The roots of fear are legion—all of them are valid for the person who harbours them, all of them are powerful. I do not know much about the psychological aspects of fear or why people are afraid of certain things and not others. I do not know why, for example, the mere sight of a spider in my house prompts me to call the landlord to come and kill it (My reasoning and defence: I do not pay rent to grapple with Satan’s offspring—that is the landlord’s job!) but I am not scared of taking the kinds of career risks some would shy away from. One would think spiders would be naught compared to choosing not to pursue my legal articles after five long years of studying Law at the University of Cape Town. Strangely enough, turning down a safe, predictable, prestigious, and protected career path was an easy choice to make. Confronting the small jumping spider in the kitchen, though, is different kettle of fish. That is for someone else to do. Like the landlord. Who is on his way as you read this.
However, after much thought and a few dozen cups of tea I have ruminated about the kinds of fears and grouped them into four categories.
Firstly, fear can be brought about by a terrible experience. The experiences themselves are varied and there is no accurate way to predict how a person will be affected by a certain situation. Nonetheless, the ordeal clings to our psyches, consciously and subconsciously steering us away from encountering a similar circumstance. The only way to overcome this fear, I think, is to have a positive experience which can nullify whatever horrible traumas you nurse. It might not be easy, but it can be done.
Secondly, you can be afraid because people tell you to be afraid. Some of your fears are not your own; some of them have rubbed off on you from your parents, your friends, and society. Through proximity and societal integration other people’s fears are projected on to you. You, thinking your parents know better, or needing to be accepted by your social circle, start living out the canon of fear. But this kind of fear can be overcome—all you have to do is sit and analyse your anxieties, the things which keep you up at night, and realise how many of your fears are someone else’s baggage.
The third group of fear comprises of those irrational, inexplicable phobias which we cannot explain to anyone—they simply are. Spiders are in that category for me. I posit no solution to overcoming this category of terrors. I merely pray I continue to have an understanding landlord.
The fourth and final species of fear is inaction—the things we do not do or put off for too long become fears all by themselves. That assignment you postpone; the relationship you do not start or end; that exercise routine you do not face; the adventure you do not pursue or the website you ignore for nine months, questioning its worth, second-guessing your ideas, threatening and promising to put pen to paper but never doing it—all of these begin as small, niggling yearnings or annoyances. The longer they are put off the bigger they become. They mutate and spawn many worries which make every day an ordeal; they become the monkey on your back; they devour any sense of joy or accomplishment you might potentially have; they black out any ray of sunshine. The goals we do not chase become our fears and, in time, they become our regrets.
As far as I know, there is only one way to overcome this kind of fear: action.
Not hesitation; not the fear of commencing masquerading as logic and inch-perfect planning; not asking what your parents think or what your friends would do; not living in limbo waiting for a sign from the Celestial Teacup; not sitting waiting, wondering, wishing—action. Doing things; moving in, out, over, around, under, through, or away; putting old habits away and picking up new hobbies, routines, and new lifestyles; crying your way through the umpteenth sit-up; coughing your lungs out at the finish line; handing in your two-week’s notice because that fucking job which barely pays the rent is taxing your soul—action. The kind that lets you sleep at night. The kind which makes you get up in the morning.
Sometimes, and I may be wrong about this, action is the only remedy for fear. I do not know. I am just happy I can finally put words on paper again.