Tiny Wisdom: Fear Is a Challenge to Be Brave

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” -Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, after months of anticipation that included procuring pre-existing condition health insurance and finding the right doctor, I finally met with a physician who will soon schedule me for surgery.

Though I’ve had procedures before, this will be my first major operation.

Starting when I was 18, I got my belly button pierced on three separate occasions only to take it out shortly after each time. I loved the idea of it, but I felt a little nauseous when I thought about having a metal ring inside my stomach.

It didn’t belong there; it was a foreign object, much like surgical instruments. What also don’t belong there are the grapefruit- and plum-sized fibroids (benign tumors) growing inside my uterus wall.

Though they don’t pose a major risk to my health, they cause me a lot of discomfort. I would have let them saw me in half, like a magician’s assistant in a box, if it meant getting these things out.

And yet I am completely terrified.

I am terrified of having someone cut into one of my organs. I’m terrified of going under general anesthesia. I’m terrified of anything that could go wrong—including complications that might compromise my fertility or the possibility of contracting some kind of hospital infection.

I am scared, and it feels liberating to simply admit it.

It’s not something I need anyone to fix or take away. It’s not the result of ignorance, soon to be soothed by statistics and additional information. It’s not something I need to run from, hide, or transform into something more positive. It just is.

Author Susan Jeffers wrote, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” But sometimes there’s nothing we can do but wait.

Whether you’re six weeks away from surgery, or six months away from losing your home, or six years away from your children leaving your house, the future contains limitless possibilities for challenges—some we can anticipate and others we don’t yet know to predict.

Sometimes it serves us to transform our fear into something productive, when it comes to pushing beyond our comfort zone, for example.

But sometimes the most useful thing we can do is sit with fear—to acknowledge it, humble ourselves before it, and then accept its challenge to be brave in each moment, as it comes.

Photo by clayirving

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • erin

    I had 3 major surgeries by the time I was 12. It is scary, but as a kid, I didn’t think about it too much. A lot of the trauma occurs before and after the surgery (missing school, parents who were constantly worried, just feeling different than others). BUT, I had such nice nurses and the great part I remember while in the hospital was watching I love Lucy, Perry Mason, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. 

    You will be so FINE. Make a list of fun things you can do to pamper yourself (like watch silly reruns, eat cinnamon toast, fun podcasts to catch up on, feel good foods people can make you). 

    Good luck! Remember, you will be fine!

  • Anne-Sophie Reinhardt

    I am facing the same procedure some time this year, so I can totally relate to your fears. I am especially scared of not being able to have children, but it is a risk I have to take. Sometimes we just need to look fear in the face and do what we have to do. 

  • Angie

    I’ve been a nurse for 23 years, so I knew EVERYTHING that could possibly go wrong before each of the four neurosurgeries I’ve had during the past three years.  But I can honestly say I went into each of them completely calm and at peace with myself and whatever the outcome might be, simply because I knew it was completely out of my control.  There is absolutely a peace that comes from accepting that something needs to be done, you can’t do it yourself, and you’re going to put your trust in others to get from point A to point B.  All will be well!

  • Maru

    Fear is part of life, and you will not let it stop you.
    Planning post-surgery pampering, as Erin suggests, is a wonderful idea.
    Ask your doctor whatever you want to know but try not to look for non-professional information in the web, sometimes it is not a good idea.
    Take care and conquer the challenge.

  • Thank you for sharing Lori, very well put.  It just is.

  • Lori, of course you’re afraid. It’s natural to fear surgery. No one wants to go into surgery, but as you’ve observed, what we want and what we need are often two very different things. I’d be concerned for you if you weren’t frightened (or at least worried) about it. Make sure your doctor and medical support team know you’re afraid. That’s part of what they are there for. 

    I fully agree with Angie below (FYI, my wife is an RN, too). Erin is right about making a list of things to do while recovering, too. I did that my last time and it helped a lot.  I’ve had back surgery twice and multiple hand/arm surgeries. These days, I’ve come to realize that it’s just a very sound, dreamless nap and some recovery time on pain killers. My wife had the same issue at about your age and she was very glad that she had gone for the surgery afterwards. Give yourself permission to be worried or eve a little frightened. It’s okay. 

  • Natalie

    I needed this reminder today! Last night I couldn’t sleep thinking of my upcoming thyroid biopsy… the fear was very real & I stared of thinking of ways to distract myself from it.  Thank you for reminding me that I must deal with it, face it and be strong 🙂

  • Musicloverhappy69

    I think FDR said it quite succintly-the only thing we have to fear is,fear itself!GREAT ARTICLE Lori!Well done!:)

  • Jennifer

    Good luck Lori!  I agree surgery sounds very scary – living with pain kind of becomes normal when it goes on long enough.  I will send good thoughts your way. 🙂

  • Lori,

    This was an amazingly honest post – thank you!  It is amazing that we fixate on the “what can go wrong” rather than the afterglow of how good things will be for you once you heal with so much less discomfort.  I believe that we are brought up on fear-mongering and our newspapers play into it by forecasting gloom and doom and utter devastation.  Why don’t we focus on the great things that have as much chance of happening as we do the negative?

