I was actually in a pretty bad place. I didn’t talk about it online, but I was generally hanging out with people that didn’t deserve my time or attention, doing really unhealthy things. Let’s just leave it at that.
It wasn’t a particularly unique place for me. I’ve slipped into weird places before, where I don’t seem to recognize my own value or energy. Often, I’m depressed or generally carrying a low sense of self-worth.
It’s when I’m in these places that fear really grips us. It might not even be obvious at first.
I remember watching the early 2000s thriller Donnie Darko back during my time at Wellesley. and the (really fascinating) scene where Donnie and his class are being taught about a spectrum of emotions and our resulting thoughts and actions.
The ends of the spectrum are: FEAR, and LOVE.
Fear is the most negative emotion from which all negative thoughts and behaviors stem. Love is the emotion from which we grow and expand, welcoming the universe into our being. We treat ourselves—and our others—well when we think and act from a place of love, as opposed to fear.
This might feel overly simplistic, but think about it. Really think about it. We see the surface level iceberg of our behaviors, but there’s still thoughts and emotions underwater. And they’re what powers those negative emotions.
Perhaps on a most direct level, we often feel anxiety in response to fear. We are afraid of the outcomes, of others’ reactions.
I think that people who do what the general population would consider to be “bad things” are acting from a place of fear, too. They might rob because they’re ultimately afraid of society’s effects of poverty (homelessness, limited health resources, etc), and feel the need to act immorally in order to survive.
I’m still not at a place where I can draw many parallels to real life—the connections I desperately need in order to truly contextualize something. But at this point in my life, I’m very much aware of the intense role that fear plays in driving our thoughts and behaviors. I study human behaviors every day just in order to try to understand a tiny bit of what makes humans… well, humans.
And love? I truly believe that love is at the root of all things good.
Love is positive energy. Love radiates, and attracts. It aligns frequencies and brings more love together.
I’ve noticed that neurotypicals often have a limited idea of what love means. I recently fell very deeply in love, and I had to ask several people around me what intense love for another person looks and feels like. So fucking autistic.
I noticed that so many aspects of what neurotypicals feel associated with “being in love” actually match with the depth of love I feel for virtually everything. Contrary to belief that Aspies are emotionless robots, I can say that at least I (and apparently a lot of others!) feel a depth of emotion that far exceeds the “limits” of neurotypical emotion. Love is no exception!
So, we have these two ends of the spectrum. Love sounds… lovely. Fear sounds like it could be personified by a literal monster.
Here’s the really stank news out of all of this: My therapist has confirmed to me that fear as a root cause emotion can’t be completely avoided. We have to recognize it, and choose love-based, positive responses to that fear in order to push through it. We need to build fear resilience.
And worse yet? It takes deliberate practice to get to the point where pushing through fear isn’t as exhausting, or look like a fight you know you’ll get your ass whooped in. You stand a chance at pushing back, and maybe even turning a fearful situation into a love-driven one.
I wrote this post because I wanted to ultimately tell you one thing:
Don’t underestimate the power of fear.
This is a lesson that I’m still actively learning, and I just keep coming back to it. I’ve built in some triggers to really ask myself before I interpret and respond: is this response out of a perception of fear, or of love?
Where you see that choice: do your best to identify fear, and instead choose love.
All of this is pretty widely applicable, but I suppose I can throw in one coding-centric example that I resonate with.
When I was learning to code back in 2015, I noticed that a lot of my thoughts and behaviors were from a deep place of fear. Fear was just the root… but again, don’t underestimate it.
That fear drove me generally treating myself like shit when I couldn’t do “as well” as I needed to. I was deeply afraid that I wouldn’t make career transition, that I wouldn’t ever be “good enough” to compete with other coders for the same jobs, or even know what kind of work I wanted to do.
My behaviors ultimately mirrored these emotions: I stopped writing code for long period of time. I didn’t apply for jobs I should’ve shot my shot on. I didn’t communicate with other coders.
But here’s a kinda cute and funny aspect of my fear-based thoughts: I spent time working with people who knew far less than I did, because I didn’t feel confident enough to interact with more seasoned coders. But I loved it and saw how many people I was actually helping, so it ended up being amazing and now helping newbies fuels my entire career.
Pretty obviously, none of this is coming from a place of love. If it were, I’d be kinder to myself. I’d be understanding when I didn’t meet my own expectations. I’d recognize that nobody was watching me, rooting for me to fail.
The reality, regardless of what my brain was telling me, was that I was wildly supported and already had an actual fan base. That’s love, but my brain wanted me to lean into the fear.
It’s not just me! I’m wired this way based on experiencing others’ fear-based thinking and actions—in other words, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That shit you went through in your childhood has probably wired your brain to quickly turn to fear, even if the situation doesn’t actually warrant it.
So, again: don’t underestimate this shit. Fear is really powerful. But love is ultimately more powerful.
Pay attention to when fear is driving your thoughts and actions. I guarantee you it’s a big part of more parts of your life than you think.
There will always be an option to choose love. It’s taken me 10 years of therapy to truly begin to see the effects, and choosing love is changing my life.