(The rather fabulous Ben Howard)
Fear is a funny thing. We all suffer from it at some point, whether it is rational or not. For some people it is a fear of something physical – spiders, snakes (and though I don’t have a fear of snakes, if it’s good enough for Indiana Jones…), flowers (yep, apparently that’s a real one). For others, it could be a fear of being alone, of starting a new chapter in their lives, even just the world outside of their door. But, the thing about fear is that, like stalling the car in your driving test – I didn’t, by the way, but it was the only example I could think of – what matters isn’t the fear, but how you react to it. Some people will be crushed by it; others will use it to make themselves stronger. We would all like to be that last category, I would assume. No one likes to think of themselves as “weak” or a coward, and I think most people are far more likely to get past their fears for the act of saving face rather than any true desire to step outside of their comfort zone (to quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “Why would we want to do that? It’s called the comfort zone for a reason.”), but where would the world be if everyone decided to never do anything that scared them? Sure, you might skip the sweaty palms and the sheer panic, but you might be missing out on a fundamental experience. I have a great respect for people who are willing to overcome their fears, whatever they may be, because although it is very easy to say that you shouldn’t just give up in the face of it, it isn’t always quite so easy to do, and it certainly isn’t always particularly easy to see the benefits of doing so. But, to quote a character – I don’t know which one so can’t be any more specific – from a recent episode of 90210 (don’t expect too many quotes from such TV shows, I’m just not that hip), “Being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway.”
I think most people would be quite surprised at the amount of strength of character they can show, and in the face of fear is probably one of the best times for that to be revealed. Fear can spur you on to do better, to survive, to get what you want. Fear has made for some pretty remarkable stories – not to mention some pretty remarkable people. Aron Ralston is a good example. He is, of course, the mountain climber who got trapped by a fallen boulder, as portrayed by James Franco in 127 Hours. I can’t imagine going through what he went through. I can’t imagine being put in that situation and not just completely falling apart. I don’t think I would have the strength it would take to get through that. I would stumble at the first hurdle, and I don’t think I could do the necessary to free myself. I have no fear of death (small 8-legged creatures, yes…death, no. I’m sure that is telling), and I can probably chalk that up to my faith, but what would terrify me would be the waiting to die. To be able to come through an experience like that…wow. Hand on heart, if it had been me, I would not have walked away from that.
Some people do seem to be able to react well to fear almost as an inbuilt reaction. I will hold my hands up right now – I am not one of those people. I am not one of those people that always seem to step out of their comfort zone with ease, and though it isn’t something I should probably admit to, I don’t do it all that often. Maybe I should. The last time I did was probably when I started Zumba classes. The thought of walking into a room full of people I didn’t know and having to – shock, horror – socialise with them was certainly not one I felt comfortable with, and in the short walk from the flat to the class, I was questioning whether I wouldn’t be better off just going home and watching a movie instead. In fact, it’s a good thing that the walk is so short or I would have had longer to question my judgment and more than likely, would have turned around and not looked back. Okay, attending Zumba classes hasn’t changed much in my life, but I do think of it is as a small victory. And, ladies and gentlemen, in life you have to take what victories you can get.
Interestingly enough, I wrote all of the above blurb a while ago – okay, maybe not so interesting – but, believe it or not, I am rather fussy about what I subject you poor people to (if you would like to thank me, I take thanks in the form of cash, cheques, PayPal or cookies) and it seemed to be missing something, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what (there was, in fact, originally more, but I took out a paragraph as it was being more honest than I felt the subject required – I have kept a copy though, so maybe someday I will open up as originally intended). Sunday night would have been the perfect time to figure out just what that je ne sais quoi was as fear was a subject that was weighing rather heavily on my mind. Sunday passed much like any other Sunday to begin with, until I was in the shower, innocently treating my neighbours to the delights of my MP3 player (and in case you’re wondering, it is full of good stuff, so it really was a treat as oppose to me subjecting them. Hopefully they agreed) when I noticed a spider had appeared on the side of the bath, from out of nowhere. I screamed (and it is worth noting that no neighbours came to my rescue) and then froze (I would make a most excellent rabbit caught in headlights). I then realised my best course of action was to rinse the conditioner out of my hair and get away from the bath, which I did, squealing quietly the whole time. I would like to take a moment of silence here for my hairbrush, which, unfortunately, I had to sacrifice as the spider decided to walk over it to get closer to me, rendering me unable to use it. Anyway, evidently making my hairbrush unusable wasn’t enough for the spider as it then walked around the bath until it was, once again, heading towards where I was standing. Cue more screams (but no rescue attempts from anyone). I ran out of the bathroom, into my bedroom and attempted to recover from the trauma before getting dressed, drying my hair and heading into the living room.