    Wishing you peace and a speedy recovery.  You’ll be just fine and probably blogging from the post-op room!


  • Lori,
    I had fibroids years ago and what you describe about getting rid of them I had!  Fear.  Horrible fear.  What I did do was bunch of research and found a procedure where they went in through my femoral artery and cut the blood supply off to them.  No cutting me open.  It did take general anesthesia BUT the opening me up and big knives and things to my organs did not happen.

    It eased the fear for me and I can say that 13 years later, it is all still very healed!

    Mahalo for sharing your fears out loud. 

  • Kiki

    Lori, best of luck on your surgery.  You’ll do great! 🙂

  • Sarah

    Wishing you all good thoughts, Love, Joy, Peace, Light, Strength and Well-being!  May peace accompany you into your surgery and may Love be with you.  Walk in Light and thank you for your words of encouragement and may they reflect back to you!  All will be well! With love ~ Sarah

  • josette burgess

    Hi there….I have been following you for sometime.  Although I am much older than you are….I know how it is to be fearful.  Living with the disease of alcoholism and chemical addiction in my adult children has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about it.

    However….One thing I do know is that as you said….you cannot run away from it… Winston Churchill said.” The only thing to fear…is fear itself.”  Hopefully all will turn out well for you….I’m quite confident it will.



  • Sharon Drachenberg

    I had this procedure and had never had prior surgeries either.  Except for a few uncomfortable days immediately following, I felt good and have ever since.

    I know you will too!

  • Sending you love and wishes for a peaceful experience.  I am also dealing with fear today surrounding my own personal health issues.  Your post is so timely and as usual, so helpful.  Sitting with my own fear, instead of running from it, will only serve to open myself up to healing and allow me to know myself even more.  Thank you, Lori and best wishes to you

  • Thanks Rytis. =)

  • Thanks for the support Gregg. It’s comforting to know other people have been through the same experience without any troubles. I’m glad to finally have this problem taken care of!

  • You’re most welcome Natalie. Sending good thoughts your way!

  • Thank you so much!

  • Thanks Jennifer. I appreciate that!

  • You’re so right Carol. Fear is such a big part of our culture. I will indeed be blogging from the post op room. Since I will be in the hospital for two days, I was glad to learn they have WiFi!

  • Thanks for sharing your experience! I read about that procedure, and I had some concerns about it. You’ve given me some food for thought, so thank you again! I’m curious: did you have children after having it done?

  • Thank you so much Kiki!

  • Thank you Sarah. That was beautiful. =)

  • Thanks so much Jo. I can only imagine how challenging it is, as a parent, to see your children struggle in that way. My parents went through a lot with me when I was getting treatment for an eating disorder in my 20s, and I’m sure they dealt with a lot of fear as well. Sending good thoughts your way!

  • That’s great to know Sharon. Thank you for commenting!

  • Thanks Mikelle. I’m glad my post helped you. Sending you good thoughts as we both embrace our fear and the unknown.

  • I loved those shows as a kid! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. If you could be brave as a child, I can be brave as an adult. I love your idea of finding ways to pamper myself. I was a little bummed to learn I won’t be able to exercise for 6 weeks, but I realized I could fill that time with relaxing things instead, like getting foot massages and laying outside in the sun. Thanks again. =)

  • I read about how common fibroids are, but before now, I hadn’t connected with anyone else who is in the same boat. Though I wouldn’t wish them on anyone else, it’s nice to know I’m not alone! If you have your surgery before I do (I believe mine is in 6 weeks) I would appreciate hearing about how the experience was for you.

  • That’s great advice Maru. Having medical information so easily available on the web can sometimes be more harmful than helpful. There have been times when I’ve gotten lost in WebMD, so I do my best to be mindful about that kind of thing!

  • Thanks Angie. That out-of-control feeling can be so uncomfortable, but you’re right–it needs to be done, and I can’t do it myself. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It’s comforting to realize so many people have had serious procedures without complications!

  • JLA

    Hi Lori, I had an operation three years ago because of very painful fibroids. I think fear over everything that can go wrong is natural. It’s at that moment we must stop, take a deep breath, and trust that all will be ok. I had an amazing doctor, combined with excellent nurses, and everything I feared didn’t happen! My recovery was great. The best part, no more bent over in pain fibroids!

    Wishing you much peace in your heart and soul as you conquer the fear!


  • That’s great to read Angelique! Thanks for sharing your experience with me. It’s nice to hear from people who have been there before!

  • hammondart

    I’m sending good and healing thoughts your way Lori.  When I had fibroids they did a D&C, which was terrifying.  I wish they knew then what they know now.  I truly believe you’ll be fine and ultimately relieved by this.

  • Claire

    Nine months ago I was facing a similar surgery without a clear diagnosis or certain outcome. For me, the waiting was the hardest part. Accepting the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions rather than fighting it helped. Knowing that many people around the world share the same fear made me not feel so alone. My surgery was more extensive than I had hoped but my outcome has been fantastic and I wish I had done the surgery years ago! Wishing you great peace before and after!

  • Sonya

    This is EXACTLY what I needed right now after returning from a doctor’s visit…

  • Nlhawk

    As I await for surgery which is happening this coming Tuesday I felt like this essay was written for me.  All around I hear the words “don’t worry” it will be fine, “oh they have done this a million times” yet still, the fear remains.   Thank you for your sharing, and reassuring me that perhaps it is okay to have the fear and just be with it.

  • Pam

    Hi Lori, I love reading your posts and don’t usually leave comments but this one struck a particular chord with me and I just had to get in touch with you.

    I know EXACTLY what you mean about being scared of all things to do with hospitals. If you’re anything like me the size of the fear doesn’t have anything to do with the size of the procedure. I ended up in hospital one day this week (I have an ongoing medical problem that they still haven’t got to the bottom of and every now and again it pops up and gives me grief) and because of the pain I was in, my fear levels were already alerted. I got as scared of them trying to put a line in to give me IV drugs as I was of the prospect that they might have to do some surgery. I felt pretty pathetic really, but as you say, if you face the fear and go with it anyway it usually isn’t as bad as you are scared it’s going to be.

    I didn’t end up having surgery this time, but they did have five attempts at getting the line in because my system had shut down. You’d think that that experience would stop me getting as scared when they came at me wanting an arterial blood sample….ha!

    I hope your surgery goes as smoothly as it can do when you eventually have it. Just remember that fear is a natural human response to danger and anything that you see as dangerous is bound to trigger that fear reaction. Yes hospitals can be dangerous places (infections, misdiagnoses etc) but they are also the best places to be in for health problems so you are in the best hands possible. Just try to relax and let the doctors do what they do best.

    And I will take my own advice….honest!!

    Best wishes, Pam

  • Hi Pam,

    Thanks so much for writing! I’ve definitely had a long-standing fear of all things medical-related. I remember when I was 5, I was in the pediatricians office, and they were trying to do that finger prick to draw blood. I actually screamed for a good 10 minutes before I finally got tired, unclutched the door knob I was clinging to, and let them prick my finger! It was such a little thing, but the thought of it terrified me. I’ve gotten better with needles over the years, but I still dislike hospitals and doctor’s offices, in part because I’ve always associated them with suffering.

    Thank you for the good advice. I am sending you good thoughts as you continue to deal with your medical issue!


  • You’re most welcome. I’m glad my post was helpful to you!

  • I’m glad it helped Sonya!

  • Thanks Claire! I’m glad to hear your surgery went well! I know what you mean about the waiting. Part of me wishes I could do the surgery tomorrow and be done with it. The doctor’s office called yesterday and told me they might not be able to get me scheduled until May (originally they said in 6 weeks). It’s definitely a test of my patience and acceptance, but I know it will be worth the wait!

  • Thanks so much! I’ve been reading a lot about fibroids and their treatment, and it certainly seems they’ve made some great advances in recent years. I appreciate the support!

  • Tinarose29

    ohhhhhhh don’t say that Lori lol….really just wait it out. I’m not feeling the waiting, the I ask myself…if I don’t than what. Just a few minutes ago I was telling my sister that I need to start taking anti depressants cos the things that are going through my head aren’t making me feel right. I suffered from depression before and didn’t need medication to get over it, but I can feel it slowly but surely coming back. What to do….

  • Reneejvm

    Lori, I had ovarian cysts for at least ten years before I decided to go ahead with the surgery to remove them. I even cancelled my first scheduled operation after a scary incident passing out when donating blood for myself just in case they might need it during the surgery. Like you, there came a point where I decided that I was ready to go ahead with it, and still, I was really scared. I remember feeling very alone when I told my husband about my concerns and he seemed to be dismissive of my feelings. He stayed with me until the anesthesia took effect, and as they were wheeling me out of the room and I was slipping out of consciousness, I could see in his eyes that he was concerned about me as well. My surgery was uneventful, except that I wound up with some nerve damage in my arm where the IV had hit a nerve. It took a long time to heal, but is mostly better now. I don’t regret the decision to have the surgery, but still remember the fear. And while it is true that people have surgery every day and the results are generally worthwhile, we are, nonetheless, literally handing our bodies over to the care of our doctors when we have an operation and there is a great deal of trust required for that act. In subsequent medical procedures (when going through in vitro fertilization) I learned to channel that nervous energy into affirmations and gratitude for all of the people who were helping me with my medical problems and I think that helped for me. Wishing you the best possible experience.

