Saturday, February 19, 2011

Taking a step back

It's pretty easy for me to get all-worked-up. You know what I'm talking about, I hope: times when I'm so worried or so afraid that I am nothing but wrapped up in those fears. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario cascade through my mind, dropping into an ever-growing hollow in my stomach while I feel my face grow taut.

One of the possibilities, then, is to hide from it, to avoid it, to ignore that I am afraid. Another option, then, is to shut down, stop functioning, stop thinking and just wait it out in terror. It depends on circumstances as to which option is more viable, but neither works. In fact, the former can lead right on to the latter. I've done both, and it's not good for me, or anyone else.

I went through a phase, in the throes of my youthful adolescence I think, where I was obsessed with the analogy of jumping off a cliff. It was, of course, all about fear. I was the jumper and my fears were the cliff. All I had to do was jump over that cliff and wait until I hit the water (it was that sort of cliff) and then I'd be fine. Fake it 'til you make it, some people would say. I think Relient K had something to do with it all.

It's really not the best way to do things, though, because you're still so, so afraid. The first year I worked at Ligonier, I got to do the zipline during staff training. I ran to the edge of the platform, fully intending to make that leap of terror, and I stopped, dead in my tracks. I backed up and paused for a moment, and I asked my facilitator if it was alright if I grabbed the rope holding the harness around my wait to the carriage on the cable. I explained rather hurriedly that I knew that my arms holding that rope wouldn't do anything, it was the harness and carabiners doing all the work, but psychologically, in my head, it would help. Just jumping off the cliff didn't work, so I needed something more, something to assure me that my fears were unfounded.

The next year at camp, I did the High-Ropes once. It was a strange session, with a new and different program involving older kids (aged 16-18), theology teachers, and both genders (yikes! No really, at camp that's sort of bizarre). After all the campers had gone through the course, it was time for Abby and me to give it a shot. I had watched all the kids go through, I had been there before, I knew just how all the things worked, and I said "Yeah, I think I'll be fine." As we progressed through the course and upward into the air, it became more and more clear that I wasn't fine - I was terrified to the point of shaking. Abby, meanwhile, was just fine, and her stability is how the second half of the course managed to go as well as it did.

I want there to be a better way. I'd like to be able to stop, take a step back, and realize that my fears are exaggerated, grown far beyond what makes sense. I'd like to be able to say "There is a sturdy steel cable holding you in the air" or "Your friends won't think less of you" or even "You don't need to worry. He takes care of birds." and press on, unafraid.


Allison said...

the thing about irrational fear is that it is pretty hard to rationalize away. That has annoyed me to no end.

Alex said...

I like the fake it till you make it concept. I feel like it does help me be less afraid. When I do things that scare me, repeatedly, that helps me see that their consequences aren't so bad. This works well if the fear isn't so intimidating that it stops me altogether or leads to failure. For someone who's afraid of public speaking, for example, maybe their fear would make them stutter, which could be embarrassing and even more scary. For most things for me, this isn't the case. See also: exposure therapy.

Nick said...

This blog is incredibly poorly written.