At one time or another I have been scared of almost everything. I am not sure you’d know to look at me; I am not a quiet, nervous, fluttery type. I am a big, loud nervous type. Anxiety has been wedded to my bones since I was a small child, burrowing into my being and sometimes making me scared just to exist, standing there, being me. When I started working I was scared of every job I had, being a waitress, an office assistant, a receptionist. I lived in fear. It probably though helped me because at some point I must have decided that if I was scared of everything I might as well do something I loved – and so I started a catering business when I was 24. In my time of working for myself I have been terrified of every aspect of what I do – doing the job right, talking to clients, having meetings – the whole shebang. Until I was about 32 I was TERRIFIED of talking to people on the phone. I would do anything to avoid it. I would look at ‘normal people’ in awe, how do they do what they do without having a total nervous breakdown?
But it seems bumping up against one’s fear on an everyday basis (something that was just unavoidable for me regardless of what I did) has numbed me to some of what has made me fearful. I am more confident now that I used to be for sure. I can talk on the phone (!) I can have meetings (!) I can communicate with my clients without wanting to throw up (victory!) But the fear didn’t disappear completely. The big stuff still got to me. So I decided a few years ago that I was just going to let it be, allow it to just exist because it seemed to want to hang around. I wasn’t going to try and kill it (or even maim it) nor try and drive it out of town. Because I’d tried that in the past and perhaps for 5 minutes the fear would go away before rushing back like a tsunami to paralyse me. And funnily enough it feels a lot less overwhelming now.
When I feel that familiar panic I try to stop and understand if fear has arrived again. And I say – hello fear. Seriously I do. As funny as it sounds I say it. And usually I seem to use a weird voice, a bit like King Julian in Madagascar for those of you who’ve seen it. Best cartoon character ever. Anyway I digress…. So then I try to figure out what I’m fearful about – because it’s not always obvious, it can strike seemingly at random. If I can, I sit down and allow the feeling of fear to wash over me without fighting it, and if I just accept it, the power of the fear fades quite quickly, maybe after 5 minutes, maybe after a few hours. I just get on with my life. It’s me plus fear. It seems that just allowing it to be there, and not feeding it with more fearful thoughts and more anxiety, the fear can just run its course and then depart. **
So even though fear continues to be ever present in my life, I am not scared of it any more. I don’t want to feel it but I know there is nothing I can do to stop it – so why fight it? This was made amazingly clear to me last month when my father told me he had been fearful to go on Question Time. I was stunned by his admission. My father is not easily scared – and particularly by things like public speaking or press, he’s been doing it for years. He enjoys the attention and the chance to say his bit. But he never lets fear stop him. So it doesn’t matter how much we try, the fear is just part of us – it comes and it goes – it’s part of the human condition.
I am back in London and have a bunch of new projects to complete over the next few months. All ones that will bring fear into my life. I feel it will be OK because I know it’s just me + fear.
** Now this explanation of the technique I use for dealing with fear is a very short, badly described, version of a practice called RAIN that I learnt from the Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. It’s a technique that she recommends for dealing with any strong emotions. (RAIN stands for Recognise, Allow, Investigate, No judgement) Tara is a huge inspiration to me and I love her free online talks. She is kind, wise and has a beautiful voice. She has helped me understand how to deal with much of my anxiety, over-thinking and obsessive thinking self. I totally feel less nuts since finding her.