The other morning I was late for work because I was driving behind someone who was scared. To be fair this is a bit of a lie – I was mostly late because my friend had WhatsApped me to tell me that she had been up every hour throughout the night to administer antibiotic eyedrops. If she had not done so the ulcer on her eyeball might have perforated, the insides of her eyeball would have fallen out, and she would have gone blind. I mean, W.T.F? Could you rush out of the door to work after hearing that news?
Anyway, PART of the reason I was late was because I was stuck behind the kind of driver who treats their 71 inch wide (yes, I Googled that) Volkswagon Touran like it has the vital statistics of a tank. She stopped behind every parked car and let the oncoming traffic come through first, and she braked hard for every speed-bump and slightly uneven surface on the road. Her thoughts were almost visible popping up above the roof of her car in the form of big, panicky cartoon bubbles – “What if this car heading towards me is driven by a drunk who passes out, loses control and ends up parking their car in my lap… What if this pot-hole in the road is the one to burst my tyre and send me smashing into a lamp-post?… What if… What if…?” As well as making me chew frenetically on the steering wheel, this also got me thinking about the nature of fear.
There are of course different kinds of fear. I am scared of fish. Not the dead kind that you eat, but the ones that are still swimming around and can touch your legs with their fluttering fins and weird puckered up little mouths <shudder>. I didn’t realise I was so scared of fish until I went snorkeling on The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. A couple of minutes after I dunked my head under and started scanning the water around me, I stood up and legged it screaming out of the shallows. A very small blue fish had threatened to come within two metres of actual touching distance of me, and I was having none of it. So safe to say I’m scared of fish. It’s not rational, it’s not in proportion to the size of the threat, but my body has a knee-jerk over-reaction whenever I’m faced with the possibility of a live fish touching me. However out of control it is, this fear however, is pretty harmless because as long as I don’t harbor desires to become a marine biologist, I’m fairly certain I can make my way through life without having to confront the scaly freaks. But not all fears have so little significance in the living of an actual life.
Not so fortunate is a friend of mine whose mum catastrophises everything. The latest manifestation of her mum’s life-limiting fear is that my friend and her children will all die in a horrible multi car motorway pile up if they attempt the journey to the Midlands where her mum lives. I’m confident that we’ve all had thoughts of this nature and perhaps it gets even worse once you have created mini-mes. Lots of parents will have experienced the disorientation of waking in the night and finding it impossible to go back to sleep. The thought that something unthinkable has befallen your children grabs hold of you and can’t be settled until you have checked that the reason they are so quiet is because they, unlike you, are fast asleep. Many of us have been there feeling all of the irritation, and all of the relief, all at the same time. For most of us, the unthinking response to these kinds of fears is to brush them aside and soldier on. Afterall, even if we resorted to co-sleeping with our children to facilitate our obsessive checking of their respiritory faculties throughout every night until they moved out, scarred for life, we would still not be able to legislate all of the fear out of our lives.
One of the most touching definitions I have ever heard of the love and fear that we feel for our off-spring is that as soon as you have children, you wear your heart on the outside of your body. Never before would it have been so defenceless against the sharper edges of life as it is since you gave another being life (I have no idea where I read that so I can’t credit it but I felt uncomfortable claiming such a beautiful idea as my own.) Despite this however, still we soldier on aware that if we were to allow these fears to dig their claws in deep, we would all be shredded into a messy pile of mince meat and be no good to anyone.
So, if we can deal with fears about the lives of our greatest achievements by pushing on through, why can’t we do the same for fears about ourselves? Are we clever enough? Funny enough? Attractive enough? Interesting enough? We constantly fall foul of the idea that someone else is just better than us. We don’t push through, and we let it hold us back. Like the woman driving the VW Touran, we allow a whole world’s worth of “what ifs” to stop us getting to places that we want to go.
This is personal. In three weeks time I will no longer be a teacher. For reasons too numerous to bore anyone bar the closest members of my family with, I am leaving the profession to which I have given twelve years of my life. It has also been the recipient of a whole hunk of effort and is the identity in which I have taken an enormous amount of pride. I’m quitting. And I’m afraid. I’m not afraid that I’m making the wrong decision. The relief I feel tells me that this is definitely the right thing to do for our family. However the fears are there dancing around the edges of my thoughts whenever I stop parenting (or escaping into Instagram) for a moment.
There are the practical fears about finances. There are the poncy self-indulgant fears about “Who will I be?”. And then there are the fears about what people will think if I admit who I actually want to be. The job I am giving up was never my dream job, but it was the kind of job that “someone like me” would do. What do I mean? Well, to answer that means to admit something that I have never admitted before. I want to be a writer. It’s what I’ve always wanted and it’s what I thought “people like me” did not do. I have no idea which group of people I thought did become writers, but I was completely certain that whoever they were, I was not one of them. Even as I type this I have a bunch of fear-fuelled “what ifs” whirring around my mind – what if people are thinking “Who does she think she is?”. What if people are smirking because essentially what I write is crap. What if people are just dismissing me as another middle-class mummy blogger who is hopelessly naive about the reality of writing for a living. Those fears nearly stopped me from starting this blog in the first place.
What if there is someone reading this who is thinking “Ah, she’s alright, this one. Let’s take a punt.” Or what if someone is reading this who feels the same and takes comfort in the knowledge that he/ she is not alone. Doesn’t that make the risk worth it?
We all know that stepping aboard an aeroplane could end our existence in a fraction of a second, and yet we still do it. We have quite rightly reasoned that the benefit the risk represents is worth it. Therefore, I’ve decided that bearing that in mind, fear will just have to fasten its seatbelt, shut its mouth and take a backseat for change because I am putting myself out there with the attitude that this risk is definitely worth it.
Who’s with me?