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A Discussion on Coping with Grief

Last week I had the honor to be featured on Grace Tahir‘s Iso-Late Show Episode 30 with Grace Tahir and Intania Fajar from Janda Becanda (The Widow Jokes) Podcast. It was a rainy afternoon with bad internet on my part. The discussion on coping with grief was solid though. I didn’t know Tania (Intania’s nickname), and she didn’t know me, but we connected through our mutual experiences.

So many people have experienced losses recently. Thus I share some of our key takeaways with the hope that it will help readers who are processing grief.

Key Takeaway 1. Instinct before sudden death.

Some people have an instinct that their loved one is about to die. This was the case with Tania. She was in Manila, and Joel (her husband) was in Hong Kong about to fly to Manila when he got into an accident. He died in the Hong Kong airport. Tania was with her mother-in-law, and at that exact moment, she had an urge to call Joel.

This was not the case with me and Oky’s death. Oky crossed a road (on foot), got hit by a motorcycle going 90km/hour, and died there. It came as an absolute shock to everyone.

Key Takeaway 2. Five stages of grief.

The five stages of grief according to Kübler-Ross model are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I didn’t go through the five stages of grief (mainly because I didn’t know what they were at the time). But I knew I was ANGRY. Even now, I’m still angry because the whole situation involved irresponsible people and corrupt authorities.

Tania believes strongly in destiny. “The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said. Tania was very sad but there was no denying it. Joel died end of 2008, so it will be 12 years by the end of this year. And the feelings are still coming and going.

“The good die young-Joel was as good as good can be, so he went young,” she said.

Intania Fajar, Janda becanda podcast

Key Takeaway 3. Loneliness.

For Tania, that’s one of the main themes in Janda Becanda Podcast: that feeling lonely is not an experience exclusive to widowhood. We’re in quarantine now so many people feel lonely at this time. It’s always good to know how to cope with feeling lonely.

For me, there were two moments in which I felt utterly alone. I just felt an absolute darkness and I did not even know what to think. This mainly had to do with the circumstances surrounding Oky’s death with the crime and corrupted police and law officials of Bandung. At that time I reached out to some mentors and they helped me with frameworks of thought.

Key takeaway 4. Annoying messages from people.

For me, it was tiring because so many people continuously asked what happened. However, I would rather have people asking than telling me how to react. Many people told me to “forgive”, or “move on”. That was incredibly annoying because they said those words without any idea of what I was going through.

For Tania, there were some fundamentally rude questions that people asked her. She refused to even repeat it because it was so unsympathetic. Some people that didn’t even know her or her husband started asking questions simply because they wanted gossip material.

Key Takeaway 5. Support systems.

Tania had a very strong support system. The moment her family found out, they dropped everything and flew from Jakarta to Manila. By maghrib (evening prayers) that day, they were already able to be with her. They showed the same support during her divorce from her second husband.

I stayed tactfully silent because this is at the heart of my issue with my parents. (Look forward to future writings…)

Key Takeaway 6. Ways to cope.

Journaling was one of the ways I coped with everything that happened. From my journaling habit, the exhibition and book Sketches and Regrets was born. Not to mention this blog, my poems, short stories, and hopefully more books to come! A practical tip from me includes a breathing technique called box breathing to help stay calm in extremely stressful situations. Another tip is to be committed to taking care of your body: drink a lot of water, go on walks or routine exercise, get enough sleep, and eat well.

For Tania, it is important to have other aspects of life to be able to focus on. Career, work, and other creative projects. Her late husband was an amazing person and she honors it, but life has to go on, especially because at the time she was responsible for a 1,5-year-old baby. There are also many resources out there including the Janda Becanda community that she created.

The complete interview is available on Grace’s Instagram channel (it’s mostly in Indonesian, with English sentences here and there). I hope this article helps to make the contents of our conversation accessible to more people.

With special thanks to Grace Tahir.

