I was merely five years old when I first remember developing a fear of cows, though my mother will argue that it began long before that. Living on a dairy farm in Kerry was challenging when I made the very essence of my surroundings into a force for fear. There is VHS evidence of me howling at a hedge at the age of five because I could hear the cows at the other side. Hear, not see. And so, my senses became heightened to the snuffles of their hooves and the sounds of their chewing, and even their unavoidable smell. Every movement within my home and the outskirts of rural Kerry, which was my slurry filled playground, became entrenched in fear. My cousins would laugh and my sister would remain ever logical in her explanation that their large size did not mean they were vicious.
Yet it was not their size that evolved my fear from a toddler’s anxiety, but rather my own imagination that secretly cows must surely hate us for imprisoning them twice or three times a day in metal bars for our own food. Surely, that would cause hate. And so, it was my imagination that demonised an entire species of animal. How foolish it may sound, yet that fear did not dissipate somewhat until I was twenty years old.
At the age of twenty, I learned that my fear of cows was an active fear and that for it to be active, that means that some fears must surely be inactive or rather – inert. My emotions upon the sight of a black and white demon animal who was causally eating grass, as I got off my school bus to walk to my house, were active. My heartbeat fluttered until I felt queasy and a cold sweat broke out across my forehead. Emotions tazed by an anxiety gun, it was down to my physical body to release the signs of such stress.
Yet, there is a far worse kind of fear. The inert kind that is built upon truth. I was entering the second year of both college and my illness when this fear did not just taze me, but debilitated me until I was numb. The word ‘chronic’ means forever. To have chronic illness is to be ill for as long as you may live. This is the indescribably sick and twisted fate that awaits not just me, but so many other people with a variety of disabilities. For some, this fear finds you as a child, for others it is later: but it does not spare anyone.
So, I stood, at my home in Kerry with the wind whipping my hair around my face and eclipsing my ability to hear the animals in the field before me. I gathered my hideous pink dressing gown around me more tightly. I had gone outside to get some fresh air, which I did for only five minutes a day, every day, before collapsing back to bed. On that seemingly ordinary day, the cows were in the nearest field to my house. They were all heifers, young and vibrant – and somewhat moody. These adolescent cows were running, hopping and never sitting still. I inched closer to the electric fence and stared at their interactions.
It was then that I met the gaze of the closest cow. Her eyes were glassy and huge, and she stood by the tree I had climbed only once to discover that the branches were rotten. Cocking her head to the side, her look was almost comically quizzical. I cannot explain what it was in that moment that triggered my realisation that this was me, forever. Yet, it moved as slowly as cement hardening from blood, to muscles, to bone until it was inescapable. I was forever, going to be lacking. Forever playing catch up with my peers. Never whole again. I looked away from the glassy eyes and my mind considered whether it may be better to simply die, after all.
Yet, here I am. I have not risen like a phoenix from the ashes, so I will not lie to you. Yes, I am still chronically bound to my health forever more. That is a concrete fact. However, what is much less concrete is how exactly I have changed. That day, when a simple cow, inspired not fear in me, but despair, fate became my mistress and weapon. I could not change that which I did not accept, as truly, what we resist persists. After all, it is hard to yield a weapon when you are pointing the blade towards your own chest.
I acknowledge my future as tainted by this fear, as I do my past which was irrational as screaming at hedges. Both are irrelevant to my, to our, chances to lead a life in a state of contentment. Fear loses all meaning without when there is no one there to accept it, just as a rainbow is not truly seen if no one is around to experience the breakdown of such light.
Thus, when we – the eternally struggling – think like this we need much less steely determination to do what is asked of us by our bodies. Instead, second by second, minute by minute, we gain a life that is truly ours. Fate and our inevitabilities are but the shadow behind a candle, intangible and inconsequential to the glow we all harbour endlessly.
-By Jennifer O’Connor
Image from Huffington Post.