Feeling the fear

Fear is something everyone can relate to, be it intellectual or visceral, rational or irrational. I’ve had a few things to be afraid of lately, so I have gotten to know the feeling well. For me, it evokes a need to be in control, to have some certainty. To be truthful though, trying to control everything usually makes things worse, so I am learning how to ‘go with the flow’ a bit more. I had the opportunity to practice this a few weeks ago, when I moved in with my partner.

Having been married before, I knew what to expect. But the prospect of starting again with someone new was actually very scary. Losing the independence that came with my own place was scary. Having to re-learn what it meant to share a space with someone else was scary. And so was the idea that I might not be up to the task.

The first night was an exhausted haze. The second night I had an overwhelming desire to pack up and leave, bolstered by the idea that I hadn’t yet turned in the keys to my apartment. The third night I felt a bit better, as my new home started to take shape around me. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m starting to feel more at home. I can now use the washer and entertainment system, though the combination lock on the shed is still a mystery!

This event made me realise how frequently we must all experience fear…and how equally frequently we push through and attempt something new anyway. To my mind, it is not the absence of fear that makes us courageous, but rather the determination to try anyway, despite the multitude of ways it could go wrong.

Some of my friends and family have contributed their own experiences of when they have been afraid of something but pushed through and did it anyway. I have included them below:

 Changing career was a scary proposition for me. I knew I had intellect and transferable skills for my new field. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that’s what really scared me. That uncertainty – am I doing the right thing, making a move into something I think I’m going to like and be good at? Will I be believable? Will I be able to do the work? I had so much credibility in my current field – how was I going to build my reputation in a new field? I was worried about my ability, and very worried about looking stupid. I also didn’t want to let my new employer down as they were taking a risk with me. I decided to do it because I was desperately unhappy in my original field, but mostly because I had the unwavering faith of my husband supporting me and pushing me to take the plunge. I am not sure I would have done it at all if it wasn’t for him. He was right. 11 years later I still love what I do.

– Female, 43


I have done many things that have scared me in my lifetime. I have moved to the other side of the world, where I knew nobody; flown in a light aircraft around remote Northern Territory; left an abusive marriage; stood up and been cross-examined in court; worked in child protection, immigration detention and probation and parole; got my tongue pierced; attended meetup groups full of people I had never met before; thrown myself down a mountain on a pushbike…
I am definitely not a fearless person; I suffer from PTSD (from said abusive marriage), anxiety and social phobia, so I often wonder what makes me throw myself into these sometimes crazy situations and head-first into new, high stressful careers. Having suffered from social anxiety for most of my life, I have learned that the only way to function in day-to-day life is to do the things that scare me; in this case social interaction.

– Female, 31


My girlfriend at the time was obsessed with swing dancing – discussing the subject always brought a big sunny smile on her face. I wanted to give her a surprise birthday present to remember, and taking her out to the swing dancing ball in six months was the biggest thing I could think of – so I needed to learn how to swing dance, fast! Dancing and socialising with strangers is not something which comes easily to me, I am a little shy, and don’t really have much interest music or dancing! On the day of my first lesson, my heart was pumping hard, I was very much on edge. I plucked up my courage, hopped out of my car, and walked towards the local school hall where the swing dancing class was taking place. An hour later, I left the class satisfied that I had followed through with something tough. Over the next couple of months, I attended about ten classes, and teed up practice sessions with other friends who were familiar with the style to hone my technique. Before I knew it, I was one of the regulars in the dancing class, trying my best to make newcomers feel welcome and as comfortable as I was feeling. Unfortunately, the girlfriend and I broke up not long after, and swing dancing became a painful reminder. Perhaps I will dance again one day – I know that I have it within me to try a novel activity and give myself a real chance to enjoy it!

– Male, 32


I was fifteen when with my family emigrated from Italy to Australia. Within two years, I had married Australian boy and soon after that I had my first child. I was still learning the language and the culture when I found out that there could be a possibility that I could be pregnant with twins because, in my husband’s family there were a few sets of twins. That possibility really scared me. My own mother was pregnant at the same time and she still had young children at home so I knew I could not depend on her for much support. My husband and I were living with his parents and they were so good to me. I remember my father in law words: “don’t worry love, if you have one or two babies we will help you!” Although I delivered only one baby at the end of the pregnancy, they supported me, taught me many skills that a young foreign girl should know. 44 years later, I still feel very blessed and grateful for their love and support.

