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  • Writer's pictureClaire Sandys

When did we all get so fearful?

My Why audio version of this blog available here.

Earlier this week we had something exciting arrive from Amazon Warehouse (where you can get slightly cheaper products that have been returned or unboxed etc). It was a potential new solution to bridge the gap between my husband’s ability to run whenever he wants and however he wants, and my ability to only sometimes run and not feel like my insides had been through a washing machine by the time I get back (a bad combination of a sensitive digestive system and endometriosis, and my consultant did tell me running wasn’t ideal for me as it’s quite high impact for my flaky digestive setup). So what did we do so I could go out for exercise with my husband but not end up feeling that way?

We bought a scooter! (It’s an adult one, in case anyone was wondering if I’d got away with getting a child’s size). And we were very excited when it arrived.

However, there was also something else that struck me as I stepped onto it in the kitchen and realised you have to balance as well as scoot (it doesn’t automatically stay upright). It was a feeling I’m very familiar with and it’s linked again to my digestive system.

You see, my digestive system has taken itself on a completely separate path from the rest of my body. I’m calling him a 'he'. He seems to have come to the conclusion that he can function fine on his own without my brain and has taken it upon himself to decide what freaks him out. So he may hear my brain contemplating we need to pop to the supermarket and do a podcast interview tomorrow and that’s it, he’s off; ‘We can’t do that, it’s too much to do in one day, what if you can’t fit all that in, what if something happens and you can’t get back in time for the interview, what if we forget how to drive there, what if you have a melt down and just can’t do it, what if we die?’ This results in a feeling like my stomach is turning over in pain and I usually end up on the toilet wondering what on earth my life has come to. Meanwhile my brain is saying; 'Okay, we’ll sort those two things tomorrow and if we need to postpone either, we can'. Not a panicky thought in sight. Similarly, on a run or a trampoline the rest of my body is thinking; 'This is fun, makes a change, I feel good about this.' While my stomach is screaming; ‘WHAT IS HAPPENING?! ABORT! ABORT! What if we die?’ The diva nature of him is getting to the point that it’s only when I trick him into a nap with a hot water bottle that I seem get some peace and relaxation.

So you can imagine his reaction to a scooter appearing under my feet. Despite the fact it’s arrival is to help him.

But my stomach’s opinion’s aside (he must never know I’m blogging about him), there genuinely was a few fearful questions in my mind about going outdoors on this scooter, despite the fact I love the idea, and this got me thinking about fear and when it creeps into our lives and why it does that as we get older.

My husband, Chris, and I, have often discussed that we don’t want to get fearful as we get older, we want to travel, take on new challenges, live in new places, take risks, not be fearful of life and change. We’re aware that if we let it, fear keeps us indoors, in the familiar and tricks us into believing anything different, anything alien to our normal life or house or country is scary and should be avoided.

I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am. Francis Bacon

But it strikes me that while I chat with female friends about this fairly regularly, it’s not that way with a lot of men in our age bracket (I’m calling that sort of 30-50yrs). So I asked Chris last night if he feels any fear when he thinks about doing something new outside, like taking out a scooter at the age of 42. He shook his head, nope, no fear. He might wonder if people who see him would think he looks a plonker, or might even be jealous of his scooter, but they’re the only thoughts that cross his mind. Overall the idea of drawing attention doesn’t bother him at all.

So I was pondering this, and I thought about my friends and how many of them would have a few reservations about taking something like this down the street for the first time. On the whole I think most of them would, except the younger ones below the age bracket I mentioned. So I’m sure it’s an age thing.

Why are women less confident, even with things they’ll be good at? I know I’ll be good on a scooter, I do Pilates, I do Yoga (or I will again when I can afford it), my core is doing ok, I have good balance, my cardio isn’t terrible, I’m a good driver, surely that helps with steering?! And who are the women that don’t suffer with this? Where are they? We need you guys to be teaching us.

We're all wonderful, wonderful people, So when did we all get so fearful? Emeli Sandé

Apparently people are connecting more with faces on social media (which is a good thing I think, it’s authentic, mostly). So all the advice I’m getting is to put my face out there more. Why does that make my stomach flip over? Well, we know why it does that to me, my stomach’s a lunatic! But why is that a scary thing for others too?

I did some research and apparently the young brain and the adult brain handle fear in very different ways, they are literally physically different. So it’s not all just us becoming wimps, anxiety is triggered more easily. Plus, we of course know that a child just sees a scooter and thinks ‘fun’, an adult sees a scooter and also sees a broken leg, eight hours in A&E and two months of getting the bus into work, baths with your leg hanging over the side, showers with a plastic bag on, knitting needles to reach the itches, no beach holidays and excess leg hair when it’s removed. All in about fifteen seconds, no wonder that triggers our adult brain (and lunatic stomachs) into freaking out.

Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre. Philip Roth

My dark sense of humour liked this quote.

But I’m convinced there are ways to fight this and the quote that jumped to mind instantly with this subject is the title of Susan Jeffers famous book:

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Now I haven’t read the book but I feel the title probably sums it up perfectly, and so I realise I need to get more comfortable with feeling the fear.

Of course what that fear is, will be very different for each of us. Susan writes in her book:

We fear beginnings; we fear endings. We fear changing; we fear “staying stuck.” We fear success; we fear failure. We fear living; we fear dying. Susan Jeffers

Which pretty much shows us that it’s possible to fear absolutely anything. What you don’t fear, someone else will, and what you fear now, others won’t. We’re all different. Praise the Lord! So only you can face your fears. You might ask how? Or, why? Well, she also says this:

Every time you encounter something that forces you to 'handle it,' your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably. Susan Jeffers

Now that sounds like a great reason to combat fear to me.

So here are the top tips I’m noting down to help us combat fear (and I'm teaching myself as I go):

ONE: Work out if your fear is rational or irrational.

If you’re standing in front of an angry tiger right now, with no barrier between you - your fear is rational, and your freeze, flight or fight will be kicking in. I suggest attempting the flight personally, see how you get on.

If your fear is irrational it’s not logical or reasonable, even though you may feel as if it is and react as if it is. Getting on a scooter is an irrational fear, on the whole fear of spiders is an irrational fear (yet an incredibly popular one in the UK, which considering our spider population isn't even half as deadly as somewhere like Australia, it seems particularly wimpy of us all). I know that if I have an irrational fear there’s a way over it. I’ve never liked to describe any of my fears as phobias, I feel that sounds like something I’ve got that I can’t ever get over, like it controls me, whereas I always believe an irrational fear can be conquered, and usually you can expose yourself to them to try this out, though not always (I have one that I won't go into here, that's very difficult to do that with).

They’ll of course be a whole load of fears in-between all these as well. For example, fear of a family member dying, or dying yourself, is a fear of something that’s going to to happen one day, so it’s not irrational like a fear of pigeons (who can’t do much but scare you, maybe peck but even that’s not that bad, I’ve had it happen to my hand once), but at the same time, the fear of someone dying isn’t logical because you can’t control it and it can ruin your life living in that fear rather than facing it.

I like to think about whether everyone would have this fear, if they would then I see it as rational, being thrown off a building would scare most people (there’s always a few nutters that like these things), so that’s rational. Getting in a lift rarely hurts anyone, so that’s irrational. This helps me as a starting point to combating my fear and knowing how to work with it.

TWO: Find ways to feel the fear.

Whether rational or irrational, find your comfort level when it comes to fear. Expose yourself to thoughts of it, pictures of it, videos of it (if it’s something that’s sensible to do, don’t watch stuff of people dying!). If a fear of spiders is ruining your life and you long to be over it, read about them, learn about them, see their side of the story, find out all the amazing things they contribute to life, stop killing them. With this one you can even work up to handling them. If you’re scared of small spaces shut yourself in the cupboard for a bit, find an old box, get in there and feel the fear, gradually working up to a coffin - I’m just kidding, don’t do that. If you’re terrified of losing your partner, child, parents, pet - expose yourself to those feelings of what that might look like, imagine what you might feel and do. Chat to people who have been through it, and if you can’t do that, you know what I’m going to say… listen to The Silent Why podcast, hear about all the losses people have been through and see what life looks like on the other side.

Base your thoughts on fact, not the awful scenarios your brain conjures up, which will no doubt omit all the people that would be there to help you and draw alongside you, and the good that can come from awful situations. And I'm not suggesting you dwell on this stuff, unless it's something that is negatively impacting your day-to-day life.

Twice in interviews on The Silent Why we’ve heard someone say one of the worst things someone can say to them in their grief is ‘I can’t imagine what you’re going through.’ It puts distance between you and what they’re experiencing and alienates them. Well, I’m going to tell you - imagine it. Imagine what you fear, because then if you’re ever faced with it, it’ll feel like you’ve been there before and if you meet someone who’s going through it, you will know that you tried to imagine it, and that it was awful, and you can just say you’re there for them. It doesn’t mean you know what it’s like, of course not, but it shows empathy for that situation.

Personally, every time I’ve spoken to someone about a loss or grief I’ve imagined what that would look like in my life and it’s been a huge help to me. I'm not scared of those scenarios. That might be the novel writer in me, but I’d recommend it anyway.

THREE: Take back control.

Don’t let fear have the control. In my Hopelet episodes over Christmas and New Year I quoted these guys:

Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future. Robert H. Schuller

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. Nelson Mandela

We all have fears, but it’s your decision how much you let it control you and take the reins. You won’t get rid of it, but you can harness it, reign it in, not indulge it, and learn to feel it and not be scared of that feeling. And maybe you will get rid of it?

Ultimately we get scared because we feel like we lose control, we give fear the reins and let it guide us. Well - take them back!

FOUR: Learn that it’s a waste of energy fearing things you can’t control.

Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative. Maurice Chevalier

Live the life you have now, don’t fret or fear the things that may or may not happen.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Marie Curie

Life is short, don’t let fear be a bigger part of it than it needs to be.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

FIVE: You won’t always get it right, and that’s ok.

You won’t conquer your fear first time, you won’t always have the strength to face it, but don’t give in and just accept it. Fight it and seek to diminish it.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ Mary Anne Radmacher

So over the weekend I plan to take my scooter out onto the open road (well, the pavement, it’s not allowed on the road, it’s just a kick scooter), and I’ll face two of my fears (albeit the smallest ones I have) - one, public ridicule (Chris, this includes from you!), and two - putting my face on The Silent Why - I will get a photo to post for you all to see.

And if I fall and break my leg, I’ll post a picture of that instead!

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