Bad hats. Ocean voyages. Creatures of the reptilian variety. Oh, and spinach in my teeth. These are just a few of the things I fear. What about you?
I suppose I am and have been fearless at times, in some respects. There was the adventure of being belted into a harness and swung about in the treetops above my house, and more times of “starting over” in France than I can count…
But everyone is afraid of something, aren’t they?
What Do You Fear?
The nature of our fears changes of course. As children we may be afraid of monsters under the bed or what lurks in a shadowy corner in the attic. As adolescents we’re afraid of not fitting in, and as young adults we may be afraid of not finding love, of not being good enough, and any number of other performance-based, esteem-based fears. And most of us, eventually, have some sort of fear of dying.
- Yes, those bad hats (a fear of looking foolish)
- Ocean voyages (don’t know why)
- Reptiles (all of them)
- No tweezers in my purse (don’t ask; some of you know why)
- Failing my children or a friend
- Losing my independence (physical infirmity)
- Losing my independence and my mind (mental deterioration / dementia)
- Losing my independence financially (fear of poverty)
- Yes, spinach in my teeth, especially if I’m on a date!
I am not afraid of being alone or growing old alone, though I admit that growing old is a concept I am facing with trepidation, especially as concerns issues of women and money.
The Nature of Fear
Fortunately, some fears disappear entirely. Unfortunately, others may go underground and influence our thinking without our full awareness. Still others insinuate themselves into our lives to devastating effect as they grow into phobias, limiting our options and tainting our daily existence.
Like many women — of my generation, or in general? — I am apt to throw obstacles in my own path as the result of underlying issues of self-image, so I continue to work on eradicating the phenomenon of culturally ingrained “old talk” and “fat talk” that holds too many women back from striking out on new adventures.
New fears may be born of traumatic events or a simple change in circumstances.
After a freak car accident on the highway — my car was totaled — I was unable to get back behind the wheel. It took me weeks to do so in a replacement vehicle, then months for the fear to lessen, and longer still for me to feel comfortable on a high-speed road again.
As for a less striking example, like other parents, my greatest fear used to be of something dreadful happening to my children. A related fear, as a solo parent, what would happen to them — if something happened to me.
As we complete the stage of getting our children beyond fed and fled, and ourselves, beginning to reflect again on our own dreams (and our mortality), any number of tiny terrors or appalling anxieties may rear their horrible heads. We may fear never living up to our potential — is that small or gargantuan? — or failing to recall our lines as we brave the stage in a community playhouse.
We may fear insignificance or irrelevance or loneliness or poverty. And that last, fear of being a bag lady, is extremely common among American women “of a certain age.”
And while we may no longer fear that our children will wander off alone in a crowd and be lost, or take up terrible, destructive habits as teens that will harm them for life, I do fear the world we are bequeathing to them. I wish we could have done better in making it a kinder, safer, more just, and more peaceful planet.
Let’s Hear It for Fearlessness!
Some of us find that we have become unstoppable. Our life experience at this stage has strengthened us in innumerable ways, reinforced a sense of purpose, and we’ve come to know where and how to give our lives meaning. The most severe adversity often breeds fearlessness, and from that state, we are powerful indeed.
Yet with so many sources of stress and distress surrounding us — concerns about our health (fueled by Big Pharma and their advertising), the well-being of those we love and count on, and who count on us (life is so much more complex these days!); financial worries in a still shaky economy; flagging self-esteem as aging seems to accelerate — we might nod on comprehension of the famous oft-cited adage: “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Fear will eat away at us. Fear can feed on itself and grow like a cancer. Fear can be paralyzing and prevent us from living our lives.
My most nagging worries these days concern my independence — my ability to take care of myself financially, physically and of course my ability to keep a clear mind, which is what enables me to keep a roof over my head and my spirit filled to (happy) always-learning overfilling! Many of us fear being stricken by some form of dementia. It is an insidious thief that robs us of ourselves — everything that makes us who we are — and puts a sorrowful burden on those who love us.
Life Lessons, Even in Discomfort
Perhaps it is easier to be fearful of the bad hat, the mode of transportation that unnerves us, the squirmy or slithery creature, and even the sloppy smile on an otherwise good date if we find ourselves stepping back into the dating pool.
What we learn: laughter, humanity, humility, compassion. We shake it off, we resolve to find more suitable fashion statements, and we check our pearly whites in the reflection of the cutlery when no one is watching. These are very human fears that are small enough for us to chuckle at ourselves, and in their insignificance, to remind us that fear and discomfort and embarrassment and even terror are part of our human condition. Likewise, our moments of triumph, connection, glee, joy.
If you ask me, we should accept this reality, and if we can, whatever our goals, err on the side of unstoppable.
This is part of a group writing exercise courtesy of Marsha at Splenderosa. Do drop by and read the splendid selection of other posts on this month’s subject: fears.
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