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Horseshoe Magazine

Fear of Fear: in an Ocean of Flame

“Head In Hands” by craigmdennis is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Humans are a hot mess. Yes, you read that correctly. When we should be most proud of ourselves, we instead beat ourselves up for a multitude of mistakes we make daily.

Let’s assume you’ve finally mustered the courage to switch majors during your college career. You can’t deny the trepidation, years of accumulated fears, your own internal resistance and the fear of fear that comes with making this indecisive yet decisive decision while feeling as if you’re treading through unknown waters.

It feels like your panic-stricken modes have now been activated. Dredging up  all your bottled-up insecurities, triggering uncomfortable feelings that you are better off ignoring because it forces you to confront them, bringing you face-to-face with your most vulnerable, delicate, and fragile self. 

But don’t fret. The fact that you’re willing to take this risk says a lot about you. Just getting out of your comfort zone is a reason to celebrate. Most people would never do it in the first place. They continue to do what they’ve always done and remain dissatisfied, wishing for a life less limited.

But that is not your story, nor your identity. You’re trying in the face of uncertainty; It is a back-and-forth procedure. You’re a total badass for being on top of this. Although in spite of this achievement, you do  not see it that way. You’re probably on a downward spiral of self-criticism and auto-rejection.

You believe you are not making these decisions  quick enough or well enough for it to count. After seeing someone else’s plan for the future, you berate yourself for not learning sooner or for having a faulty backup plan. Instead of rewarding yourself for each inch gained, you punish yourself for not leaping a mile.

Let’s say, you’re finally confronting your anxiety issues, which you’ve been aware of quite a while now. Do you try to calm it down with alcohol, food or something else? Are you on the mend, working with a therapist or support groups to untangle the mess and heal wounds that have been neglected and bottled up for years? Or do you repress those feelings and  revert to old habits because you’re too lazy to even try to get out of bed?

“Pain must be felt!” they exclaim. The lack of physical representation makes it mentally taxing and draining. How do you even voice out loud that you are trying to treat yourself with more kindness, but are failing to succeed? If I appear to be speaking from personal experience, that is because I am.

Three years ago, I made the conscious decision to become a licensed dental surgeon in the United States. I have always believed this was my calling, yet nothing could prepare me for the years of struggle and criticism I would face. My friends were taken back when I announced my intention to leave my current practice and start over. “You’re insane to even think of it,” they exclaimed. My parents were left speechless, sitting at the kitchen table; I recall my dad, a senior surgeon choking on his meal and thought it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and it would die down when I finally came to my senses. My mum glared at me from across the table. When I submitted my resignation and decided to hand over all my pending research projects to my immediate junior and leave, my mentors laughed. They scoffed, “you will regret this!” The guy I was seeing at that time refused to carry on any potential relationship if I was going to thread on the unknown. Every time someone said, “it couldn’t be done,” I crucified myself, so much so that my mind started to play tricks on me. It began to self-convince and auto-reject all of the plans I believed I was capable of enduring. My unequivocal self-believed the devil is perfectly fine by himself and needs no more advocates and I need not bolster his ego. I decided that the best way to stay on track would be to limit using social networking platforms. Was it, however, my best decision?

Through all of the internal whipping and long nights of lying awake in the dark, I imagined myself treading deep waters, with broken limbs and no lifejacket to rescue me if I drowned. My present self would probably tell the vulnerable, yet decisive girl, to stay strong for making progress, no matter how small it seems at this juncture. In retrospect, that’s how most of us learn from our mistakes. Rather than seeking validation, you pull  yourself back up. No knight-in-shining armor can save a damsel in distress. Over the last three years, I’ve heard more about what I’m doing wrong than what I’m doing right. But, as human as I can be, instead of supporting ourselves through our deepest struggles, we chastise ourselves for having them in the first place. I frequently fall prey to this mistake.Even though I’m no longer in a crisis, I still strive for perfection in every task I’m given. When I’m out of my comfort zone, I float rather than swim. I’ve avoided talking about these crises  in the past because I see myself as a control freak who doesn’t easily let go of the reins and the walls that I surround myself with.

Not so long ago, I used to be trapped in my own introverted bubble. But today I find myself pushing myself to try new things that are far outside my own self-demarcated comfort zone, my very own line of control. I’m finally allowing myself to grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. So shouldn’t I be proud of this?

I can be quite harsh on myself at times. It’s as if I have a vision of how things should be and then I beat myself up when they don’t meet my rigid expectations. I’m not always able to see the big picture. I become impatient, frustrated, and anxious. I forget that learning new things is difficult, and no amount of willpower or dedication will make it happen with the snap of a finger!

But none of this internal drama is productive. Sometimes you just don’t know what the answer should be. It’s like playing catch in the dark, feeling uncertain and eclipsed with anxiety, but fear should not overshadow it.

So, whenever I find myself playing the devil’s advocate, I’m going to remind myself that I’m doing better than I think. We all are. We deserve praise for facing our demons and showing up every day when it would be easier to hide.

We deserve to be recognized for taking even one step forward, even if it means taking three steps backward.

And we deserve to be at peace knowing we are self-sufficient. And it’s okay not to be okay.

It’s perfectly fine to be a hot mess, unsure, lost, confused, and scared. It’s fine to make a lot of progress one day and then just lay in bed the next.

I’m not sure about you, but for me, living my best life means appreciating what I have right now. It took me three years to figure this out. Life is unpredictable, and our plans are ever-changing. And I speak from personal experience when I say this. “Stop settling for something that is half-hearted, lukewarm, and hesitant to you. You’ve got to do what sets your heart on fire!”

The only time that I can be completely sure exists is now. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to lie on my deathbed with a wishing wand. I don’t want to be that old lady!

So, I’ve made an intransigent decision to be proud today. Proud of my strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures and the fact that I will try again another day. Even when I’m unsure, a nervous wreck, alone, and hurt, I’ll keep coming back to it. I am still progressing in ways I don’t know yet. I’m far from being a stagnant human being. So are you. And that in-itself is something to be legitimately  proud of.

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