Fear.

A pumpkin carving I did, Halloween, 2009

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Hello my loved ones, future and present (If you’re not one of my future children, you might want to read this to give this blog some context).

Today I want to write to you about fear. I’m writing around the time of Halloween (in 2015). It seemed an appropriate topic. In the spirit of this time of year, this really won’t be too serious.

There are lots of different types of fear. People make important distinctions between types of fears, such as passing fears, anxieties, phobias, enjoyable fears (such as the ones experienced during a scary movie or rollercoaster) and so on. For me (and maybe for you one day), the most important distinction is if your fear matters or not. That might mean if it matters to you, or matters to other people you are around. If your fear matters to you, then perhaps we should tackle it somehow. How you do this depends on if the fear is a deep fear, or phobia, or if it is something a bit lighter.

Phobias

A big distinction for people and psychologists is that of a ‘phobia’. Society in my time, and many times preceding it, has an obsession with obfuscating the linguistics of irrational fears. They do this by sprinkling them with obscure latin terms and adding a ‘-ia’ on the end. People aren’t scared of spiders; they’re arachnophobic. Someone isn’t afraid of dust, but they do suffer from koniophobia.

By adding ‘-ia’ onto the end of words from a language now used solely by lawyers and demons (in 2015, these are mostly synonymous), we get to make being scared of spiders sound altogether more chronic. Personally, I feel this legitimises one’s fears somewhat, as it makes it sound like a medical condition the person suffers from, in the same way they may suffer from gout, rather than a specific case of phobia itself.

Don’t get me wrong – I have respect (and so should you) for someone’s fears, especially at the level of severity of a phobia. But let’s not put those little eight legged beasts (or whatever) on a linguistic pedestal. There is something to be said, however, for being something-phobic, instead of scared-of-whatever; in switching to the euphemistic disguise-word, the person who is scared of said thing never has to actually mention it.  You get to be removed from it, like someone who thinks piglets are cute but loves a bacon sarnie. Out of interest, the fear of pigs is choirinophobia (see what I mean?). By hiding our fear a bit, we can keep feeling, agenda and function distinct. Distinct, that is, with the exception of when someone, perhaps at a dinner party, inevitably says ‘So what’s choirinophobia a fear of?’.  That unlucky person might now add deipnophobia to their pork fright.

Managing phobias or deep fears

I am scared shitless of drowning, or, if we’re to make it sound more serious and magical, I am aquaphobic. When I was a small boy, I nearly drowned (in terms of very real advice at this point – don’t mess around by deep water). I can’t remember being scared of drowning before then, so I must attribute it to that.

As a young man, I decided I would see as much of the world as I could, and I quickly discovered my fear limited my travel somewhat to, say, the edge of the town I grew up in. Something had to be done, because there were boats I needed to go on, lakes to cross, rivers to wade through and hotel pools to flop into. I read about it, and rationalised. I tried learning to swim. I saw a psychologist (usually wonderful people), and I did things like immersion therapy (bad choice of words for a fear of drowning, but I refer you to my earlier waffle about disguising things needlessly) and systematic desensitisation. I also had some help from friends.

And these days, with your dear old Dad is in his thirties (which are way more fun than you might imagine, by the way), my fear of drowning is under control and no longer matters to me. I still kind-of hide behind the cushion when I see huge tidal waves in movies, but that doesn’t really matter. The fear has mostly become a lesser fear.

The short advice here is; if you have a deep fear, a phobia, weigh it up. Does it matter to you and your life? A fear of spiders, for instance, doesn’t matter day to day. If it does matter to you, you might want to tackle it, or try to, at least. The longer you leave it, the harder it may feel to break it as it’ll feel like it was always there. But don’t go it alone, my love – start by taking advice from factual sources (choose them wisely), from friends, and, if you’re really stuck, consult a mechanic of the mind. They’re costly, but you’re probably paying more for the lease on your hover motorbike, or whatever you crazy kids are driving in 2050. Assuming, that is, your fear isn’t of those contraptions.

And what of lesser fears?

If a fear isn’t as weighty as a phobia, and isn’t a reasonable fear (say, of lions with machetes), we might find the courage to test our fears, or use them.

Are you scared of anything, my love? As children, the dark will no doubt spook you a bit, but that’s ok. Here’s a quote from Plato, a wise Greek man with a brilliant beard.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark;
the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
– Plato

As a child, I was scared of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. I’ve included a picture of them in this letter so you can either laugh at me and/or develop your own terrifying aversion to them. Something spooked me about them, but as an adult, they’re nothing to me. If anything, I find them kind of cute. I’d quite like one to do my bidding and run errands for me.

Lesser fears can leave you, and often do. If you don’t have a really deep fear of something that weighs on you, have heart that things will probably be ok. If you feel like you’re that chap Plato mentioned, you can always push back against your fear, and see how you get on. There are a couple of ways to do that.

Nothing to Fear but Fear itself

When I was 10 years old, I’d walk home from school. The way to walk home was down a lane too small for cars, with the town cemetery either side. In the summer, around 3.30pm, the walk was lush. The sun lit up the lane, the place was alive with bird song and the sound of crickets. Long grass grew over the sides of the wrought iron fence that made the lane between two sides of the graveyard. In the Winter, however, it was twilight when I left school, and some days, it was dark already. The wind howled through the lane and leaves rustled in packs behind my small feet and frame. It was cold and rained often. These factors turned that graveyard walk into something out of a horror movie to 10 year old Marty. Some days I’d be too scared to even turn around, with the fear that I was to encounter a living skeleton, or the ghost of a pirate or maybe even Dracula (although quite what he might be doing in a Welsh industrial seaside town, I don’t know). One particularly chilling day, I imagined I was being followed by one of those flying monkeys, who, naturally, was walking down the lane after me rather than flying somewhere fun. The bastard.

One day, I told my Mum I was scared of the walk home. She told me the only things that could hurt me are the living, not the dead. We talked about ghosts, and being at peace. Her and I walked around the cemetery one Sunday, and it was very different to the view from the lane. I read people’s names on gravestones. Normal people. None of them sounded like pirates. No Romanian mythical princes of darkness. There was nothing to hurt me there.

Politicians have largely spewed out lots of boring, tedious waffle, but an American chap called Franklin D. Roosevelt had some good advice in his first inaugural address:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

For lesser fears, always rationalise. If you can reach a point where you can say to yourself something along the lines of Mr. Roosevelt’s advice, and are pretty sure of the fact, then it’ll probably be ok.

Fear can be fun, and productive

Scary movies can be fun. Rollercoasters can be fun. Fears, when rationalised and questioned, can help you grow. Going over specifics of a fear can actually help you reduce the risk of those things you fear happening actually happening. Lesser fears are good for you, largely. There is a woman I read about once, known to the public only as SM-046, who is medically incapable of feeling fear – I can’t imagine what life for her is like.

A final note on fear

It is ok to be afraid, especially of real things, but of imaginary things too. It really is ok. Never let anyone tell you that a fear is stupid. Never let anyone make you feel small about a fear you may have, not least because everyone has their fears. But do try and poke that fear a bit, if you feel up to it. And if you’re not up to it, come back and poke it later on. Rationalise. You’ll find out that some things are fine to be afraid of, be it for reasons of health, or fun, or planning. But most things aren’t as bad as you fear they’ll be… apart from those lions with machetes. Especially if they’re flying towards you on a monkey.

All my love

M

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