We all have fears. Most people are afraid of dying. I used to be. There was a time when I was utterly convinced I wouldn’t live past 18. But, I lost that fear when I found myself huddled on the kitchen floor of a friend’s house, clutching a butcher knife in the midst of inky darkness because the men lurking outside, who had been tormenting us with horrible noises and following us from one end of the house to the other all night, cut the power to the house at the breaker, leaving us unable to see anything in front of our noses. After a few screams and deep breaths, I sat in the quiet dark with my own thoughts, waiting for the end.
It turned out to be a terrible prank, but before the pranksters revealed themselves as people we knew and trusted, in the darkness of that kitchen I confronted some very real demons. A lot of people didn’t know it then, but I had a pretty gnarly stalker, and I was convinced it was him doing all the crazy things outside that had us so scared. Fear brings us to irrational conclusions. In the darkness, I waited and had a private, silent discussion with myself that resulted in two realizations that forever changed my point of view on life and who I am as a person.
- I will kill to live. I realized I am capable of taking another person’s life, if I have to, in order to survive, and I will not feel guilt or concern or second guess, because I’ve decided I’m a fighter. I accepted that darkness within myself on the kitchen floor with a knife in my hand as I waited for what I thought was a nightmare to befall me.
- I am not afraid to die anymore. Death is the least frightening thing about life. Death is an inescapable inevitability and if I’m going to die anyway, I’m going down swinging.
So, after confronting that huge fear that most people have and coming away a different person because of it, and after discounting basic anxiety, I was left with being terrified of spiders and never reaching my full potential.
Being terrified of spiders is completely irrational, I’m well aware of that. Other than the time someone tossed their pet tarantula on me, I have no reason to be afraid of them. I just am. I’ve tried to work through it, but I’ve literally been trapped in my apartment because there was a spider on the doorframe. No amount of self-coaching could get me through that door. I waited for it to leave. I’ve killed spiders from across the room, emptying a whole can of Raid only to spend ten minutes on top of my desk because even THAT couldn’t stop it from running around the room. I’ve tossed a bag of books I planned to donate on top of another one. If I couldn’t gather the courage to get close enough to deliver a humane death, there was no way I would learn to save one by depositing it back into the yard. The fear is completely irrational. It is a phobia. Somehow, my brain just got wired to convince itself that spiders are literally out to get me. That they are intelligent enough to desire vengeance or plan an attack. For the sake of needing an explanation, I’m going to blame the movie Arachnophobia.
But, one lonely night, without the help of anyone, I found the courage to push past my fear. There was a spider right over my bed, right over my side where I liked to sleep, and I desperately needed to go to bed. After much deliberation, back and forth, pondering sleeping on my couch in the living room where it was always freezing no matter how high the heat was set, in the end it was him or my precious sleep and sleep won out. It took a lot of hysterical screaming and running and screaming and running before I finally pounced up and smashed it with a book. Poor book.
You heard it ladies and gentleman, I will go John Wick on a band of masked murders in pitch black darkness with a butcher knife, no problem, but it takes me a whole hour to kill a spider just so I can sleep…
((((Side note: I think I just came up with a new short story…))))
In the two examples I gave, the fear of death and the fear of spiders, each example required me to swallow my fear, to look deep down inside and decide what was important to me, and then I had to make a decision about myself. What am I willing to accept or destroy in order to live without or remove the cause of that fear?
My other fear, the fear of unfulfilled potential, is one I’m still working on. This isn’t a paralyzing fear like death or spiders. This is a nagging fear, an anxiety that weighs on the soul. What do I mean by unfulfilled potential? It is the fear of never being able to write all the novels that are rattling around in my head. It is concern that I am not pursuing the correct creative aspects of my life. (Ex: Am I putting too much attention into art, when I’m not very good at it? Should I direct that attention to other avenues where the energy is more suited?) The fear of unfulfilled potential, at its core, is simply a fear of time and adequacy. Will I do all the things I was meant to? Will I be good enough at them? Am I following the right path?
Fear is finite and temporary. I read that somewhere. I wish I could remember where. Think about that. Fear is finite. Fear is temporary.
We are all filled with small fears and anxieties, but what are those big, hairy, scary fears? What keeps you from moving forward or making decisions or influences those decisions negatively? What do you need to move past, to accept about yourself, or to change in order for you to be a healthy, happier, and more successful person?
What are steps you can take to overcome that fear?
- Acknowledgement. Recognize that fear. Own it. Write it down. Let it know you see it, and shine a big-ass metaphorical (or physical) light on it. Tell it, literally if you have to, that its days are numbered. “Fork off spider, I am your doom!” or simply, “I am afraid of never being good enough. I will no longer let that control my life.”
- Breathe. Breathing is a calming technique. Sometimes acknowledging a fear can be just as frightening or overwhelming. Stick your tongue to the roof of your mouth, inhale slowly, and exhale slowly. Use this to center your nerves when you feel like you’re going to vibrate out of control.
- Make a plan. Now that you’ve acknowledged that fear and centered yourself, what needs to be done to help move past that particular fear? What is needed of yourself or the outside world? What quest do you need to go on? What item is required? What part of you needs to die and be reborn?
- Reign in that imagination. Fear will tell you loudly that you cannot overcome it. Fear will show you every deterrent, every reason why you should stay exactly where you are without ever doing anything about it. Fear is a liar. Fear is more afraid of you than you are of it. So, center yourself with a nice deep breath, look fear dead in the eyes… and tell it to fork off. You are in control of your own life. You are in control of your own imagination, so turn that brain on fear. Imagine a life without that fear. Imagine yourself as strong and powerful, as successful and resilient, and believe in that truth. Use that as a weapon.
- Confess your new narrative. Write down that narrative you just imagined to replace the one fear had written. Whiteout that drab, messy-mess that fear penned and scribble over it with the bright, brilliant truth you have decided on.
- Think positive. Positive thinking isn’t just some mumbo-jumbo filling every self-help book ever made. It is a super power. A freaking Jedi mind trick on your brain… and it is so damn hard to master. I know. I’m a ball of pessimism and negativity and it takes WORK for me to think positive. People who don’t know the real me might be shocked by that admission. I’m usually all smiles and can-do attitude, but in reality, I’m a worst-case-scenario type of girl because I’ve spent my entire life in fight or flight mode because of the environment in which I’ve lived. But, positive thinking gives you mental muscles to combat fear. Imagine it as one of those cool Mario Mushrooms that makes you grow three sizes bigger. When you start turning all those negative thoughts inside out and start thinking about the positives in life, you grow and the fear seems smaller, weaker, and easier to squash.
- Start small. So, you’re afraid of skydiving, but absolutely terrified of public speaking… but kind of need public speaking to get ahead in your career? Go skydiving, motherforker. Tackle those little fears and it becomes a domino affect towards the final Boss.
- Confront your fear. Enact that plan you made and start living by your new narrative. Facing that fear is a surefire way of recognizing how small and insignificant it is and how powerful you truly are. It won’t be easy. It might even take a few rounds in the ring, but you can and will beat it.
In the great words of Cinderella’s nameless mother, which unknowingly became my life motto: Have courage and be kind.