It’s no secret I’m a bit of a scaredy cat. I’ve been afraid for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if I was simply born this way, or if it was a case of instincts gone awry during early childhood.
The first ten years of my life were lived under the large dark cloud of my father’s alcoholism, a storm that rolled in occasionally to upturn our otherwise happy lives with chaos and insanity. When he left, I simply found new things to be afraid of, like my friends finding out that my family was ‘different’, roller coasters, waves at the beach, not having the latest in 90’s fashions, anything really. My fear didn’t discriminate.
On an excursion to the Victorian snowfields when I was ten, I spent most of the time on the team bus after I got hit with one too many snow balls and stepped into a puddle of freezing water. I was even afraid of snow.
On the same trip, I stood next to Mrs Williams, our bad breathed, bad mannered chaperone at Luna Park while my friends rode the ‘Gravatron’, simply too terrified to board the spinning, gravity defying space-ship ride. The message was already pretty clear back then: be afraid and suffer the boredom of adult company while your friends whizzed around in a spaceship, then stumbled off in a fit of dizzy giggles.
Fear equaled missing out.
This wasn’t enough for me to overcome my fear, however. Two years later at my grade 7 camp in the bush-lands of southern Western Australia, I was the only one in my class who didn’t abseil down a 10 meter wooden platform. In my safety harness, two experienced guides shouted positive encouragement from above and below me, and even though I knew there was next to no chance of injury or death, I couldn’t do it. I edged out slightly over the platform, but couldn’t bring myself to take that first step.
Fear is a bitch. It takes fun, happy experiences from you for no rational reason, leaving you with memories of failure and separateness, which allow it to grow and dominate your every move. No one else in my class probably remembers that day in the bush, but I remember it clearly.
Fear never forgets.
Then a wonderful thing happened. I found a solution to my fear in my teens, and drank that liquid courage down like nobody’s business. I couldn’t believe my luck that I had finally found the answer to all my fears! It was wonderful for a while, enough to make me forget about how afraid I truly was. I worked, studied, socialized and traveled, adopting a persona of a strong, sociable, wordly person. It was wonderful, for a while…
Until it wasn’t.
When I eliminated the crutch of alcohol from my life three and a half years ago, it didn’t take long for the fear to come flooding back in epic proportions; bigger, stronger and with more force than ever, carrying with it a decade and a half worth of back-pay.
Fear doesn’t like being ignored.
That’s when I began my intimate relationship with fear. I went from giving in to it, drowning it and running away from it, to simply giving it the attention it was so obviously wanting from me.
It was with me when I put the final cork in the bottle, telling me I’d never have fun again. It sat next to me when I signed the redundancy application to leave my job of eleven years, screaming, “you’re making a huge mistake!” and when I handed over the keys to my apartment, it taunted me with horror stories about ending up homeless and living with my Mum (sorry, Mum!).
It folded up neatly in my backpack as I prepared for our departure last February, though it took up a bit more room in my 40l pack than I liked.
Fear doesn’t come in travel size.
“I’ll give you six months, tops,” it mumbled as I tossed the bag onto the scales at the airport.
“That’s if you don’t die in an under equipped South-east Asian hospital!” came its muffled taunts as the bag was whisked away by the luggage belt.
“We’ll see,” I told it as I excitedly boarded the plane to Phnom Penh.
We’ve had a pretty good year in the world, Fear and I. We have become pretty close. We’ve ridden planes, trains, boats and buses together. We drove across India in a tuk tuk together. We’ve written about ourselves and created a new life full of creativity and adventure. We have jumped off rocks, dived under the ocean, spoken bad Spanish and tried to teach kids English.
Yesterday we went zip-lining through the jungle of Quintana Roo, Mexico, and fear barely made the effort to show up! I must admit, although we’ve been partners my whole life, it felt good to have a break.
THE FINAL FRONTIER…
The last year has raised the bar on my fear, diminishing it somewhat, but I know it’s still there, lurking and ready to pounce. I’ve decided to raise the bar so high on my fear that it’s negative taunts may never sound the same again.
I’m doing the one thing that scares me beyond any other thing. I’m going to jump out of a plane.
I won’t be publishing this until it’s booked and the money is paid. The useful side of my fear, my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which doesn’t want to be the only kid not to abseil, or not go on the scary ride, will hopefully give me the impetus to follow through on my fear-crushing plan. I don’t want to be the only kid on the bus while the other kids smash each other in the face with snowballs.
Plus, it might even be fun. I’ve never seen a video of anyone sky-diving who doesn’t smile at least once during their free-fall through the air.
I have even had moments of being excited about this, but for the most part, I’ve been functioning under a haze of low to medium level anxiety for the last couple of weeks.
Today, my hands are shaking as I type this, and my chest is tight. At any moment I feel I may burst into tears.
I’m mostly afraid of my fear, which is quite a predicament, and although I am trying to stay in the moment, where perfection exists, my mind is imagining what it will feel like to sit on the sill of an open airplane door, then… jump.
Part of me wonders why I am making myself do this, when I’m so afraid.
But you see, that’s exactly why I need to do this. (I’m not actually sure about that, or of anything right now). Fear takes all the clarity out of life, moving into one’s psyche like a traveling carnival of terror, unpacking it’s dusty suit cases full of skulls, spooky soundtracks and bad ghost costumes.
Fear is not real, it is an illusion, but knowing that does not save me from it (unfortunately). I have to move through it, pulling down its spider webs of cotton wool and snipping the strings of its flying ghost puppets. It must be unmasked like the ending of a Scooby Doo episode. I’ve managed to do that in so many areas of my life, from traveling, to being sober, to creating a life of freedom and adventure, but this fear of falling through the air has been nagging me.
It’s time to face my final fear. Or at least it will be,
tomorrow. In an hour.
Until then, the carnival of terror and I will be having our final fling together – a sleep-depriving, thought monopolizing, hand quivering pa de deux, of which we know the steps all too well, for Fear and I have danced this dance many times before.
I’m just tired of it always taking the lead.
This post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.
“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press
“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com
“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail