We’re all, collectively, afraid to be afraid.
I can already hear some voices, protesting, but that is a very simple thing: we are more than me and you, and you, and you, we are a culture, a society, a species and as such we are afraid to be afraid.
Ever since we are very little, we’re told tales about brave knights, in Europe, and brave… other occupations, in other places. We are indoctrinated over and over again into thinking that fear is unnatural and the most important virtue one can possess is bravery, in this case understood as lack of fear.
When we do show fear, when we do start to crumble under the pressure, we are told we are not good enough, we are being compared with people around us, smarter, better, more capable, perfect, who are nothing like the trembling shells of ourselves.
We are told not to be the afraid of people around us, circumstances, trains, mobile phones, impending death of us all, mice, plush toys, plane crashes, bombs, bad haircuts, broken hearts, broken nails, lack of love, too much love, life. We are told it is silly be to be afraid, it is stupid, it is pointless, it is weak. We are shamed for it.
And at the same time, we are being purposely manipulated to be afraid of the people around us, circumstances, trains, mobile phones, impending death of us all, mice, plush toys, plane crashes, bombs, bad haircuts, broken hearts, broken nails, lack of love, too much love, life. Stuck in the situation when we are expected to be and not be afraid at the same time, we are most vulnerable and desperate to do as we are told.
We lock our houses. Lock our planes. Put plush toys away where no one can see them. We let other people spy on us, abuse our liberties, tell us how to think and what to dream of, we give up on any agency we have in our life, just so that we do not have to be afraid anymore and we can rejoin the land of people strong enough to resist any fear.
Strong enough to let other people live their lives for them.
Strong enough to pay the price of the fear control.
I am writing all of this not out of a sudden political rage I have discovered in my heart – after all there is nothing new in my opinions on these things, they have been more steady than… pretty much anything I have ever believed in. No. I am writing all of this because I am afraid.
In a few short days, way shorter than the chicken in me would like them to be, a man in a white coat is going to point a laser into my eyeballs and, forgive my crudeness, I am no more than a cat on hot bricks right now, ready to jump out of my skin, restless, sleep-less, anxious, frustrated, felling sick 24/7, just useless in all ways, shapes or forms.
I know why I am doing this; I have wanted it for a very long time and no force on Earth can stop me now. But I’d be lying if I said it is any easier because of that. Well, maybe. Not by much though. There is nothing rational about my fear… and so much rational about it at the same time, no matter what my motivations were, I think this inability to dismis it as a simple silliness would kill me.
There are only two types of reactions I get from people when I talk about it: either I am stupid, or I am brave.
I kind of get the stupid part, and I accept it; my mother, for instance, is of that opinion and I know where it is coming from. I am stupid. Reckless. Ready to risk my health, my eyes for a reason no one who lives their life without glasses – and probably many glasses-wearing people too – cannot understand. I am not sure I can voice this reason well enough all by myself, and I am the one taking the risk. There is something just so… I just need it more than anything else. I really do.
But it’s the brave part that I often dismiss, because, deep inside, no matter how stupid I know this attitude is, I cannot consider myself brave in this situation. Sure, it does take some guts to go through with surgery, and I am incredibly impressed with everyone who found it in themselves to go on and change their life in such a drastic manner. I mean it. At this point in time, they are all my heroes in a way no one else can be.
Yet I am afraid, so afraid, and I cannot not be afraid. I want it but I am scared. I need this but the mere thought of going through this process, of the pain and the possible consequences, of losing my eyes through some impossible yet cruel twist of faith is terrifying me.
And at times like this, there is one thing I must remind myself over and over again, and one thing I want you to repeat after me:
Courage is not a lack of fear. Courage comes from acting in spite of it.
I would never call myself courageous or brave; these are some Very Big Words and one of the things I am afraid of is the usage of Very Big Words. But there is truth in that little statement that I cannot ignore, and the one that keeps me going in this very difficult time: It is ok to be afraid.
We all are.
There are a great many things that scare us and a great many things that should scare us. It is the very basis of our survival mechanism; and although it is often misplaced, the fact we cannot recognize the danger 100% in any given situation does not make fear any less useful. It works as a warning. Figuring out whether the warning makes sense… well, that’s on us.
There are just so many things I am afraid of. I am afraid of heights. I am afraid of the dark, enclosed spaces. I am afraid of accepting strangers’ help. I am afraid that I am wasting my life on being bored. I am afraid that I will always remain bored. I am afraid I’ll never be who I want to be. I am afraid I’ll never know who I want to be. And then I am afraid of wearing clothes that belonged to a person now dead, and that one is just ridiculous.
But it is not my fears that define who I am, not the fears themselves anyway, it is how I approach them and how I push through them. Sometimes I try to rationalize them, sometimes I try to ignore them, but 99% of time I just go for it with a crazy amount of stubbornness. Nothing defines me as well as stubbornness. If someone made me a leading YA novel character in one of these books where everyone gets sorted into a house or faction or whatever based on their leading quality, my faction would be Stubbornness. Sucks to be everyone else around me there, I suppose.
And it is ok.
Overcoming scary obstacles is not about not being scared of them, it is not about winning or losing, or how we decide to approach them. It is about trying or at least trying to try, about not giving up before we even have a chance to assess the situation, about getting rid of harmful prejudices and nurturing the assumptions that can actually help us.
And if we fail? Then we fail. There is nothing inheritably bad about failing, about giving in to our fear, if we are trying to do… the right thing, I suppose. We learn as much, if not more, from our losses than from our victories and they are what makes us – us in the same proportion.
Be afraid, if you have to. We all are.