Recently someone challenged me about my motivation for fear facing. She (a well meaning stranger) informed me that I didn’t need to prove anything to myself by doing these things. That I didn’t have to make a point. Her stance was that it’s fine not to like rollercoasters for example and therefore never go on them. Why put myself through something I find unpleasant? A good point perhaps. I knew instinctively that she was wrong, but at the time I struggled to articulate why exactly. Over the last few weeks, as I’ve neared the end of my little quest I’ve been thinking more about my reasons for beginning it, why I’ve stuck at it, and the things I’ve gained as a result. Turns out I’ve got quite a lot to say on the matter (no surprises there) so I thought I wrap up my year of fear with a bit of reflection. No bungee jumping or skydiving, just a bit of real life.
There’s no doubt that losing my older brother when I was 19 has had a big impact on me. Obviously there was, and still is, grief and the complicated cocktail of emotions that encompasses. But beyond that, I felt changed by the experience. Losing a sibling as a young adult is unusual and horrific beyond words. It left me anxious and afraid. Afraid of big things, like another of my siblings dying. For a long time I used to creep into their bedrooms and listen to them breathing in the middle of the night (I don’t thing they know this – sorry guys). Afraid of little things, like making the wrong choice about which loaf of bread to buy. I actually broke down in tears about this decision in Tesco once. Over time, roughly six – seven years, my grief progressed through the stages with which everyone is familiar. But the anxiety lingered and at some point it wasn’t a thing anymore, it was just part of my personality.
I lived cautiously. I stayed in my comfort zone. My deepest inner longing was for protection and to be around loved ones. I didn’t want to be far from home. I never wanted to be in danger. I cocooned myself as best I could. I got married. I thought I was safe. But things changed and I was slapped in the face with a cold hard dose of rejection. Old feelings of loss resurfaced and I felt like I was falling apart. Then something amazing happened; I didn’t fall apart. Slowly but surely, I actually grew stronger than before. Amazing people around me enabled this to happen and as the months passed I started to feel like a completely different person.
I knew that through this difficult time I had been brave and I wanted to keep it up. Every challenge I set myself and achieved left me feeling empowered and more alive than I had felt for a very long time. I was becoming a version of myself that I was actually starting to like. Not surprisingly perhaps, my newfound pluck was not restricted to the list and began to spill out into other areas of my life. In January I took the plunge and got a housemate. This might not sound like a big deal, but after months of living alone, sharing my space with someone else was scary and daunting. But it was such a great decision and I have loved living with Gemma. At work, I’ve just begun my second year in a management position. I’ve had to go to scary grown up meetings but it’s all going well. In February I gave up eating meat (which I used to love by the way) and I feel amazing. Despite the fact that the thought of them made me want to curl up in a ball under a desk, I’ve been on a few dates. One of them was even a terrifying Internet date. I never thought I’d be able to do that. But I did. And one of the dates led to a second date. And a third. And come December we’ll be decorating a Christmas tree together in our home.
I used to think that people who were brave were the ones who jumped out of planes, performed to huge crowds or tightrope walked between skyscrapers. I’m not saying these people aren’t brave, I’m saying that they’re only brave if they are scared in the first place. Being fearless is definitely not the same as being brave. The more I look the more I see examples of bravery around me every day. My family and the way they constantly stop to help each other over life’s many hurdles. The way they face problems head on, no matter how painful this might be. My friends, taking steps, big or small in to the unknown: buying houses, having children, retraining, and starting businesses. Children I teach, trying something new and difficult for the first time and being prepared for the possibility of failure. Then coming back to try again when they do fail. Those things take courage; these people are brave.
People have told me that I’m brave. It’s a pretty flattering thing to be told. Far better than being told you’re beautiful or clever. It’s a compliment that I can actually accept though because I know it’s true. The things I have done have scared me. Some of them scare me now when I think about them and I laugh to think that I actually did them, that it was really me. For such a long time I would say casually ‘oh I could never do that’ in conversation. But then I went and I did do that! And a whole load more. Over 30 things in fact. Is it over? I hope not. My Year of Fear has left me stronger and more courageous than I have ever felt before but I know that there’s still more I want to achieve. When I think about these things and about the future I do still feel scared. I worry that life could change at any moment and my world could be shaken. But I want to continue challenging myself, living bravely, because I know that fear is worth facing.
Finally, I want to dedicate this whole endeavour to my brother, George. His bravery was beyond words. One of my aims this year was to make sure that I live my life in a way that would make him proud and honour his memory. I hope I’m doing an ok job.
If you’d like to sponsor me for my Year of Fear, please click this link.