Before I share mine, pause for a moment and answer for yourself this question: What are you afraid of? Maybe it’s a reasoned fear, maybe it’s an irrational fear. Maybe it’s something you struggle with, maybe it’s something that just is part of who you are and your fine with that. But, what are you afraid of?
My biggest irrational fear is spiders. I can’t stand spiders. And this is at a deep, dark and subconscious level which does not respond well to any kind of rational discussion, so don’t even try.
In fact, my rational brain can discuss quite well all the reasons why spiders are great for humans, eating bad insects, cleaning up as predators of the insect kingdom. I have friends who will carefully take a spider, brush it on to a piece of paper and escort it outdoors. I have even taken, on very rare occasions, a spider at the end of a piece of silk outside rather than kill it. So, if there is sufficient warning and opportunity to think, be rational, be evolved, I may well behave in a way that seems reasonable, even caring towards our eight-legged friends.
However. Should one of those eight-legged monsters have the misfortune to surprise me, or put a web up where my tall head will catch in it while all the shorter folks walk below, well, that bug is going to die. And it’s not the rational, more recently evolved part of my brain that will be put on trial. It’s that deep, dark lizard brain that reacts quickly, from fear, without thought, that will kill that sucker dead.
I can tolerate small spiders, again, if they don’t surprise me. Or Daddy Longlegs, because I think I believe they don’t bite. But, should any of those horrible predator looking critters that appear to be designed for speed and pure killing abilities cross my path or take a run at me or simply surprise me – well, they will die. Assuming they’re not so ridiculously fast that they manage to get away, which may happen. In which case I may have to burn down the building or just move.
I recall a time back in High School biology and some kid had a pet tarantula and we had the opportunity to hold it. Or, rather, he would put it on our hand and let it climb on us a bit. I wanted to do it at least in part to try and deal with my fear. I recall when the big, hairy body was placed on my palm. It was heavy and the ends of the legs were sharp. We’d been told to not move and certainly to not move quickly so as to not risk hurting the spider.
Clearly the beast sensed in me the potential for prey because it decided to screw with me. It started on my palm and promptly decided to start walking up my forearm towards my elbow. As this started to happen I told the kid who owned this satanic beast to get it off me. Now. He just laughed and said it’d be fine. But as it approached my elbow more closely – because clearly it could smell blood close to the surface of my pale, thin skin – I told him it again “Get. It. Off. Me”. And, as soon as that thing was removed, laughing I’m sure, in it’s spidery way, I got a giant case of the heebie jeebies, whipping my arm around and wiping off all the spider cooties.
Other than that, I’m fine with most insects like bees or wasps. I have a healthy respect for them but I’m not afraid of swiping them away, knocking them off or getting stung. I’ve been stung a few times and while it’s not fun, it doesn’t seem to engender the same kind of reaction.
Ditto snakes. No real fear there, though I suspect if it was me face-to-face with something I thought was poisonous like a rattlesnake, I suspect I’d be retreating at a healthy clip. But that just strikes me as good, common sense.
When I was younger and I first got glasses, I was terrified of heights. Not for the heights, per se, but because I was worried about my glasses falling off and losing them. In fact, I did lose them once not long after getting them when I jumped off the end of a dock at a lake and forgot I still had them on. There was much snorkeling and looking for them – ultimately successful – but making me feel pretty badly about putting everyone out.
I used to be both fearful and fascinated at skydiving. The notion of the chute not opening and me plummeting to my death was pretty vivid. So, I went skydiving on my 30th birthday to deal with that fear. And promptly put that in the “don’t need to do that again” bucket, but I’m glad I did it.
Public speaking or speaking in front of strangers is a fear I struggle with, but it’s one I feel I at least have a handle on. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it and it probably never be easy, but it definitely fits in the category of “Things that we get better at as we practice”.
For me, it was always about being embarrassed or seen doing something poorly in front of people. That fear of looking stupid kept me from asking girls out or getting up in front of groups when I was in middle and high school. Only after taking some speech classes, taking debate and getting experience under my belt did I really realize that it probably wouldn’t kill me. Probably.
That’s most of the fears that really affect me in any substantive ways.
I have all the navel-gazing fears that most people struggle with. I fear that I’m not a good parent or a good husband and partner. I fear dying horribly or dying alone. I fear being forgotten. I fear not leaving any kind of substantive mark on the world. Those are the kinds of things that will echo through my mind if I’m left listening to my own thoughts for too long. But, the good news for me, at least, is that these kinds of things come and go pretty quickly and I don’t typically get stuck on them for too long. I’m thankful for that.
Fear obviously has an important role in survival, especially to our ancestors. They had rational reasons to fear most of what was out there in the dark because most of it would as happily eat my ancestors as anything else. But most of those fears really don’t serve any kind of purpose any more. There’s no good reason for me to fear spiders, but it’s also not something that substantively affects my life in a negative way. I mean, sure, I look stupid if I stumble in to an armed web and flail about, convinced that I’m about to be taken down by a host of eight-legged assassins, but that’s the worst of it. I guess the measure of whether a fear is something that needs to be dealt with is whether it’s impacting your quality of life. I learned to become more comfortable talking to girls. I learned to be more comfortable speaking in groups. I learned to be able to walk in to a room full of strangers and at least survive the experience. The spider thing may be with me for my entire life, but I can live with that, I suppose.