After a few paranoia-filled hours when everything seemed to be hiding a spider just waiting to jump out at me, I ventured out of the living room only to find the same spider sitting (well, standing, I guess) in the hall. I did squeal but carried on regardless – I know what you’re thinking, I am a brave lil thing, right? Ahem - making sure I closed the door firmly when I returned to the living room – an act I was hoping would serve as a hint to the spider, as it would be an extremely futile attempt to keep it out of the room should it desire to be in there.
Skip forward a few more hours and it had retreated to the bathroom. Clearly it liked to move around so I left the spider to it, expecting it to be elsewhere by the time I went back.
A couple of hours later, it was still there and I could no longer put off getting ready for bed. Most people, at this point, would just get on with brushing their teeth, possibly keeping an eye on the spider, but I could not bring myself to do that as the spider had cunningly positioned itself in a place that meant there was no avoiding it if I was at the sink. I did my usual “rabbit caught in headlights” act, all the time hoping my flatmate would breeze in and rescue me. He didn’t, and I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that I would have to do something as it was all rather pathetic and I did have to go to bed at some point. There only one thing I could do - grab a glass from the kitchen so I could cover it and at least know it wouldn’t be able to go anywhere – i.e. any closer to me – until my flatmate was around to beetroot with it.
I grabbed a glass, then stood just outside the bathroom trying to pluck up the courage to get close enough to the thing to cover it with said glass. After about half an hour of me not moving, I figured it was time I just got on with it. I slowly crept towards the spider (fun fact for you: my skin is crawling just thinking about it) and after a few more minutes of hesitation, made my move………………and completely failed. The glass went down, the spider ran (in my defence, that was my first ever time of trying to trap a spider in a glass) and I was left even more traumatised. Always nice to know my neighbours will ignore my screams – let’s hope nothing serious ever happens to me – and no rescue will be forthcoming.
Needless to say, I ran out of the bathroom, closing the door and didn’t return. Instead, I brushed my teeth at the kitchen sink and spent the rest of the night paranoid about the spider.
Now, I realise the last few paragraphs do not exactly paint me in a very good light and I should probably have not mentioned it at all, but I realised something during that long thirty minutes I was standing with the glass in my hand. I was genuinely scared. Obviously, I already knew I wasn’t a fan of spiders but I didn’t realise quite how much I did dislike them. Maybe it was just because it was the first time I have had to beetroot with the (perceived) threat completely by myself, as I had no choice, without someone around to get rid of it for me, but I was exhibiting physical signs of fear – sweaty palms, knotted stomach – and all for something a fraction of my size. It wasn’t even a very big spider, even relatively speaking, as I am rather small myself.
It is coming up to two years since we moved into the flat and in that time, the warmer months (and sometimes even the colder ones) have brought with them a parade of spiders, ladybugs and insects of various varieties. You would think, by now, I would be used to them – or at least be able to see one without having a near-panic attack. Instead, I am sure I am getting worse. I have never liked spiders – up until I moved out at the age of twenty, my dad had to get rid of them for me whenever I saw one, and it has fallen to my flatmate since – but I don’t recall ever having such big reactions to them as I do now, not even when I was a child, and I react in a similar way to things that never phased me before – ladybugs, flies etc. I’m sure it is a sign that I am losing my sanity. Indeed, it would appear spiders are my “Yellow wallpaper”.
Fear – like time and darkness – is relative. A lot of people would dismiss the fear of spiders (particularly in a country like the UK, where spiders are completely harmless) as childish. In turn, I could easily dismiss some people’s fears – such as a fear of flowers – as crazy. But whereas I have no problems with daisies, I could be rendered nearly catatonic by what is lurking underneath them. The person who is afraid of flowers may have no fear of spiders whatsoever. It’s a crazy world.
I could provide a list of my own fears (spiders would not be top, but instead the number one spot is taken by a fear of wasting my life, as previously mentioned in other ramblings. Although that does not bring about the physical signs of fear, its consequences are far more dire), but that wouldn’t achieve anything, other than perhaps a few comments along the lines of “grow up”! I’m sure each of you can think of one or two things that scare you. The trick is to not let it stop you doing what you want to do – whether that is taking a new job with better prospects, travelling the world or taking a walk in the park. Do not let it rule your life. Of course you have to try, but if you cannot over-come the fear, find a way to work around it – even if it is as simple as using the kitchen sink.
It is also worth remembering that however pointless or unnecessary another person’s fear may seem to be for you, for every fear they do not have a handle on, there could be many more that they are fighting on a daily basis.
So, in conclusion – because I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging – fear can mess us up or destroy us. But on the other hand, it can protect us, drive us, build character, make us stronger and give us a chance to prove ourselves. The choice is ours. The one thing we shouldn’t let fear do is rule us. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Love and respect,
PS. A link to the Ben Howard song, The Fear, because it is always worth a listen...