The Freedom of Fear

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

I’d stop seeking guidance from empty motivational quotes, for starters.

You know it’s been a strange year when we find an element of comfort and security in Halloween. We greet what’s commonly considered the ‘scariest’ time of the year with a sigh of relief as we welcome the stability of annual traditions like an anchor point in a world that feels out of control.

We are taught to shy away from fear because, well, it’s scary. If you gave anyone the choice of feeling terrified or feeling comforted, they would usually choose the latter.

Or so I thought.

Fear Fascination

Like the weather, Brexit, or a Kardashian (take your pick, they all morph into the same, slightly hypnotic entity, fed purely on a diet of Instagram likes): Fear is one of those subjects that never gets old.

But apart from academic – mainly psychological – studies, fear was never really considered in the consciousness of wider society until about 25 years ago.

They were simpler times: Corona was just a little beer from Mexico; phones were attached to the wall with a twirly cable; and the biggest worry on my mind was whether I’d be able to hog the TV for long enough on a Saturday evening to eagerly watch Baywatch followed by Gladiators.

Fear didn’t get much of a look-in. I just knew that I didn’t like being scared.

Then, towards the end of the 1990s, fear suddenly became big business. And I don’t mean in film and literature. After all, fear has been written about long before Bram Stoker sharpened his pencils and settled down with cod & chips in Whitby to write Dracula in 1897.

Because around the same time (the late-90s, not 1897) the personal development industry started growing quicker than a Chief Scientific Adviser’s favorite COVID graph.

All of a sudden, fear became something to seek and embrace. We were commanded to ‘feel the fear’ and told we were never going to achieve any of our goals and dreams unless we smothered ourselves in the stuff.

“Crush the fear”, “Ignore the fear”, “Walk through the fear” and hundreds of similar phrases bombarded us.

Poor old fear: it came in for a load of abuse.

After all, it was only trying to tell us something.

A New Type Of Fear

You may have noticed: fear is making a comeback.

And fear doesn’t have to result in that ‘running out of the room whilst screaming’ reaction that my children give when I politely suggest they might want to brush their teeth this week. It can manifest itself in that slight feeling of unease, discomfort and things not being quite as they should be.

Otherwise known as ‘2020’.

We used to say that half the battle was recognising and acknowledging the fear in the first place. Well that’s pretty bloody obvious nowadays.

After all, it’s very easy to sit back and admit to being scared, and then do nothing about it. As any good addict knows – and I don’t care whether your poison is alcohol, food, exercise, cigarettes, porn, knitting or something far more exotic – admitting you have a problem is only the first step to recovery.

What really matters is action.

This is why I’m amused by the people with tens of thousands of followers on social media who present us with empty motivational phrases about ‘killing your fear’, like a modern-day equivalent of Moses rocking up with the 10 Commandments (the original tablet computer).

Delivering the message is one thing, but acting upon it is something altogether different.

Fearing Our Reflections

But – apart from the convenient tie-in with Halloween – why write this now?

Because I’m scared.

And I’ve been trying to embrace it, face it, crush it, kill it, recognise it, I’d even get off with the bloody thing if that would make it go away.

But nothing works.

I don’t even know what I’m scared about, I just know it’s growing inside me. I see it in the mirror every morning, I feel it standing over me when I try to sleep. When I spend time with my children, I try to hide it deep inside of me like it’s an illicit substance I’m trying to smuggle through customs.

But it’s always there.

I’m fearful about my future. I’m worried about my work. I’m panicked by politics. I’m more than a little concerned about COVID. I dread my debt.

I’m petrified about not reaching my true potential.

It seems external fears pale in comparison to those that dwell inside us.

If something in the outside world scares me, I can either run away from it, switch it off or trap it under a glass and chuck it out in the garden to be reunited with all its eight-legged mates.

But I know I know I will never escape the fears inside of me.

Comfort In Fear

Then a thought occurred to me:

In a world that trades in terror, powered by a media fuelled by mayhem, maybe fear can unite us.

For if we are more open about the fears we feel, we can understand that we are not alone. And if we feel less abandoned upon an island of fear, we are inclined to feel less afraid.

On 364 days of the year, the sight of a miniature skeleton zombie staggering down the road towards us would certainly cause the pulse to quicken and knees to tremble.

But on Halloween, if we are greeted by a horde of zombies, vampires, killer clowns, being led by an older ‘sexy’ witch (why do women’s Halloween outfits always have to be labelled ‘sexy’?) swinging a plastic cauldron containing a half-drunk bottle of Lambrini, we don’t run in fear, but stop and smile.

Maybe the thing we fear more than fear itself…is feeling that we are alone.

This is why it would be much easier to write blog posts about smashing goals, going on adventures, running up hills and beating my fears…

…but – like those meaningless motivational phrases – it wouldn’t really make much difference either.

So I won’t crush, kill, embrace or mildly belittle my fear.

But I will try to be more open about it.

So that maybe you won’t feel so bad about yours.

And then we can be united by our fears and allow them to steer us towards our goals, not further away.

After all, what is there to be afraid of…..?

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