Dion Medina, a student at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.”
In this story, Julie M. Elman shares how she created The Fear Project to help her cope with her own fears. That project soon grew to help others, too. Elman takes people’s stories—their actual words—about what they fear, and uses art to visually interpret those fears. Her vibrant, multi-media collages articulate what we’re afraid of or dread, and make them acceptable, tangible, and part of everyday life.
Writing Prompt: What is one thing you fear about your future? How can you lessen that fear?
“Chronic Pain.” Illustration by Julie M. Elman
In May 2007, I joined the United States Army at the age of 19. I played sports my entire life and was always active. I loved to work out, hike, run and swim, so the military was a smooth transition for me. My passion to stay physically fit drove me to receive many awards and recognition throughout my eight years of service. I participated in military-style triathlons where I often won first place, and graduated from rigorous military training programs in the top percentile.
Then one day my entire life changed. In January of 2014, I was diagnosed with a disease called avascular necrosis. This disease slowly disintegrates parts of the bone, like the hip and shoulder. The causes of avascular necrosis range quite a bit, but the end result is the same. Blood flow to these sections of bone are either dramatically decreased or cut off completely. The lack of blood flow causes the bone to slowly die and eventually collapse if left untreated. This disease causes extreme pain for whoever is plagued by it.
I’ve battled avascular necrosis for every breath of my life since January 2014. Every action of every day has become a debate on if that activity is worth the pain that will inevitably follow. I quickly realized how this disease completely derailed my entire life. Activities I once took for granted, like taking my dog on an afternoon walk or sitting through an entire movie without having waves of pain wash over me, have become something I could only experience in a far-fetched dream.
Then came the pain medication, which I happily embraced. I would do anything to get away from the pain, to feel somewhat normal again, but this relief came with a price. I now have to choose between a day of pain or taking my medication and being so sick and drowsy that I can’t get out of bed. This pain relief has become a double-edged sword. One side is an escape from painful misery, and the other side is a path to addiction and sickness that almost makes life not worth living.
So what exactly am I afraid of? I’m afraid that I will have to face the rest of my life like I have faced every minute of every day for the last two years. Am I doomed to live the rest of my life in chronic pain? I’m afraid that I will never be able to play a backyard game of football with my kids, take them on a hiking adventure, or teach them how to ride a bike. I’m afraid that there is no escape from this horrible cycle of pain. I’m starting to forget what it felt like to be normal. This pain has changed me into a man I do not recognize anymore.