I freaked out a little last night. When I say ‘freaked out,' I mean I laid on my bed and stared at the ceiling for a good 20 minutes. The only freaky thing was I spotted a cobweb - note to self, do some cleaning.
I often find that half the battle is realizing when you’re afraid. If I've got something on my mind, I get agitated and snappy - my housemate can attest to this. I am at least aware when I’m behaving like a less than ideal human being, so when I catch myself, I stop - and question why I’m acting up. Quite often it stems from anxiety or frustration. Last night, it stemmed from fear. So I went up to my room for a little one-on-one time with the ceiling. We've got history, after all.
The Fear Gang
Ever since I settled on this trip there have been a little gang of fears, hanging out in my 'adventure playground'. Some of them get bored and go home. Others decide to take up residence. Here are a few familiar faces in the fear gang:
The Snowball: This guy’s out of control. Turn your back for a second and he’ll snatch the tiny idea that you once owned and only whispered about - and tell the world. Now everyone else is freewheeling along with it at 100+ miles per hour, and you're clinging on for dear life.
Lonesome George – Ah lonesome George. Like that big ole Galapagos turtle, bumbling around the playground, unnoticed and almost invisible. No one’s particularly interested in what he’s up to, and on top of that, his family are thousands of miles away.
The Doubtress – Urgh. I really do hate The Doubtress. Getting all up in your business, telling you that you can’t do things, without even letting you try. Sometimes she shape-shifts into the form of others, who decide that they’d like to throw a doubt or two in your path too.
The Rash – The irrational fear, aka ‘The Rash’, is a hotch-potch of everything else fright-like, ready to manifest should you give your imagination even a sniff of freedom. Being eaten by a bear, attacked in your tent, hit by a truck, anything and everything that could happen if all the bad luck stars aligned.
It pays to remember that all these playground villains have a weakness - you just need to find it. Take The Snowball for instance – he reacts really badly to a little positive spin. Isn't it marvelous that others are excited by your idea, and wasn't that the point of the idea in the first place?! Scorecard update: You – 1, The Snowball – Zero.
And so this is how I've managed fear for the past 5 months. A fear crops up, I write it down, and in a column next to it, the reason why I needn't be afraid. It might sound a tad mental, but it works – try it. It can take a while to convince myself on some of them, and for others there are still empty spaces in the ‘resolution’ column, but I’ll not forget any of them. And more importantly, I’ll never try to pretend they don’t exist. That’s a sure fire way to make them double in size.
A friend of mine recently reminded me of a concept I once learned at University; Cognitive shifting. It "refers to the conscious choice to take charge of one's mental habits—and redirect one's focus of attention in helpful, more successful directions.” Really it’s the way your mind marries the scale of a task with your perceived ability to achieve it – and how this perception can change. Like that time you thought you’d never run 2 miles, and here you are doing an 8 mile race. In my mind, the same applies to fear. What scares me and seems like an enemy today, will be either be extinct or a companion tomorrow. Surely we have no choice to believe that this is true, and to keep pushing forward.
So, what caused the fear gang to rear their ugly heads last night then? Well, visa restrictions mean I now only have 6 months to cycle the 50 states, and having compromised as much as I’m willing to on the route, I’m left with a daily average of 75 miles. Yikes, that’s punchy! BUT - it’s all good. I’m going to crack open a can of man-up, park myself in the middle of the playground and get comfy with the Fear Gang. Let them all rumble on like thunder in my belly, making me even more proud that I defeated them when I reach the end.
Until next time…. good luck with your fear gang, whoever they may be.
Your fellow fear-fighter,