Standing in the icy cold river inching forward just one small step at a time. My ankles feel as though they’ve lost all feeling and my teeth are chattering noisily.
I don’t know how much of the teeth chattering is from the icy water and how much is from the tight ball of fear lying low in my stomach. A black heavy mass, threatening to paralyse my ability to move forward, even by the tiny steps I’m taking.
Tiny steps towards dealing with the fear of open water, the fear of getting out of my depth, (both literally and metaphorically), the fear of the reeds grabbing hold of my ankles and not letting me go.
Thank goodness I haven’t seen the film Jaws or who knows where my imagination would go. Although, surely even in my greatest fears I wouldn’t imagine a killer shark in leafy Surrey.
But, as ever, a lifetime of hearing “Don’t do that, it’s too dangerous” holds me back. Invisible hands gripping so tightly they leave their mark, tiny little bruises no one else can see. But I know they’re there.
But now… it’s different.
I’ve stopped listening to that voice and developed a different approach.
I’ve developed the approach to try something just because it looks fun. Try something just to see if I like it.
The pendulum that was so fully in the “Be safe” zone has now swung fully to the “Oh, it looks fun. Let’s try it” zone. Wild camping, open water swimming, aerial yoga.
After decades of playing save and hearing “Don’t do it” I’m now hearing “Give it a go. You may like it.”
I was protected from failure, protected from feeling not good enough, protected from being laughed at. A lifetime of protection to keep me safe, but also kept me small.
So small I wouldn’t try anything unless I knew I was going to be brilliant at it.
The voice telling me to beware was that of my mother. Someone so paralysed by her own fears she saw danger and catastrophe in every little nook and cranny. The gentle breeze on the back of the neck? Could be the breath of a stranger lurking in the shadows. The distant thud of a car door closing? Could be the sound of someone following you.
Over time her voice became my own voice, and because it was my own voice, I didn’t think to question it. It passed on the sensible “Take care” message, but also passed on the message that the way to avoid all the unsuspecting dangers is to play safe, and not try things.
The good girl and people pleaser in me did as I was told. And I played small, and smaller and smaller still. Because once you start to see and hear, feel, and sense the dangers that are around you, you can’t go a moment without knowing they’re just waiting for a slip. Waiting for you to let your guard down.
So yes, I’ve got to my age with all limbs fully intact and very few mishaps along the way. But wearing the straitjacket of “No, don’t do that” means I had an underdeveloped courage muscle. And a very flabby underdeveloped sense of play and fun. Because, let’s face it, many things which have an element of fun also have an element of risk.
Yes, I’ve protected myself very successfully from fear:
- fear of what if I can’t do it
- fear of what if I make a fool of myself
- fear of what if others laugh at me.
Want to know what’s happened since? I’ll share it with you in the next post.