…Says Clint Smith (find him on YouTube) on the topic of ‘the dangers of silence’. I am sure we all have had things that we have been afraid of and that we have sometimes let those fears get the better of us. I know I have but as I have got older, I have learnt to deal with it better. The way I see it: either we let fear rule us and it limits our lives or we rule our fears and find ways of neutralising them and despite them make progress in life.
I used to be scared of heights, snakes and spiders. Many children are frightened by these things too. I guess one reason is that these things are potentially dangerous so we are physiologically and psychologically programmed to have a healthy fear of them. Secondly, children listen to their parents and siblings and as these phobias are the commonest in the world, we tend to feel that if mum/dad/older sister/brother is scared of them, there must be a good reason so we copy them.
I know personally that my fear of heights came from the fact that whenever I have gone higher than 4 metres off the ground, I feel this irresistible pull to jump off the edge and that scares me. Over the years, I know that the urge to jump is weaker than my desire to live so I am not so scared anymore but honestly, there is still a seed of fear in there somewhere when I am in a glass elevator over 10 floors high.
With snakes, it is simple. My mama is scared stiff of snakes. She will not wear anything with the image of a snake on it. She doesn’t want to see snakeskin shoes or bags. She can’t stand jewellery in the form of snakes. She doesn’t even like harmless cartoon snakes like the ones in Jungle Boy and Aladdin. So I was scared of them. Despite that, I loved the 2 cartoon snakes I have mentioned and I am happy to look through a glass wall in a zoo at the prettily coloured snakes and watch a documentary on them. Plus I would not turn down a ring or earrings shaped like a snake. However, I draw a line at having to handle one (God forbid someone tries to drape it over me) and I would never buy anything made up of snakeskin.
Icky spiders – I just don’t like the rough fuzzy texture of their skinny fragile legs. And they are a little stupid aren’t they? Because when you try to lead them out or catch them gently and release them outside, they run at you, try to climb all over you or cling to you and then in your irrational fear, you squash them. Oh dear!
A fear that was harder for me to deal with was my fear of commitment. My parents were divorced before I was born and I didn’t know very much about the reasons why until more recently. What I knew back then was that he must have been bad because my mama is an angel and he hurt her. Also through my mama’s feminist work and from attending feminist conferences with my mama, I heard a lot about the bad things that men do to women. Naturally I thought it was crazy that any woman would subject herself to a committed relationship with a man.
I didn’t have a proper boyfriend until I was 18 and that didn’t last long because he, rightly, wanted a girl who would keep in touch regularly (it was a little long distance, he lived about 2 hours away from London) and I resisted his requests because it felt like too much commitment to me at that stage. My next relationship was nearly 3 years later and this time, he was keen on being more intimate and yet was happy to be non-committal. I guess at 21 years, I had matured a little bit more and wanted some commitment. My fear then became that he wanted to use me and that I would fall in love with him then I would have my heart broken. So I broke it off.
I met George, my husband, when I was nearly 25 years old and he is the first to tell anyone who would listen that he knew he wanted to marry me within 48 hours of meeting me. Well, I embroider slightly. He insists he knew in the first hour of us meeting that he wanted to marry me but I think he is being rather dramatic. He did tell me on our 2nd date, 5 days after we met, that he liked me and he thought I was potentially the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Wow! Honestly I wanted to run away as far as my little legs could carry me. Instead, I sat in the reception of our favourite Chinese restaurant and tried to shush him because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I also told him that he was lucky I was leaving for a year abroad in the next week because if I hadn’t been, the fear his words had struck in my heart would have sent me into self-destruct mode and I would have sabotaged that relationship too.
The time and distance made me realise that here was a man who made me laugh, who loved me for me and whose heart is good. Here was a guy with whom the chemistry was just right. Here was a man who I could be myself with. So I meditated about it for many months whilst I was away. I talked to my mama, my sister and my friends. I prayed for guidance and I realised that although I was scared, petrified even, of committing to George, I was more afraid that I would throw away the chance to be happy. So I took a leap of faith and 3 years later, I am married to him.
So are you fearless now? I hear you ask. No, not quite! I have many small fears. I have one big irrational fear and I have one proper grown up fear. The grown up fear is my fear of failure. I have been lucky never to have failed at anything I set out to do until I failed my specialist paediatric (the dreaded 1b) exam last year in June. That failure threw me for six. I knew I had to retake the exam because I cannot progress beyond ST2 year (level 1 of specialist paediatric training). But I hated every minute of it. The fear crippled me. I couldn’t sleep, eat or work properly for many months in the lead up to the repeat. My ability to deal with the normal stresses of my relationship and work was at its lowest level ever. I even got to the point that I was thinking of giving up on the career I love because I was so scared I would fail again.
I got over that fear by thinking up a plan B. There are so many things I could be. I might want to be a paediatrician first and foremost but actually the underlying love is of children. So what else could I be that would allow me to work with children? As soon as I gave myself the permission to imagine, the list of alternatives was extensive. Top was human rights activist, academic teaching medical students, author of children’s books and even babysitter. The last one was particularly tempting especially because I know from my doctor colleagues that a babysitter taking care of 2 young children full time can earn as much as I do without any of the stress of being a doctor. Food for thought.
The last fear I will confess to is my irrational fear of mice/rats. I love Tom & Jerry – and as a child, I would always root for Jerry the mouse over Tom the cat. However, in reality, I hate those rodents. It comes from the time we cornered a mouse in our kitchen and tried to capture it. it poked its head into the drain hole of the kitchen sink and then squeezed through that tiny aperture. That was the freakiest thing to me! How can a round mouse do that? Bleurgh!!! So now I am petrified of them. A decade ago, I was in an uncle’s house in Nigeria and went into the guest bedroom to grab something. As I turned round to leave, I spotted a tiny mouse flash past the doorway and it must have been behind the chest of drawers beside the door. I jumped onto the centre of the bed and tried to work out a route of escape. My 2 year old cousin came to find me and joined me on the bed. We tried to shout for my sister and friend to come and save us but we were too far or too quiet to be heard. My sister finally came to find us about 30 minutes after we disappeared. She still laughs about it because when she came, I could barely speak in my fear as I tried to warn her that the mouse was there. She had to coax me off the bed after proving to me that the mouse was not laying in wait. That is one I still grapple with and I am not sure I will ever outgrow my fear of mice but luckily, I rarely have the misfortune of tangling with one.