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”?)