  • I know…the waiting can sometimes be so hard! I have a tendency to be impatient, so I generally try to look at these types of situations as challenges and opportunities for growth.

    Regarding the thoughts going through your head, do you meditate or practice yoga?

  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me. It is a scary thing, to think about entrusting someone with our bodies in that way. My grandfather lost one of his legs due to an infection he caught in a hospital (and then eventually he lost his other leg too) so that’s something that’s been in the back of my mind. Still, I know that, like you said, people have surgery everyday, often without complication. I love the idea of channeling your energy into affirmations and gratitude. Having surgery is one of those situations where you can either worry about everything you can’t control, or do your best to focus on the things you can.

  • Otterspace2001

    what assuages my fears better and faster than anything else is a reminder to myself that i live in a loving universe that provides for and protects me. Outcomes are always out of my control and whether i understand it or not (bad things happening to good people..) it is a matter of “faith”; do I believe that there is a force that manifests events and circumstances to promote the highest good for me and for you or don’t i?  Fear is fine. It does encourage the growth of courage and action. It also provides an opportunity at times to simply grow your faith..

  • I know what you mean. I know many people who turn to their faith in times of fear. There have been times I’ve wished I could believe in certain things that I don’t, because it would certainly be more comforting!

  • Otterspace2001

    Even if you don’t believe in some sort of loving intelligent force it helps to simply identify what is under your control and what isn’t. The faster I remember that there is nothing I can do about certain things (disease, injury, etc) i can let go of trying to control it. That IS what I can do about it; change the way I experience it.  I’ve knocked my head against walls so many times I guess I’m finally starting to notice the headache it causes..sooner. So my point is; it is comforting to notice and acknowledge what you can’t do a damn thing about…….except, acceptance. And that in and of itself takes much of the fear and suffering out of it. 

    ….but whaddya i know, eh? Ha!

  • It sounds like you know a lot! I’ve knocked my head against walls many times before as well. That’s great advice about understanding certain things are not in your control. Thank you for that. =)

  • Otterspace2001

    it comes around and goes around Lori. We all get to take turns being teachers to one another. I am older than dirt and should know something by now. It’s great to see someone young like yourself doing a great service for many with your site here. Thank you for that. And ps. I like your hat!

  • Thank you so much…and thanks about my hat!

  • Clayglen

    Fear/no fear… accepting or not… I’d say you have every right to be scared.  Hugs and best of all possible wishes for a perfect outcome!  

  • I have had this same surgery, and believe me, I was terrified! It was the first major surgery I ever had, just like you. What I learned about this surgery was that it was the Universe smacking me in the face telling me to take care of myself! I had two months off work to do so, and it was a rewarding time of self-reflection while I healed. I encourage you to slow down, listen to your body, and truly fight against any urge to ‘do something’ while you are recovering. Have food stocked, easy recipes to create – like soup. Have books ready to read, and curl up in a snuggie with a warm cup of tea. Write, write, write – in your journal – take a tv and computer/blog posting break. You deserve it. This time has specifically been carved out for you to journey within.

  • Thank you so much. =)

  • That’s great advice–thank you so much! I was actually supposed to start writing my second book very soon, but I think you’re right. I really need a little time to just do nothing and turn within. I’m glad your surgery went well! Thank you again for sharing your experience with me. =)

  • Jeevan

    Hey there Lori, i’m sure just like your family & friends, most of us here in TINY BUDDHA will be praying for you to have a successful & speedy recovery from the surgery as soon as possible…If you can, do keep us updated on how the whole surgery ordeal turns out…!  Take good care of yourself…can’t stress out enough how much of a profound impact this site & the TINY WISDOM blogs in particular continues to make in my life…You know,  even though we have never met & may never will, you are like an older sister to me since I feel I can really relate a lot with most of your blogs. 🙂

  • Thank you so much Jeevan! It looks like my surgery may be later than I originally hoped (the doctor is quite busy!) but I will definitely post more about it when the time comes. I love that you wrote I’m like an older sister. I love being an older sister to my brother, and I’m thrilled to provide that same type of care and support here. =)

  • Jeevan

    Well, tell your brother if  he ever feels that he would want to trade sisters; I’ll be more than happy to make that proposition with him…:-)

  • Haha thank you. =)

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