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Book Review: A Wolf for a Spell

That was exactly what Baba Yaga needed. The gray wolf…a wolf who wouldn’t put up a fight.

a wolf for a spell, karah sutton

I discovered this book via Indian book blogger Debjani. I put it on my 2021 fantasy genre reading list because it seemed exactly like the kind of fantasy that I loved. I’m on a Goodreads challenge to read 60 books in 2021, and this is the 3rd book I read.

A Wolf for a Spell is a middle-grade fantasy adventure book by Karah Sutton about a young orphan girl, a female wolf, and an old witch. The story itself is inspired by the author’s Russian heritage.

I Was Delighted By…

  1. Baba Yaga!

Loved this character! The Russian tales of her are already exotic and intriguing-lives in the middle of the woods in a hut on chicken legs. Add to that the grumpy, witty, and slightly lonely personality that Karah Sutton gives to this old figure, creating a beloved and unforgettable Baba Yaga.

2. Wolves

Who doesn’t enjoy wolf literature? The dynamics between Zima (the female wolf) and the other wolves in her pack are very interesting, especially if you’re curious about animal psychology. Wolves are one of the most intelligent animals, and their pack structure is a highly complex social unit. I loved that the author was able to dig into this.

3. Power of the Forest

The forest in which Baba Yaga lives has its own magic. It’s powerful and it’s the real source of Baba Yaga’s powers. I must say, being someone who loves nature, I completely agree with this approach. Honestly, what are we without trees giving us oxygen to breathe?

4. Critique towards the institution of marriage

Did you see this one coming up? If not, it’s a spoiler alert. The charming prince is not so charming on the inside, and what he has to offer isn’t so great after all (read my article on emotionally abusive relationships). I won’t say more, but I’m happy that Karah Sutton weaved this perspective into the tale.

Was It Worth My Investment?

I bought it on Amazon Kindle for USD 10.99. Honestly, I have to say it’s a bit pricy for me. In my defense, I do live in Indonesia where I can get a great meal for 2 dollars. Plus, the currency exchange rate isn’t so hot at the moment. However, there are legal ways to read books for free, especially if you are an avid reader and regular reviewer. (I might even consider doing this myself!)

It was a great read though, so if the price is alright for your budget then A Wolf for a Spell is definitely worth it.

Have you read A Wolf for A Spell? What did you think? By the way, if you are a seasoned book blogger, please share with me any tips you have! I would appreciate it very much.

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Reflections After A Family Member Survived Covid

Cung, my second husband, and I got married last year in August 2020 (see my Covid wedding post). Due to Covid restrictions, we did not go on a honeymoon following the wedding. Instead, we planned a delayed honeymoon slash break (didn’t we all need a break after 2020?) in December 2020. Destination: Bali, Indonesia’s paradise island. Domestic travel had opened up allowing for domestic tourism. Plus we wanted to visit our friends in Bali because the downfall of the tourism industry hit them hard.

We took the necessary health tests and protocols and booked the accommodation in several places. Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Lembongan, Ubud, and Tabanan-off we went. We only bought a one-way ticket because, to be honest, we were hoping to stay in Bali for an extended time. Since all our work is done online nowadays, we just need stable internet to be able to keep working.

The first part of our trip went very well. It was wonderful to see our friends at Bali. At Nusa Lembongan, we were able to do a bit of scuba diving. I am on a Dive Master Training program at Big Fish Diving, and I was able to review many necessary skills (visit my article on what I learned about fear from scuba diving). One fateful afternoon, however, I got a text that my father was not feeling very well. In pandemic times such as this, even minor health problems can become majorly complicated.

Emotional Turmoil

Our fears were validated. Several days after that, he tested positive for the Covid virus. A couple of days after that, his situation worsened and his oxygen saturation dropped to 75%. The target oxygen saturation range for patients is 92-96%. At that point, I had to decide whether to go back to Bandung or to stay and support from Bali. In a normal situation, this would have been an easy decision. In these crazy pandemic years, however, it was not that easy. Covid being as infectious as it is, my father kept insisting to be treated at home. He insisted that being isolated at the hospital stressed him out and made him unable to get better in spirit.

