It's okay to be afraid

Little you at the doctor's office, ready to have your injection, or medicine or to be prodded, and you're told to be brave - always brave - or told after that you were very brave. It sticks eventually and you try to be brave when things scare you.

My little student said to me the other day that she was so afraid, she had to go into hospital and she was just too scared to have the injection. Her chest heaved as she tried to hold it all in. So I told her how the injection would feel, that it might hurt a little but was really, really quick and how it had to be done. I said, 'Don't I always tell you the truth?' (We've had conversations about fear before) and she agreed I did. I told her it was normal to be afraid but it had to be done and then it would be all finished. I realise now that I didn't tell her to be brave.

It doesn't have to be needles, or the dentist, or going past the dog down the road or into your friend's house for tea, or school, or any of the simple, everyday events which make you anxious. Very big events, tiny events, even tinier worries which prove groundless - many have fear running ahead of them.

Getting so many things wrong, you either learn to manage the fear or carry on as if it doesn't exist. It does, of course, just whispering in the background until, suddenly, you hear it clear and close and fear gets the better of you.

Still, though, be brave, aren't you brave? Haven't you been brave today? You were a brave scared person today, doing what worried you so much, you should be proud of yourself!

You can be proud of yourself and still afraid at the same time, which really isn't fair.

I've been trying to be a big brave girl lately. Unfortunately, real life is knocking and I have to answer, so I need to be strong and brave and go forward with a sturdy heart, etc etc etc.

Every day I put one foot in front of the other and build on my plan to make everything okay, and I do it over and over because it should be all right, I can make it happen.

And every day I wonder if I can, if today I'll waver and the load will be too heavy. I know this is stress, anxiety, pressure, a real grown up life that so many people face.

Then, yesterday I realised that looking at it like this is another voice telling me to be a big brave girl. My own voice, which makes it worse.

I was driving home in the dark, feeling tired and so past the stress level that I'd come out the other side and thought the street lights were blinking at me.

I made my way along the dark road and looked fearfully at the next junction, in case a car might come out. And the thought popped into my head, 'I'm afraid.'

Momentarily I thought I was afraid of a car coming out of the dark junction, but then I realised I had admitted an important truth to myself: the stress I was feeling was a symptom, not the root cause of how I felt. Fear was the beginning of it and the truth of it too.

I was afraid, I am afraid, I'm facing trials in my life which are real and need my full attention. And you know what? It's right to be afraid. Why wouldn't I be? Why shouldn't I?

Why should I have to be a big brave girl and feel like this is the truth, when the reason any of us needs to be brave is because there is something to fear?

Admitting I felt afraid lifted a weight from me, it gave me permission to be honest with myself and understand that, for all I might want to be brave, there are times when I am also going to be scared.

Denying fear is counter-productive because it tends to let other feelings and behaviours come through instead. Stress reactions are always going to run higher if you haven't admitted to your conscious self that you are afraid - you feel the fear running underneath as a background emotion, making your mind and body think it is in imminent danger from an unknown threat. Far better to admit the fear, see it there, staring at you, lurking in the room, waiting as you leave, watching as you step and know it for what it is.

I am afraid: and now I can go on and do what I have to do with complete honesty.

Last night I slept well for the first time in weeks; today I went through the day without the weight of anxiety and stress.

I am afraid, and also looking to the future. I am afraid because I'm allowed to be, and can be unafraid too.

There is really no need to be a big brave girl after all.


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