– Female, 61


When I was 15, I went to the U.S., Arizona, out of my immense curiosity I developed as my father had worked as a professional translator. I was born and raised in Japan which is an island, so I felt somewhat closed from the outside world. I have to admit I was scared since I would be going to the to me “the land of uncharted” with no one whom I know. I had the mixed feelings of excitement, fear, a bit of anxiety. Not knowing how I’d be received and perceived in a different country certainly made me anxious. My excitement to explore the rest of the world that was simmering in me since I was a child outweighed that fear thankfully. Another thing I should be thankful for is that I learned that almost always people treat others not based on one’s differences that people can’t change, but by something they can change to improve, better, such as one’s personalities, virtues, how one treats others (some of which are hard to change). Overcoming that fear and being persistent with what I have passion for (still my passion) taught me that valuable lesson.

– Male, 23


Deciding to start seeing a counsellor was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made. The idea of going to talk to someone, to verbalise the darkness and worthlessness I felt, to try to understand what was going on in my head – that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was realising I didn’t know myself, and that if I was going to start making a recovery from the depression and anxiety that was ruling my life, I had to. I had to try. I felt small, fragile, and unusually visible as I walked into my therapist’s office, but the open, non-judgemental face with curious eyes that looked into mine reassured me that this was a journey I was capable of making. Gradually, I have found my voice. I understand the patterns my brain works in a lot better. I am figuring out how to guide and change those patterns as time goes on. And I’m learning to like, trust, and respect myself again.

– Female, 31


I was enjoying my sleep-in when I got the call at 8:56am. My last day of leave. ‘Great’ I thought, ‘someone didn’t read the roster at work and thinks I’m late.’ It wasn’t work. Dad had been away in India for 6 weeks. This wasn’t uncommon for him to go on long trips around the world visiting. Being a former pilot he still had the travel bug and loved mixing it up with other cultures. ‘Hello? Please come get me. I’ve had a stroke.’ My blood went cold. Dad had been in great shape in his senior years. Know those crazy senior citizens that power walk around the lake at dawn in the freezing cold? He used to be one of those. But a heart attack and a double by-pass a few years ago changed that but it didn’t let that stop him from living his life and seeing the world.

I had to travel to India to get Dad from a small town in North West India. I immediately set to task getting my passport sorted, ensuring a visa and booking my plane tickets and connecting flights. I hadn’t been to India in over 25 years, not since I was a child. It had been a terrifying experience. I hated the place. As a child I had been lost for almost a day on the streets in the 1980s. By sheer luck I was able to find my family again but I never wanted to return there. My anxiety was high. My already high stress levels skyrocketed further when I was denied leave at work the next day. They said I’d have to wait 2 weeks. I couldn’t believe this. This was my Dad. He wasn’t the kind of guy that took me fishing or played ball with me; but he’d always take me into the cockpit whenever I asked, took me out of school to go see Return of the Jedi and he always encouraged me to follow my dreams.

My passport and visa would be ready in a week, I guess I could have just waited another week and moved my flights; staying in the cushy Government job and not ruffling anyone’s feathers. That was the sweet whispers of fear. I remember how much that fear felt like. Lost in the streets of India. Terrified. Alone. No one willing to help as I cried. I could only imagine how Dad felt in whatever hellhole hospital he was in… I submitted my resignation letter that morning. The love I have for my Father was a shield against all the fear of losing a secure job in an unsteady economy, using all my remaining savings, travelling to a country where I didn’t know the language, where could be lost again, where I could be mugged or worse. It didn’t matter. He needed me and I would be there for him. A week later I was standing by his bedside. Having survived delayed flights, harassment by corrupt police and almost 42 hours of no sleep. I smiled. There was no fear. His confidence and love is my shield… one I still carry to this day.

– Male, 36


After almost 6 years out of the workforce, I have recently returned to paid work. It was a difficult and scary decision and one I am still not sure about at times. My children are now almost 6 and almost 4 years old. I have been a Stay-at-home-mum these past 6 years and loved it. I loved the fact that we were financially comfortable enough that I could do that. I loved that I didn’t miss anything. But, I also knew that I was not going to be satisfied staying home for much longer.

I have long had an interest in studying education, when not long after beginning my degree, I was offered a job with an amazing organisation within the field. I took the job and in honesty it was for selfish reasons. It was not because we needed the money. I am hardly earning enough to make it worthwhile by the time we pay for day care for the youngest and before and after school care for the eldest 3 days a week. It means early starts for my kids and getting home a little later too. To begin with, it really took its toll. My eldest just started kindergarten and she was so tired all the time that I felt awful to be making things worse for her. In the first few weeks, I considered quitting my job a number of times. But I didn’t and we adjusted.

I am enjoying my job, for the job itself and also that I am getting some distance from the needs of my family. Despite the rushed mornings and the guilt I feel at times about not being there so much for my children, it was the right choice for all of us. Why? I feel I am setting the right example for my kids that motherhood isn’t the be all and end all of my goals and that there is no point or age in life where we should not continue to strive for new experiences and challenges.

– Female, 31


Photo credit: Monster’s Inc., 2001


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Melita Caulfield

Melita believes in living mindfully and authentically which is reflected in her writing and artistic expression.

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