Well whenever in Bandung, Cung and I stay with my parents. So I had to think twice whether I wanted to be caught in the same home as a Covid positive patient. On the other hand, he was my father, of which I only had one. Now to give a bit of a background: our relationship is not the smoothest of relationships. Sometimes we find it very difficult to get along. This all factored in while we were on the island.

Making A Difficult Decision

After some thought, I finally decided that Cung and I should cut our trip short. We changed our plans and headed back to Bandung where we are at least closer to support my mother in a worst-case scenario. That was mid-December. Thankfully, my father got better, and everyone adhered to the protocols so that he was only released after being tested negative. He returned home on 30 December 2020-Covid survivor.

He said that he felt like someone that had just returned from war. Victorious, but weak, exhausted, and depressed. At the time of my writing this article (end of January) he is already much better. I feel though, that it was not only him who fought a battle. Everyone involved fought an internal struggle of emotions and what-ifs.

A Space Inside Myself

Having made the conscious decision to sacrifice our plans to be able to support my mother (and my father), I felt like something changed inside me. Something shifted, something was let go. A space-no matter how small-was created into which something new might grow. I have an inkling of what this new thing might be, but I don’t want to name it yet.

I do, however, want to acknowledge the space.

With special thanks to Devika Brendon, a dear friend who introduced me to the concept of “spaces” inside us.

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Solar Cancer, Lunar Leo: Understanding Myself Better Through My Natal Chart Interpretation

I met Sundea Salamatahari via her husband Fauzie Wiriadisastra, composer, physicist, and fellow co-founder at the Bandung Philharmonic in 2015. Since then I have had the privilege of her friendship and professional advice as an astrologer. Yes, you heard me right. Sundea studies natal (birth) charts and interprets them professionally for those seeking her help.

I was going through a huge change of my career in 2016. The philharmonic had just been launched, so the level of stress, responsibility, and risk that we took on ourselves were overwhelming. On top of that, I had just gotten out of some very abusive personal relationships (in fact Signs of Emotionally Abusive Relationships is the most read article on my blog). Oky, whom I eventually married in February 2017, was expressing interest in me personally, and I simply did not know what to do.

What I Learned From My Natal Chart

That was the first time I asked Sundea if she could help me read my chart. At first I was a bit scared and nervous. But I had known her for a while, and I trusted her. Thus Sundea read my chart and explained to me what it meant to be a “solar cancer”. My protective shell is very thick because I am incredibly sensitive inside. I am easily hurt, but I don’t show it. She discussed my natural tendencies in a relationship, and what I should be aware of because they were my “default settings.” It was an eye opener! Understanding my “solar cancer” nature helped me navigate personal relationships with much more ease.

Understanding my “solar cancer” nature helped me navigate personal relationships with much more ease.

A couple months ago, Sundea described my other nature: the “lunar leo”. As a “lunar leo”, Sundea showed me that I need a lot of attention from my inner circle. I become lost when that support falters. Leo and Cancer are also two very different natures, so I can sometimes be very confusing to myself and others. She gave me some suggestions on how to handle my differing natures, and how to seek the right audience for myself. I felt like she was reaching into my soul!

I find her readings deeply insightful. Take a look at Sundea’s profile, and if you are looking for a little help understanding yourself, consider the Renjana and Sanubari readings available at the shop.

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Book Review: Motherhood 101 (A Memoir)

This is second book I read this year. The first one was The Things you Can See Only When You Slow Down by the Korean monk Haemin Sunim. I chose to continue my 2021 reading adventure with Motherhood 101: A memoir of my experience as a newlywed juggling pregnancy/motherhood, marriage, work and a social life because a dear friend from college wrote it: Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh. We lived together for one semester during our years at Calvin College.

We couldn’t have been more different, me from Bandung, Indonesia, and Amma as I call her from Accra, Ghana. But I had a blast that semester, and will always cherish the memories. Oh and, the shito (Ghanaian spicy pepper sauce). I hope to visit Accra when international travel opens up again and eat up on it!

