Maggie Smith doesn’t wear a corset. She’s the only woman on the cast of Downton Abbey who doesn’t. I heard this bit of gossip at a recent event with visiting writer Jessica Fellowes, niece of Downton Abbey screenwriter Julian Fellowes. Smith says she’s served her time all these years of doing period dramas in the movies and on television. She’s flat-out done with the corsets.

That’s what I want to say to fear, the way it laces me up tense and leaves me gasping.

{Spoiler alert: The rest of this post gives away major plot pieces from seasons 3 and 4 of Downton Abbey.}

In the middle of season three, when Lady Sybil birthed her baby and the toxemia and seizures set in and Dr. Clarkson, Tom and the whole lot of them stood by unable to do anything but brace themselves for the inevitable, I laid awake that night thinking that could have been me and it could still be me if I don’t close shop on the childbearing days. It isn’t just a story element plopped in to let an actress out of her role in the series…it’s a real thing that has happened too many times to too many women.

Last year, I feared birth, though I’d braved it before. “Our bodies remember things,” a friend told me recently. Maybe it was the memory of back labor with my first two or the involuntary pushing that my body insists on when I haven’t quite made it to 10 centimeters. Or maybe it was the trauma of my own birth, the way my happy little bubble burst a month and a half early. I wasn’t ready and neither were my lungs. The nurses took me straight to the breathing machines and hooked me up to wires under the bulbs of an incubator. It was a week before my mom could hold me or nurse me. They had been too afraid to tell her I was probably going to die.

A lot of my life I’ve dragged my feet in fear, and all too often I’ve felt the glorious details of my day-to-day tainted with the dread that it will all end too soon, something like the way cheerful Matthew was hurtled from the car on his drive home from the maternity ward. Or the way the Bates’ happy marriage was so suddenly violated in season four.

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I fear the end (my own or losing someone I love) and I fear a lot of the things in the middle (like whether or not I’m ever going to get my bearings in motherhood and home). Sometimes I wake in the morning to find indentations in my palms where my nails have dug in. At the chiropractor as I lay face down, my legs are so tight they stick straight out into the air instead of laying flat on the table.

It’s not all bad. Fear, like a lot of emotions, can be useful in the right measure. Fear tells us when something is wrong. It can show us what’s important and where we need to act, just as fear of taxes and a disappearing upper class can get the Crawleys thinking creatively about how to farm unused land to live a more sustainable way of life.

But when fear becomes a constant and I find myself flinching over and again at the mere possibility of something going wrong instead of just reacting when it does, I know I need to relax and/or muster up some courage.

I do have a brave side, part of me that pushes through fear. I see it when I call a teacher about something that concerns me at school, when I birth three babies with no epidural, when I get vulnerable and share my mess-ups in the hopes that it will help another pilgrim soul, when I start a conversation with another mother I’ve never met while our kids play at the museum, or when I give in and sing a raw, unrehearsed hymn on the platform of my old church.

My cheeks heat up and I sweat a bit, but when I’ve muscled through the gauntlet of fear, I come out feeling surprisingly fearless.

I know I can’t get rid of fear altogether, but this year, I want to breathe more deeply, unclench my teeth and uncurl my fingers (unless I need them as fists). I want to keep moving forward just as those left behind at Downton have. I don’t know what Lord Julian Fellowes has in store, but the Lord of Lords is clear about what He has for me: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.”

When you’ve been doing fear this long, you get the itch to stand up and say you’ve done your time. Maybe that was how things were before the war, but this is now.

Burn the corset, or at least loosen it. It’s time for fear.less.

{This post contains an affiliate link for Jessica Fellowes’ fully-authorized companion book to the Downton Abbey series. This book contains close-ups of historically accurate realia from the set and connects it to the real-life history that inspired the setting and plot-lines. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you, defraying some of the cost of running this blog.}

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