Tuesday, 13 July 2010

F is for Fear

Since graduating, I’ve felt a little like I’m freefalling without a parachute. An arts degree does not lend itself to a clear or secure career path, the job market is the worst it has been in decades, and I don’t seem to be able to hold on to a comfortable routine or familiar relationship at the moment. At the beginning of this year something happened which I had feared, and it seemed that the abyss was even closer than before. But I was determined not to let a few changes of situation and fortune ruin my year, and I decided, as a instinctively passive and introverted person, to face up to a number of things that scare me. Against my nature, I was taught as a child that you should try things once, from buttery Escargot to rock climbing, and then see if the result is really revulsion or revelation. Some of the things I approached with trepidation never made it into the Likes list – mushrooms and speaking to a large group still make my stomach turn – but a good many have proven to be completely unfounded.

I got the ball rolling a week after being emotionally crushed, by auditioning for a local amateur dramatic show. I used to do a lot of drama and music, but dropped it after high school; incredibly rusty four years on, I felt terrified by the prospect of any audition, let alone one in front of a strange panel with unspecified standards. However, I braced myself, learnt the song, fudged my way through a traumatic dance audition and was delighted when I got a small part. Unsure how it would fit in to my life and whether I’d struggle, I went along to rehearsals and what followed were some of the best weeks of my life, featuring some of the greatest people I have ever met. I don’t know how long I would have stayed in my numb self-esteem crash had it not been for the whirlwind distraction of learning harmonies and lines, costume fittings and on show week, sheer adrenaline. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and cemented my idea that scaring yourself can work wonders.

Some other things that make my heart pound…

This is a tricky one; although not rare, I have an odd detachment from my fear of flying. It is the only one I can truly deem a phobia, as fearing it is like an out-of-body experience for me – I know it is irrational, I will still get on planes every year and I think it is a very unappealing trait in a person. But the minute I get near an airport terminal I feel unsettled, and the adrenaline that rushes through me as we speed down the runway is a far from pleasant high. It feels like a deep-rooted, animal fear of something that feels so totally unnatural to me; perhaps because I don’t even come close to understanding the genius of aviation, every time I fly I feel like I’m part of some dicey maiden voyage on an experimental type of transport. I try to talk myself down from the ledge by reminding myself of all the rational facts: statistics, physics, the fact that people take flights every day as their regular commute. But to no avail; I fear I will always fear the speed, the suspension and the precarious feeling. But I still hope to conquer it. After years of Rescue Remedy, deep breathing and calm visualisations, the only thing I can truly recommend is a large glass of red wine a little while before and perhaps midway through the flight. This is often controversial on early morning departures.

Hand in hand with performing (but much, much worse) Karaoke is literally my idea of a night-out nightmare. Yes, it’s meant to be fun, but anyone who has sat through someone very seriously mewling their way through a Mariah Carey classic knows it can turn from tuneful to tragic in no time at all. Getting up in front of a roomful of strangers (or worse, friends) and getting through a whole three minutes of song is simply my idea of hell. It’s not so much that I take it as a serious challenge to sound good, but that I know the extent of judgement that goes on in my own head, let alone the rest of the crowd’s, when someone takes the mic. I even have three or four pre-approved tracks in my head should I ever be forced up on to a platform with a neon screen of lyrics; a sort of survival plan should the worst happen. Shudder.

No, not the shrivelled fruit snacks, but one-on-one time with newly discovered men. As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts about online dating, although I enjoy the basic concept of the date, the time leading up to one is unbearable. I suppose this means on some level I can’t bear someone thinking badly of me, or just the hugeness of it all – that this could be someone pivotally important to your life, or even that they might be horribly insignificant. I always have a short phase of ‘How do I get out of this?’ followed neatly by ‘No, I have to do this’ and right at the last minute, ‘Is it too late to run away really, really fast?’ I’ve mostly had good dating experiences, so this isn’t a reflection on the men I’ve been out with, but I can never quite get over the potential shyness or awkwardness a budding relationship poses. Hence the maximum-dating plan, a sort of baptism of fire which I hope will burn off the nervous energy that envelops me when I’m single.

Public Speaking
Though not the quietest member of my family, I have always been the shyest. As a child I found it incredibly difficult to talk to new people, and always relied on my more boisterous siblings when it came to the momentous challenge of making friends. I have no idea why I was hit with the timid stick when I come from such a sociable clan, but I spent lots of my childhood trying to speak louder and more clearly, make eye contact and basically not hide in a cupboard somewhere in the foetal position when it came to new faces or places. Somewhere along the line I gained friends and confidence (junior school?) learned how to fake a bit of attitude and guts, and basically tricked myself into being a more confident person. Drama helped, and getting to an age where it was more acceptable and powerful to be clever. But most of all, I had exceptional examples all around me of articulate speakers and can-do attitudes. I knew just how people went about seeming at ease, and I learned to imitate it until it felt natural to go up and start conversations from scratch. Saying that, the thought of getting up in front of more than twenty people and saying anything makes my head spin slightly; the prospect of having to lecture was one of the main reasons I passed on continuing with the academic route, which is terrible, thinking about it. Commanding the room is a skill I’ve been determined to develop for a while, and it’s definitely on my To Quell list.

As has been so delightfully pointed out by many of my readers - sense the bristling already? - I become somewhat defensive when faced with criticism of my writing in particular, and my character in general. I find it hard to brush off a comment once made, and probably because I’m not as resilient and confident as I try to project (see above) it does make me doubt my own ability rather than helping me to get better. Of course it does help, in the long run, especially when I can see that I’ve oversimplified, been arrogant or failed to provide the facts, but at the moment of impact I feel about two inches tall. I now have my blog comments emailed to me to approve; they always go up eventually, but it means I can swallow, take it on board and absorb it before putting it up there for all the world to see. I am trying to be a better person about this (it’s definitely a maturity thing; I’m already much more willing to concede some debating ground than I was pre-twenties) especially, as so many have emphasised, because my ideal career choice will involve all the flack and weekly ranting from every ‘Disgusted of Berkshire’ and lunatic reading. I have to deal with it, but it’s an ongoing challenge for someone who does actually care quite a lot if people like her.

Fear is just fear, you can’t let it rule your life or prevent you from meeting your goals and living your dreams. As Mr Darcy (or Colin Firth, as I hear he likes to be called) once growled during a sweaty fencing lesson: ‘I shall conquer this. I shall.’ And I shall leave you with the words of that fictional hottie as I go off to jab at my own fears with a pointy stick.


  1. Sooo with you on the public speaking - it's one that nearly killed me this week and I keep getting flashbacks about it! Tell me what the secret is when you conquer it!

  2. Fantastic blog. Very tempted to write a similar one now to exercise my fear demons...


  3. Chris - maybe that's why we become writers, to avoid having to actually communicate verbally en masse?

    And Tinypoppet, don't you dare eclipse me with your larger and much more valid fears ;)


  4. I'm not scared of big sensible stuff, I'm scared of inane crap. Like the rest of the world ;)

    TP (not signed in) xx

  5. That was a really honest and open comment about your response to criticism on your blog, this is the kind of writing that I want to read - writing with something real, new and interesting to say.