On to the book…

Cultural Nuances

I always enjoy learning about another culture, and Amma had plenty of cultural perspectives in her writing. For example, when she got pregnant some people would call her Abrewa, which means “Old Lady” in the Twi language. Even though she was a young pregnant woman, people called her old. Connecting pregnancy with old age is something completely new to me. Another example is when some people called her Obolo, which means “fat” in a negative way. In Chinese-Indonesian culture, older people use “fat” as a compliment, because they used to to be so poor in their generation. So “fat” is a sign of wealth and happiness. Of course, I have my own issues with this (read my article about my bulimia struggles).

I also enjoyed Amma’s sharp with and humor, something I remembered even from her younger years. She has funny terms like “pregnant vigilantes” for people who comment too much during her pregnancy, and “mummy police” for other people who commented (even more) while she was nursing her baby Nana Yaw.

The tight knit society of the Ghanaian culture showed in the many ways that the women around Amma came to support her, especially her mother and sister. At one point her sister called the local pre-school on her behalf and asked the headteacher to admit Nana Yaw earlier. She saw Amma needed the break, even if it was only for a few hours every morning.

Honestly Voicing Her Pain

There is endless literature about the joy of having children. But there is not enough literature or research about how painful and dangerous it really is, even to this day. Amma was raw and honest about her physical pains and emotional struggles. And did she have her share of physical pain! Oh my goodness. I was opened to the immense risks and consequences that young women all over the world put themselves through everyday by being pregnant and giving birth.

I mean, a recent 2017 study by WHO records that 810 women die everyday due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. After the baby is born, all attention is towards the baby, very few towards the mother who is doing fulltime childcare duties unpaid. In Amma’s case, she was doing this while also having to go back to her job, and handling other household duties. She eventually had a breakdown, realizing that as much as she tried, it was simply impossible.

“I realized…that I didn’t have to be super woman. I just had to stay alive.”

Motherhood 101, Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh

I agree wholeheartedly with her. I lament the existing beliefs worldwide that pressure young women to be perfect in childbearing and childrearing.

It seems very few women in Ghana and Africa speak openly about the challenges and difficulties of motherhood, so I applaud Awura Amma’s courage to voice and write her story. In the introduction she writes that Motherhood 101 is the first of its kind in Ghana and Africa. I hope there will be many more, not just in Africa but also in my area of the world-Southeast Asia.

Motherhood 101 is available on Amazon Kindle. Awura Amma blogs at bookwormgh.com.

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Live Your Life, a poem

Live Your Life

Like you’re really meaning it

Like you’re really living it

Like you’re really loving it

Move it, sing it, dance it

Because, is anything as beautiful as life itself?

As long as you’re still alive

Still breathing

Still going

Then anything,

and everything,

is possible

Every second is a second chance

Every minute : something shifts

Something changes, something clicks.

With every pulse of your heart

With every beat of the drum,

A future.

This poem celebrates everything that is possible in life, as long as you stay alive. It is one of the poems I published in A Season of Poetry. The whole poetry collection, together with illustrations by Inez Wandita, is available at the shop.

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How Music Helped Me Deal with My Eating Disorder

This is a summary of my Instagram Live Interview last Friday 15th of Januray 2021 with Mutiara Nusantara International School in Bandung, Indonesia. It was hosted by Mely Sutrisno, School Director. I would like to thank the school and Ms. Mely for making the talk happen.

What is an eating disorder?

Let me give a disclaimer first that I am not a psychologist. I will be sharing what I experienced with eating disorders, from my point of view. There are three common types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Details of each type can be found in this great article by Healthline.

What type of eating disorder did you have? Was there a trigger that started the disorder?

My eating disorder was bulimia nervosa. At that time I was 12 years old, studying in a junior high school in Bandung. I was a very unhappy teenager. My relationship with myself was bad, I did not have a mentor to speak openly regarding emotional issues, plus ideals of beauty from images shown in the media were all factors that contributed to the disorder. The trigger however, was when a friend called me “montok” (which translates into curvy). I thought that being curvy was not beautiful, and so I had to do whatever I could to change my body. I had this disorder for 10 years, until I was 22 years old.

At which point did you realize that this was bad for you, and when did you try to stop?

