I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “face one’s fears”. Without me really stopping to think about it, I guess the phrase has always had literal meaning for me.
But what is fear, exactly?
Wikipedia says fear is (in part) “an emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it (also known as the fight-or-flight response) but in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) a freeze or paralysis response is possible.”
Hmm. So maybe facing fear is the “fight” response — it’s resisting the urge to run and away and hide from something dangerous or painful.
But none of this covers two other types of fear I can think of: the irrational phobia one might have of something like spiders or heights; and the deep dread about something that might happen (such as harm to a child, or discovery of a secret, for example).
All these types of fear are explored extensively in fiction. Authors will consider how a particular character will respond to a dangerous situation, whether they have any phobias that could be exploited to make things interesting, and what that one thing might be that will cause a character to unravel…
So in the latter two cases, “facing fear” could be standing on the edge of that cliff, or not unravelling if/when that dreaded thing happens.
All this reflection has been inspired by a situation I found myself in — not precisely for the first time — a couple of days ago.
My devilcat (curse her) brought in a small rodent (tiny), which crawled under the fridge and died.
No brainer, right? Don a glove, grab the tail, thrust the creature on a wad of newspaper, wrap it and chuck into the rubbish bin. Simple.
I could not do it. Every time I walked past the fridge I winced and knew I had to deal with that thing and I did not do it. I told myself I was waiting to make sure it was dead. I told myself it didn’t smell yet. I told myself I would do it… later.
All day I told myself these things and it was not a fun day. I knew I had to deal with it eventually, but I kept coming up with reasons not to. I went out to a cafe to get away from it, and when I came back it was still there. The thing I had to do.
I contemplated asking the next-door neighbour to come and do it. I even considered calling my dad…
Finally I gave myself a stern talking to and got the necessary implements. I knelt beside that fridge in tears for about 15 minutes trying to make myself reach under and grab the tiny tail.
Ridiculous. Was this fear? An irrational phobia?
It wasn’t as though I was quaking or trembling or believed the dead thing was dangerous or would cause me pain. I knew it would take me 30 seconds to do the task I’d been fretting all day over. Yet, still I shrieked when I yanked it out, and almost hyperventilated as I dragged it onto the paper.
But at least I did it.
Then I calmly and curiously examined the thing — noted the way the body had already started collapsing, the way the fur had parted, the little black beady eyes gone glassy. Looking at thing did not bother me — I was fascinated. It was touching it (even using gloves or a small shovel) that gave me the heebie jeebies.
If someone asked me as a general question what I was afraid of — and I’ve speculated on this over the years as well — I wouldn’t normally respond with “I’m afraid of touching dead rodents”. But maybe I should? There are not many things I can think of in this world that affect me like this. Sure there are things I don’t like doing, but none of them have me in tears simply as I muster the courage to deal with them.
As you might expect, it’s the writer in me that is analysing this snippet of life experience to see what I can learn, what I can wring from it to bring authenticity to my writing. Everything is grist for the mill!
Has anyone out there had a similar experience that surprised them? Step up and share your irrational fears and how they make you feel! (Does your cat bring you “presents”?)
10 thoughts on “Facing fears (or the dead thing under the fridge)”
Euww! I’m not sure it would have generated fifteen minutes of tears, but for sure I’d have spent some time psyching myself up for The Act Of Rodent Removal.
And yeah, it’s definitely the kind of experience you can put down on paper…
Well, I don’t think there were 15 mins of tears – but there were MANY deep breaths and much muttering and shining torch under fridge… The psychological block was fascinating. I kept questioning what was so hard? Pathetic!
Eww is right. Been there, done that. Though you’re braver than I by taking a moment to look at the thing. I just can’t do that. Dead animals of any kind give me the heebie jeebies.
I used to have a cat that was a killing machine in his youth – he would bring little birds in the house and swat them around until they died. Such a thoughtful gift for me when I got home from work. (And yes, I did call the neighbor to come get them for me. I know, I’m lame that way.)
You should definitely mine this experience for your writing. Fear is such a powerful motivator, for both our actions and in what we avoid.
I’m still trying to decide if this is fear…? I guess it is, but it’s a hard emotion to define in this context. Logically I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. It was more avoidance of an unpleasant task – but way more powerful than mere procrastination…
Your actions in calling in the neighbour to dispose of dead birds make me feel better! But I don’t think birds would affect me in the same way. Then again, who knows?
First off ~ that was very brave of you, seriously. Bravo!
I can’t think of any irrational fears I harbour, but when I kill a big spider I get the shivers afterward. I guess that’s how I am with a lot of things ~ deal with the crisis or dreaded task, then once it’s done, shiver and run around like a crazy person shaking my limbs about.
Yeah, that’s about right.
The good thing is that your experience can certainly be used in your writing. Even reading about the decaying body made me want to shut my eyes!
Your way sounds like a good way, Kim! Very pragmatic. And efficient.
You are very brave!
Heh ~ mebbe! I feel a bit pathetic actually. 🙂
You’re not alone with that, Ellen. I’ve had to handle animals that have passed into the great beyond and there’s definitely something unsettling about the experience. Good for you that you were able to face it and do what needed to be done.
My big fear thing is I’m deathly phobic of bees, wasps, and any other insect that flies and stings and becomes enraged for no good reason. I prefer not to face those and instead opt to shout “Run away!” while running away 😉
Talking to people over the past few days, I’m starting to feel less pathetic! Thanks for sharing your dislike of handling dead things. And of stinging insects… We seem to have a lot of wasps hanging around the neighbourhood at present – one of my favourite writing cafes has them buzz in from outside – ack!! (Now I have an amusing image in my head…)