There have been times in my life when I was brave.
Like in matric when I decided to face my stage fright and try out for the school play. I got a part – not a very glamorous one, but a part nonetheless – and even did a bit of improv when my onstage husband missed his cue and left me in the lurch.
Or that one family Christmas when I punched my acrophobia in the gut and leaped into a river from a high rock. The beauty of the waterfall thundering close by and the pristine sandy white beach and the cheering faces of cousins and brother and aunts and uncles and mom and dad won out over the wobbly knees and racing heart.
Even that time – also in matric – when I stuck my pride in my pocket and walked across the road to give the boy I liked (who happened to be dating the bitchiest girl in school) one of the muffins I had baked earlier that day. Not like I had much of a choice, though, since my mom locked me out of the house, forcing me to follow my heart for once.
I haven’t been feeling very brave lately, though. Actually for a while now, I’ve been quite afraid.
Afraid of everything and anything.
Afraid that I’ll never be good enough. Afraid of disappointment and equally afraid of disappointing. Afraid of making new friends. Afraid of losing the old ones. Afraid of difficult conversations and awkward silences. Afraid of aging. Afraid of health issues. Afraid of all the bad news we wake up to every day. Afraid of missing out. Afraid of uncovering uncomfortable truths, especially in my closest relationships. Afraid of getting stuck. Afraid of what people will think.
Afraid of financial ruin.
Afraid that my car will break down on the N2.
Afraid of lifts.
And let’s just pause here real quick. While this may sound funny (and I do joke about it quite often), it’s a pretty serious one to me.
I don’t know when it started or why, but sometime in the past 5 or so years I developed severe claustrophobia that manifests most prominently when I have to step inside a lift. So much so, that my brother even came to town specially one day to accompany me on an elevator ride to the 20-somethingth floor of a skyscraper where I was set to have an important meeting. (Side note: Imar is my living, breathing guardian angel and always has been).
Up until now, I’ve dealt with fear and anxiety by putting on a brave face and ignoring them. Just pretending they don’t exist.
But then I wake up at 3am and all the uncomfortable truths I’ve ever uncovered come rushing in at once, reducing me to some kind of hot mess.
Or a building leaves me no choice but to take the lift and I end up staring at those up and down buttons for the best part of an hour, working up the courage to get inside.
This morning I woke up feeling really angry at fear. Angry that it makes me act neurotic. Angry that it steals my joy and paralyses me. Angry that it feeds me untruths. Angry that I lap them up. Angry that it makes me hum under my breath when I could sing out loud.
But most of all I’m angry because I know this is not who I am.
As Caitlin Moran wrote in her sublime letter to teenage girls (and adults battling with anxiety everywhere):
“You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed. Things have been done – which means things can be undone. It is hard work. But you are not scared of hard work, compared with everything else you have dealt with. Because what you must do right now, and for the rest of your life, is learn how to build a girl. You.”
I was never meant to be a wilting flower, but a warrior. A speaker of truths, even if they come out in a whisper.
So, this Women’s Month, I’ll be dedicating my energy to putting this all to rest… or starting at least.
I’ll do as Elizabeth Gilbert advises and sit down to have a quiet conversation my fear. I’ll put it at ease by promising that I’ll listen ever so closely when it tells me not to walk down the dark alley alone at night. But that I won’t let it get in the way of adventure, opportunity, joy and love.
Luckily (as Liz also always says of herself) I am about 1% more curious than I am afraid. So I’ll let that be my driving force.
After all, I come from a long line of lionhearts and it’s just about time I did them proud.