At that time in Bandung, there was no awareness about eating disorders. So I did not realize that it was a destructive or dangerous habit. When I went to college in Michigan, there was more awareness about various types of disorders. Some people openly talked about their disorders. Student counseling services were also available, and that made me understand that this was something I needed to stop. From then, it took me about 4 more years to be able to heal from the disorder.

Did your family know you were dealing with bulimia? Or did you keep it all to yourself?

I kept it to myself because I was ashamed to be doing this. I did not know how they would react if they knew about my habits. My parents were also busy, so they probably did not notice the symptoms and my behavior patterns. At the time, they probably did not even know that such a disorder existed.

What are some symptoms or behavior patterns for parents of teens to look out for?

In our culture, we can easily miss the symptoms because one of them is eating a lot of food without control. We tend to encourage eating a lot, especially in family gatherings. So eating a lot can be (mistakenly) seen as a good thing. After the binging, I would always go to the bathroom to try to throw it out. So be on the lookout for that-going and staying in the bathroom for a longer period of time after one has eaten a lot of food.

Were you affected also by your social life in school?

For me, not so much. It was more the home situation, including the eating habits in the family. Older people tend to dump food on my plate, making it harder to be in control of my eating. So that’s a good tip for families: don’t put food on people’s plates, or force them to eat more food. Just let them serve themselves.

So how did you manage to stop the habit? How did you distract your emotions?

This is where music comes in for me. In college I studied piano performance so I had to practice 6-8 hours everyday. Piano practice required intense focus and high concentration. Since it was my degree program, I wanted to do it well. I needed to do it well, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into piano. One thing about music is that when we succeed to make better sounds, it feels great! It made me happy. I became proud of myself. (Check out this related post about how being happy helps to build a healthier mindset.)

Another factor was a college roommate that also had the same disorder. We trusted each other and made a pact to try to support and help each other change. This is crucial. I would not have been able to do it by myself.

What are activities would you suggest for teenagers who don’t like music?

Anything that is physical, requires concentration, and makes you happy. Drawing, dancing, sports,…lately I got into diving and that is an activity that requires full concentration underwater plus makes me really happy. But diving can be expensive, so just find another option that fits your budget!

Why should we try to stop the habit? What are the dangers if we live with that disorder?

Well, with anorexia you are malnourishing yourself, so you will be losing out essential nutrients your body needs. With bulimia, I was throwing up everyday. On my worst days I would throw up twice to three times. Imagine all that acid coming up through your system several times a day for years. It causes stomach, esophagus, and oral irritation and damage. Not to mention the emotional and mental destruction you are doing to yourself.

It is quite damaging for the long run. So one really should try to get help from a professional, or at the very least find a supportive community with a positive mindset.

Yes! And don’t get discouraged when you start trying to tell other people. Parents might not know how to react, some friends might not understand, but don’t get discouraged until you are able to find the help you need.

So what would your advise be if a child or friend told you that she/he is struggling with eating disorder?

Do not judge if your child or friend shares something with you. Acknowledge that it takes a lot of effort to be able to speak about it, so receive the words with care and love.

We’re at the end of our talk for today, do you have any last words for our teenagers?

Being a teenager is so difficult isn’t it? I hated being a teenager. But life gets better. As you get older you will have more experiences and be more confident in handling others and handling yourself. Hang in there.

Okay! I think that’s a good end for today. Thank you very much for your time, and I wish the best success for your music, work, and writings.

Thank you so much for the invitation and the opportunity. Have a good evening 🙂

*The full interview (in Indonesian) can be accessed on Sekolah Mutiara Nusantara IGTV.

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Movie Review: Radioactive (2020)

“I have suffered much more from a lack of resources and funds, than I ever did from being a woman,” says Marie Curie in the 2020 retelling of her life: Radioactive. Directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) with Rosamund Pike as the brilliant scientist, this movie aims to be an inspiration to young girls.

How is Radioactive inspiring young girls?

