Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Unreasonable Fear

I've lived my life with a cloud of fear hovering over my head: fear of spiders and worms and rejection and people and being late and being early and slow death and pain and high places, both real and metaphorical, and being alone and not being alone and being laughed at and hurting others and hurting myself and of being happy.........

"Feel the fear and do it anyway" is the title of a book I have heard of but never read. It is also a phase that has often been thrown at me like a mantra by people who seem to live their lives by trite phrases of this kind. Those who read a self-help book, pick out little gems and wave them around in the air without actually making meaningful changes in their lives. Then they throw away that book  away and find a new one. I'm not one of those people: I read a self-help book  and mutter, 'well, that was a waste of time, that'll never work,' and go find another without making meaningful changes

But so many of my fears are not reasonable. Worms? Those amazing creatures who turn decomposing matter into the humus that in turn feeds my vegetable garden? I've worked on that one - I admire them greatly, but still don't like them. I can, however, pick one up off the cobblestones, where it is going to dry out and die, and place it in a cool shady garden where it can burrow down into the soil once more. I can even pick up a whole handful from the worm farm to show people.
Fear of hurting other people has made me do things that have harmed myself. It's reasonable - essential even - to make compromises in relationships, but not to the extent that I damage myself. A relationship that damages me is not worth having, and yet I always felt that everyone else in the world was more valuable and worthy than me, and even though I do not believe in any kind of  god, I have a huge superstitious fear that whenever I put myself before others I am invoking some kind of cosmic retaliation. The remnants, no doubt, of a hell-fire and brimstone Presbyterian minister who terrorised me as a child. I've been working on that one but have a long way to go.

Recent discussions got me thinking about why I am afraid of doing some things other people enjoy. I realised that just not doing things when my first reaction is fear, is as stupid as the 'feel the fear and do it anyway' as a way of living. Much as some aspects of paintball appeal to me, I really don't deal with pain well. I rarely notice pain while I'm doing something, but the pain of physical bruising that continues afterwards drains me: I'm not going to go play with my son and his friends in the bush. And that's fair enough: feel the fear and do it anyway? Nah! Not paintball. But other fears are not so reasonable.

I have decided that this year my goal is to take real awareness into my fear of life and to challenge the reasonableness of those fears. I'm not even going to consider jumping out of an aeroplane with a scrap of fabric attached to, or possibly detached, from my back. That is a reasonable fear - it's why adrenalin junkies do it - it IS dangerous! But I am going to work on my fear of going past the third rung of a ladder.

I'm going to invite a woman I met recently over for coffee, because she's a really interesting person, and she lives nearby and I'd really like to make a new local friend. Just writing that down makes my stomach churn with terror. Stop. What's the worst that can happen? The worst she can do is say, 'well, fuck off, why would I want to know you?' And then I will be in exactly the same position as I am now, right? Hmmmm - I know it's not that easy for me - in fact I've never invited someone for coffee until I've known them for, literally, years. It's a huge fear for me. However, unlike the fear of jumping out of aeroplanes or getting bruises from paintballs, this is not a reasonable fear.

There's nothing wrong with fear - it's a lifesaver at times. But I have lived 60 years with a raft of fears that are unreasonable, or which were reasonable once, but are no longer so.

I will examine my fears, and I will judge them, and those found wanting in reasonableness will be driven into exile. And I AM going to totally destroy my fear of being happy.

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