Fear takes many forms. One of the most common is worry. Worry means using your imagination to picture the bad things that may happen in the future. But the future does not actually exist. Therefore, the genuine enemy is our minds, and the thoughts that we allow to inhabit our imaginations.
And that's just what the heebie-jeebies need to launch their attack. They are patient and crafty. A favorite attack point is at 5 or 6 a.m. when you are flat on your back in bed. You are dressed in night clothes or even less. Defenseless. Vulnerable.
Then the heebie-jeebies press the ON button. Here come the worries. They have names. One is money. Another is health, COVID-19. Children. Spouse. Job. Russia. The upcoming election. Bad neighbor. Hurricanes. A new face wrinkle or persistent groin pain. The sudden knock in your car's engine. A tax deadline. Your aging father.
Many defenses against heebie-jeebies exist. One of my favorites is to curse them. As I lie there in the morning darkness, I often call out every vile name I can think of, and direct them at the heebies. My cat Ellie thinks I have gone crazy.
But what the heebies really fear is action. Almost any kind of action. Fear thrives on our inaction. Such as lying there trembling. Victory begins with even the simplest step, such as brushing your teeth or feeding the cat, the dog or yourself.
Then I can really get going. I resort to pen and paper, or my computer. I write down the name of every heebie-jeebie I can think of. Then I cross off the ones I have defeated in the past. Often, I hum the melody of a World War II song, "We Did It Before and We Can Do It Again."
All the while I practice another trick that heebie-jeebies loathe: the total relaxation of an intended victim. I loosen every muscle and brain cell I own. I don't have many, so this comes easy for me.
At this point I call in my heavy troops: the blessings that have defeated my heebie-jeebies during the years. Most of these soldiers have been — and still are — the people in my life: my family, my friends, neighbors, even a number of strangers I met during some rough times. Others include the many books that have been written by anti-heebie-jeebie veterans.
My favorite heebie-jeebie book has been "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie. It contains dozens of accounts of men and women — many of them suicidal from worry — who were saved by taking a simple but powerful step — changing their thinking.
The heebie-jeebies are also known as the jitters, the willies and the whim-whams. Take your pick. It's not clear who invented these names, but one source told me it may have been a comic strip cartoonist, W. DeBok, (1890-1942), whose work appeared from 1905 to 1910.
COVID-19 has given fresh territory for the heebie-jeebies to invade. One reason for that: we know so little about the virus. Fear thrives on ignorance and uncertainty. There's plenty of that to go around these days. But I believe that will diminish as the voices of the scientists slowly drown out the cacophony of the vote-seeking politicians.
A final suggestion on how to challenge the heebie-jeebies, from whatever cesspool they may come from: Buy a notebook. Keep it close, perhaps beneath your pillow or on a closet shelf. Each time a heebie/whim-wham/jitter attacks you, write it down. Pinpoint your fears, in detail. Then hide the notebook. Tell no one about it, except for trusted friends who also keep heebie notebooks.
But once a year, hold a party at which every heebie-jeebster is required to reveal his/her fears of the past 12 months. I bet you'll be astounded at how bizarre the entries will be. And how few of them actually came to pass.