“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”
― Helen Keller
It is human to want to keep ourselves alive, safe and in good health. Many times it is easy to see when something is not in our best interest, and when we don’t, we usually learn from the failure. These failures tend to define us, they define our fears and they define why we are who we are. Fear is natural. Without it, we would probably all be jumping off of tall buildings trying to fly or eating poisonous plants thinking they might taste like ice cream.
I have some pretty irrational fears including centipedes, eating shellfish and essentially anything that can fly. I’ve justified these fears by saying that centipedes can bite and give you an allergic reaction, shellfish can be toxic if not cooked correctly, and that Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is a true story. Now, first off, I am very doubtful that centipedes have ever bitten a human, and the chances I am allergic to them is slim to none. Secondly, I’m pretty sure only Puffer Fish can be prepared incorrectly and lead to toxicity, and lastly we all know Alfred Hitchcock’s movie was fiction.
However, it is important to note that Alfred Hitchcock included the Freudian concept of repression in many of his cinema classics. Repression is the idea of keeping trauma so deep in one’s mind that the subconscious drives our fear. Mo Costandi states “Freud believed that traumatic memories, usually of childhood events, are repressed by the conscious mind; this is a defence mechanism which keeps the ego free of conflict and tension.”
These repressed thoughts many times manifest themselves in fear. We fear making new friends because we were bullied in elementary school, we fear dating because of the ex that broke our heart, or we fear swimming in the ocean because of the one time our snorkel was broken and no one believed us. This fear makes us believe things are dangerous when they most likely are not.
How do we surpass fear to determine if something is truly dangerous or if it is our subconscious helping us avoid a repeat of the past? Well, you do it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, now I learned my lesson.
6 months ago, I had different fears than I do now. I overcame many of those fears by simply facing them and working through them. I was fearful to break up with my boyfriend because I wasn’t sure if I could make it on my own and I didn’t want to be alone again. I was fearful to sell my home and my tiny home that I had grown accustomed to and worked so hard to achieve. I was so terrified to move to the other side of the world when I had never even left the country before.
Look at me now. Single. Homeless. and on the other side of the world.
Many people projected their fears on me before I left, and it was eye-opening to see what other people fear in world travel. The most common responses I got were:
“You’re going alone? Be careful, sex trafficking is big nowadays”
“Don’t you need a passport and visa and a whole bunch of paperwork to do that?”
“What are you going to do with your house? What about your cats? And your car?”
“I hope they speak English over there”
“Be super careful because people target tourists for theft and crime”
What I heard is “I am so afraid to leave the country because of everything I see on the news, and it would be so much work and hassle to get there, and then I’d have to find something to do with all my stuff, and what if I can’t understand, or I get lost?”
After a few months of hearing this, I started to doubt myself. What if everyone is right? What if I get there the first day and someone steals all my stuff? What if I can’t get used to driving on the left side of the road and get in an accident? What if I get bitten by a weird bug or have an allergic reaction to something while I’m there? How am I going to get around not having a cell phone or gps? All of these are valid questions, but not valid fears.
When I lived in Denver, I had someone steal a package of my front step, I got in two accidents, I had multiple reactions to bugs and foods I’ve eaten, and my phone has died before and I was fine. Why was I so scared this was going to happen in another country, when it happens to me at home all the time? If anything, the neighborhood I was living in was more dangerous than the campsites I’d be staying at in New Zealand.
Of course I acknowledged these threats and dangers and safeguarded myself against all that I could, but I knew that other people overcame these fears on a daily basis to travel across the world. Now, I am no follower, by any means, but knowing that other people do it reassured me that it can be done.
I have this rule for myself: If no one else is going in the water, maybe I shouldn’t either. My very first day at Waimairi Beach, I was walking and I didn’t see a single person going in the water. My first thought was, “maybe it’s just cold”. My second thought was “maybe they know something I don’t.” So I asked. I walked up to a stranger and asked him why no one was in the water. His reply “it’s freezing today, you would be crazy to swim in that ice water.”
Irrational fear proved wrong once again; there weren’t sharks or jellyfish or a strong undertoe, these people were all just pansies! It was no colder than Lake Superior in the dog days of Summer; the locals are just much more acclimated to warmer water.
Fear stops people from doing many things. It stops people from moving, trying something new, or falling in love. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do. Try this exercise to be mindful of when you are fearful as opposed to when you are in danger.
Step 1: Think of something you are afraid of, let’s say you are afraid of heights.
Step 2: Find a way to introduce that fear to your environment. Safely stand on your roof or get to the top of a ladder and look down.
Step 3: Feel. Ask yourself where do I feel the fear, what kind of feeling is it, what shape is fear, what color, what temperature. For example, I feel fear in the shape of a triangle in my chest, slightly popping out at the corners and ripping me open, its red and glowing and very hot with an icy chill, like dry ice.
Step 4: Think of a time when you were in a dangerous situation or faced with a legitimate threat like almost drowning or going to fast down a hill on your bicycle.
Step 5: Feel. Again, where do you feel danger, how does it manifest in your body, how does your body react? For me, danger feels like a chill running through my body, my arm hairs stand up, my adrenaline increases and makes me sharp and quick, and it feels like a cloud of cool air flowing through my veins.
Step 6: Remember these feelings and use them to determine when something is a fear as opposed to a threat. Your body knows the difference, so listen to it.
Fear of threats and danger is rational, and I am not saying that we should be fearless and have no fear. What I am challenging you to do is to learn the difference in yourself, so that you can separate what is holding you back from living from what is keeping you alive.
Stay alive, but also live.
Waimairi Beach – Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand