I've been doing a bit of reading around phobias and intense fears and have discovered that they normally arise due to a trauma or when a, perhaps seemingly insignificant, event occurs around the same time as you are experiencing a period of high stress. This was particularly the case for me with public speaking. I used to love it. I spent a summer just out of University working at a zoo where I gave the Giant Tortoise keeper talk every lunch time. I can still picture myself clearly leaping about around the outside of the pen with my 'Britney mic' on feeling totally at ease speaking to whoever I could cajole into staying to learn about the global plight of the tortoise.
A couple of years later I was interning for a church and going through a particularly hard time. Some negative comments were made about a presentation I gave and I fell apart. I didn't speak publicly again for three years. It seems excessive and in a way I have always blamed myself, considered myself weak, for giving up in the face of criticism which I could have, should have, just taken it on the chin.
But I now understand that I reacted as anyone would under the circumstances. I was weighed down by a whole world of sadness and this was the straw that broke the camels back. In these situations an intense fear can centre around an object or activity that, especially if that object or activity is avoided, can intensify with time. Its like all your pain and fear from that sad time gets trapped up in one neat package labelled 'public speaking' and your lip quivers even at the thought. I'm still overcoming that fear fully. I don't enjoy public speaking right now but I know that one day I will again.
I've also been reminded this week that being courageous is not an absence of fear or never letting anything get to you. Sometimes life throws you a whole load of rubbish at once and you respond in the only way you can. You get the hell out of there until you can cope with it all again. But it takes real courage, in the face of that fear, to not allow that fear to define you in the long term. To take steps to reclaim what you lost, to reclaim your future for yourself again free from fears that paralyse you and hold you back. To do what is knee-knockingly, jaw clenchingly hard for you.
When I was in Zambia I discovered a fear of heights. Half way up a mountain. After breathing into a paper bag for ten minutes and being roused with a glucose syrup I was faced with the option of climbing on or staying alone on the mountainside until the group scaled the mountain and came back down. I was leading that group and so I decided I had to go on, if nothing else to show them that you can do things that you don't even believe yourself are possible. That afternoon I abseiled 60 metres off the edge of that mountain, blubbing the whole way down like a baby, but I still did it. One of the instructors who was lowering me down said the kindest words anyone has ever said of a snotty nosed thirty year old weeping on an abseiling rope – 'that is true courage'.
|Me, hanging off a rope. Crying, shaking but braving it out!|
So if you, like me, have moments when it seems like everything is bigger, scarier and harder than you can ever handle, then take heart. You are the courageous one and conquering that fear you have is just around the corner.