Marie Curie’s life is already an inspiration; 2 Nobel prizes in the field of physics and chemistry. Satrapi adds into this her bold directing vision: cutting and lurching to scenes in the future which are completely unrelated to the plot. Right after Marie Curie announces their discovery of two new elements-radium and polonium-the scene launches to a doctor in Cleveland, Ohio, explaining a new medical treatment for cancer called radiation. At one of the most heart-wrenching moments of Pike’s acting, the scene cuts to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown of 1986.

Some movie lovers will despise this style of storytelling. I, however, found this reinforcement of dichotomy to be brave and daring, showing how the actions in one person’s life can create such impact (for the better or for the worse) into the future. Marie Curie directly impacted her daughter Irene (played by Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit), who went on to win a Nobel prize of her own. Indirectly Marie Curie impacted humankind all around the globe forevermore. To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

Despite all odds, the headstrong Marie was able to find a husband that respected and supported her science. For a moment, at least, it was possible to have both love and a dazzling career. I find this to be another powerful message for a world which tells women that we have to choose. We can have love but we must clip our wings, or we can choose a glorious career but stay a spinster until old age.

“I wasn’t a very good mother, was I?” Marie admits to an adult Irene as they are heading into a World War I battlefield. Mothering is difficult. Put on top of that being a single mother and juggling a world famous career. How does one play all these roles? Is it even possible? Or are these illogical demands we put on girls and women who long to have both kids and a CV? And yet, Irene Curie turned out just fine in her own accord.

Finally, I was most taken aback by the line that Marie Curie suffered more from lack of resources than from being a woman. This is so fresh. Satrapi’s Curie never victimizes herself as a woman dominated by men. She is confident with her mind, her values, and her worth. And this is why I find Radioactive so inspiring.

Have you seen Radioactive? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Moon Flower Goddess – Podcast Episode 3

Putu Sandra Devindriati Kusuma

The island of Bali in Indonesia is one of the world’s best tourism destinations. I visit Bali regularly, and was always interested to know more about the local beliefs there. So I interviewed Putu Sandra Devindriati Kusuma, whose name means Moon Flower Goddess, to share a bit about her life and philosophies as a Balinese woman. Listen to this episode with an open mind and you will enjoy the beauty of Bali through her voice.

Do you have a story to share with me? Contact me and maybe you will be featured in the next episode! My podcast can also be found on SpotifyApple podcasts, and other podcasting platforms.

Visit Sandra at her instagram account: @putu.sandra.

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How These 2 Fundamentals of Scuba Diving Helped Me Deal with Fear

I began scuba diving in 2016, thanks to a dear friend who is a Dive Master. Like everyone else, I was a bit afraid before going down into the deep ocean. However, after proper training, I was sold for more and wanted to be a better diver. Doing more diving helped me navigate life also. Especially when dealing with fear, the two basic rules of scuba diving taught me important lessons.

1. First rule: keep breathing.

Whatever happens, under the water we must (MUST!) keep breathing. We sometimes don’t realize that when we become afraid, stressed, or panicked, our breathing becomes erratic. In diving, control of breathing is essential to maintaining buoyancy (balance) underwater. And of course its a very minor fact that you do need the air… This training taught me to be extra aware of my breathing when I am feeling threatened.

2. Second rule: stay calm.

It’s easy to become panicked when afraid, but panicking underwater will create more danger for yourself and for your buddy (dive partner). The first rule of breathing helps to keep the second rule of staying calm. When you are calmer, then you can assess the situation including the fear you are feeling, and decide if it’s illogical, overreaction, or if it is indeed a real threat.

Once you have identified that it is a real threat, then what is the plan? What will you do about it?

If your fear is a serious threat, then to do nothing is unwise. If its something you can deal with later without too much risk in the meanwhile, then perhaps it is better to deal with it later. This gives you time to see how the situation unfolds. If you realize that you were overreacting or being hijacked by your amygdala, then see if you can continue and carry on with more care and awareness. Later, you can review the situation and see how to prevent that fear from blowing up and controlling or limiting your actions.

For a deep breathing tutorial to help you stay calm, visit this post.

How do you deal with your fear? Let me know in the comments!