To those who know me, it’s well documented in my fear facts that I am easily scared, despite the potential for fun in those fear-facing activities. While I might put myself out there to try new stuff, some will only ever receive the ‘NEVER!’ response. Or I’ll embark upon a scary task, wondering why on earth I started. Why? Because the fear is holding me back or causing me to believe I’m not able to do this. It’s not realistic. I have two legs and two arms and have the full capacity of their use. My brain is functional, and I have done many things in the past that I’ve had doubts about, yet still successfully completed them. My disability is fear. It can be crippling, and I am ashamed that it has prevented me from participating in or stepping up for past opportunities.
Two types of fear plague me. One is the fear of things or activities that ‘might’ have an unpleasant outcome. The likelihood of this perceived outcome eventuating is slim, but the fear has festered. Even just a slight risk is a potential negative outcome in my head. Still weighing heavily and causing yet more fear is imposter syndrome. The fear of being found out. The fear of being seen to be the fraud that I am. ‘What would I know?’ ‘Who do I think I am?’ ‘What will others think of me?’ ‘I’m not good enough’ and ‘there are others who are far more qualified than me’. These damaging messages of self-doubt limit our progress and happiness. That’s why I’ve found myself on a mission over the last ten years, to fight them and send them packing. They don’t go away easily. There’s no quick fix. The fear fact is that I have found throughout my personal journey I’ve experienced a great deal of fun too. I’ve made some incredible memories by stirring up the waves to adapt, push my comfort zone, and to have a go.
The HeadRightOut Hub is my Facebook group for women who want the support to push themselves further. I’ve posted occasional facts about fear and how it rules us, grips us and plays mind games with us. While I am passionate about supporting women to try new things and face their own fears, in the process I too am regularly researching, stretching and pushing my own fears to their limit. Also, I know there’s an element of accountability in it. If I say I’m going to have a go at something to myself or my husband, it’s easy to pull out at the first hurdle. If I’ve announced it to a group of people, however, they are going to want to see the outcome at some point and after all, with imposter syndrome, I wouldn’t want to be seen as somebody other than what I’ve said I am, would I?
Why am I not brave yet?
I have embarked on some incredible journeys and challenges since turning forty. As a result, one would expect me to say that I no longer harbour the jitters and it’s been all fun. I’ve conquered my fears and I am now brave. People seem to assume this about me, even my family. But brave is a strange word in that, for me personally, it conjures up images of a strong, muscle-flexing, weapon-wielding individual. They fear nothing and no-one. It’s a fallacy in all honesty, as fear is our ally. The truth is that without fear we cannot think clearly, we would not respond appropriately and it would not prepare our bodies for ‘battle’. I think bravery is more about having the courage to accept the fear and work with it, to our best advantage.
Microbravery connected with me
A few years ago, I stumbled across the term ‘microbravery’. It filled me with excitement and a sense of self-power because I connected one hundred per cent with its message. It made me realise I should no longer be on a permanent mission to seek out the scariest activities, the longest walks and the solo adventures. Although those challenges benefitted me, it was the small, seemingly insignificant actions that mattered the most. Facing fears such as telling someone that you disagree with them. Like walking into a room full of strangers, or standing up to speak in front of your colleagues. For some, it might be simply to get out of bed in the morning, or stepping foot outside their front door. In my mind, microbravery is like a ‘couch to 5k’ for courage. Don’t do the big stuff until you’ve mastered the smaller things. Get your brain working and used to coping with the small fear factors. Working in this way keeps the comfort zone pliable, in emotional readiness for those big adventures that take you to the outer limits of what you ever thought you might be capable of. At the core of these fear facts is the foundation of resilience, while fun is the bonus.
100 Scary Days
My challenge, ‘100 Scary Days’ launched on October 31st, 2019. I was out to conquer as many of those mini fears as possible, though some still overpower me. Across those one hundred days, I stepped into situations I might have otherwise avoided. Without listing all one hundred, some notable memories include:
- Riding pillion on the back of a motorbike, which despite fearing since the age of eighteen, I wore a beaming grin on my face all the way.
- Practising submerging my head underwater, ready to learn underwater swimming. I coped way better than I thought I would.
- Filleting a trout and ‘cleaning’ up a pheasant ready to cook. I’ve always considered this to be a grim job and not one for me to face, head-on. It wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
- Climbing a scaffold ladder to summit the scaffold platform. Never thought I’d manage that one, but after attempting on two separate days, I succeeded. The feeling was electric!
- Tearing myself away from the hoarding of unnecessary clothes and giving them away to friends, colleagues and charity.
- Sharing publicly, the raw emotion of separating myself from those clothes! It was tough, but I felt so good and so clear within my head and surroundings afterwards.
- Dealing with some major behaviour issues in a school I was visiting as a supply teacher. I didn’t get eaten alive, as I had previously believed I might.
- Climbing a sixteen-storey, 150 ft tall structure in Hudson Yards, New York, despite my fear of heights. I reached the top, and I survived.
- Driving a car from New Jersey, along the highway, through confusing intersections, to upstate New York and into the Catskill Mountains. I didn’t crash, and I didn’t cause any accidents for others.
- Walking out onto a (safe) promontory/headland on the Jurassic Coast with nothing but water and a one hundred foot drop below me. I coached myself through my fear of heights and I’m still here.
I am yet to complete the 100 Scary Days, as my one hundredth day was to be a skydive. The provider cancelled the jump because of unsavoury weather on two occasions (one of these being Storm Ciara). Now, for the past year, the pandemic has prevented me re-booking. It is still there in the background and I’m keen to experience the mother of all fears – jumping out of an aeroplane*.
Interesting Fear Facts
Over the course of the last year or so, as I’ve been researching more about fears and the way they operate, I’ve learned some interesting facts:
- The self-limiting beliefs of “I can’t do this” connect to our emotions. It’s important for us to recognise and unwrap where this belief has come from. This may help us to stay in greater control of the emotion.
- We all know about the ‘fight or flight’ response. I was interested to read about the four stages of fear: Freeze, Fight, Flight and Fright. The initial freeze mode allows us a moment to connect our emotions with our brain and to make a split-second decision regarding our response. Fighting would put us in directly into the pit to fight the issue, head-on. Flight would see us working out an alternative to avoid dealing with the problem. Fright is the stage that I connected with the most, as I know I’ve regularly found myself in this place. Fright is so overwhelming that it causes us to do nothing. It’s in this state of inaction that we end up feeling desperately unhappy and hopeless. This leads to feelings of failure.
- Throughout our lives, our perception of fear changes. Toddlers may fear separation while children may fear actual objects or specific situations. Teenagers seem to fear social and peer experiences, while the adult may have a more abstract fear – the fear of failing or the fear of being found out.
It’s not that I profess to be qualified in the study of fear or psychology, because I’m not. I come from a place of personal experience and in seeking out information about fear and passing on to the Hub members; it is opening my eyes to a greater understanding of my own encounters with fear. My apologies to any professionals who may feel I’ve made misleading statements or suggestions.
What’s the Outcome of my Fear-Facing?
With facing all these fears, have I suffered as a result? Nope. Have I struggled? Yes. If it wasn’t a struggle, then it wouldn’t be stretching my comfort zone. Have I enjoyed the process? Heck, yes!! The positive experiences and fun I’ve had in pushing myself through levels of fear I’d not thought possible for me is overwhelming. I’ve formed significant memories, fresh ways of approaching a task or challenge, kept active and probably grown myself a brand spanking new bunch of neural pathways to keep my brain healthy too. It’s a win-win situation and despite the fear struggle, it’s been fun too.
Categorising these activities easily in the ‘type two’ camp is plausible – which is bizarre for me, considering I never really saw myself as a ‘type-two-fun’ kind of gal. As the years progress, I plan to never lose my willingness to have new encounters and fresh adventures. As I turn fifty in just a few weeks’ time, I look forward to the excitement of further opportunities, however fear-inducing they may be. Because I now realise that fifty is not ‘over the hill’ and instead that ‘scary is good’. This is my mantra when I’m working my way through tough activities, and I’ll often repeat it over and over. It is also the key to a happy and healthy head.
I can’t wait to have more conversations with women about this very topic of fear facts versus fun in the HeadRightOut podcast. You’ll find it on all the major podcast platforms from 1st May. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!
*FOOTNOTE: As I write about this skydive, I can feel the blood draining from my legs as adrenalin begins to course through me. And that’s just thinking about it – I’m yet to do it!