Feeling the Fear
I loved the approach that Jeffers took because it chimed perfectly with mine, and I quote: “Often we think ‘I’ll do it when I am not afraid’, but in reality it works the other way round. The ‘doing it’ comes before the fear goes away. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.” In the past week I have been experiencing a return of some unpleasant physical manifestations of anxiety, namely heart palpitations and a sense that I can’t fully inflate my lungs, so I keep sighing and at times I feel on the edge of panic.
These symptoms are a wakeup call for me because they tell me that for all my positivity and bravado, living in social isolation for many months, has actually affected me quite profoundly. If my anxiety is not going to get the better of me, I need to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ otherwise my world will be reduced to a tiny arena in which I avoid others and don’t go far in order to feel completely safe.
Putting the Fear of God into All of Us
At the start of the pandemic there was a prevailing sense that as a nation we may not take too kindly to the removal of all our usual freedoms. Different societies have different levels of compliance with authoritarian rules and the sense was that lockdown may be impossible to enforce in our libertarian country. In fact you may remember in the very early days, that older people were thought to be the worst culprits of not obeying the government guidelines. A kind of doughty, nostalgic ‘blitz’ spirit was invoked along the lines of ‘we kept the pubs open during the blitz when bombs were raining down on us, so we’re not going to let some stupid virus stop us now!’ The response to these kinds of (fatuous) arguments was to put the fear of God into us for our own good. We needed to become terrified of catching the virus, fearful of proximity to other people, scared of touching surfaces touched by others and ultimately extremely wary of the air that we were breathing so that we would accept face coverings as normal and necessary.
In addition to all of these fears, one group in particular had to be made to feel especially vulnerable: namely every single person over the age of 70. Initial statistics showed that the virus disproportionately affected older age groups; we were the most likely to be hospitalized; the most likely to need ventilation in ICU and the most likely to die. My attitude was that an invisible and potentially lethal virus was raging outside my door, so I was going to do all I could to avoid contamination - whatever the cost to my personal freedom. So I accepted the scientific basis for self isolation, social distancing, hand washing, surface sanitisation and wearing a mask and got on with making the best of living my highly circumscribed life. The trouble is that a year on, and despite the protection given by my double vaccination, my subconscious mind has started playing tricks on me and I realise that I’m actually suffering from a lingering sense that the world is a dangerous place.
Fear of Other People
Just think about the psychological effect on us of seeing all other human beings, even our beloved grandchildren, as dangerous. I was in a supermarket checkout queue yesterday and the teenage girl behind me stood much closer than the prescribed two metres. I was instantly wary, uncomfortable and on edge. I have also twice ventured out on public transport and been grateful that no-one has come to sit in the seat next to me, despite the underground train being busy. How long before it feels comfortable to sit next to a stranger on a crowded train and accept that they pose no threat?
And during the May Bank holiday last weekend I went to my daughter’s house for a cup of tea and realised that we adults no longer greet each other with loving gestures like hugs or kisses. The children rush up and then stop in their tracks, schooled to believe that all physical contact with Granny is taboo. My recent low grade anxiety is telling me that I need to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Somehow I need to undo all the conditioning of the past year and stop seeing other people, whether strangers or loved ones as the potential source of deadly disease. Zoom has been a boon, a true lifeline of contact and communication, but the time has come for something closer, more physical, and altogether more nourishing to the soul.
Fear of Open Spaces
Three weeks ago I decided to visit some friends in Cambridge, a journey of about two hours via the M25 and M11 which I have done very many times. It’s the sort of trip that, pre Covid, I wouldn’t have given much thought to. All was fine until I got onto the M25, when I experienced a huge sense of trepidation as other cars whizzed past me and I was partly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of open space all around me. I gave myself a good talking to, told myself that I was fine, perfectly safe and that all would be well. Then I stupidly missed the turn off for the M11 and found myself still on the M25 with no idea where I could turn round to retrace my steps and get back on track. I was very flustered and extremely cross with myself for not concentrating better. Happily my detour was only about ten miles long before I was once more heading to Cambridge via the M11, but with my confidence somewhat shaken. My unhappy experience on the M25 could be the start of a self-limiting belief that motorways are no longer for me and I am determined that won’t happen, so the sooner I can get back on a fast, multi-laned and busy highway the better. I have to feel the fear and do it anyway because I don’t want my life to be reduced to places I can only access via suburban ‘A’ roads.
I really don’t want to over-state any of this. My symptoms are sporadic and relatively mild compared to previous episodes of acute anxiety that I’ve experienced. I have a repeat prescription for low-level beta blockers which may have more of a placebo effect, but they are a godsend. I have also been doing some deep-breathing exercises and mindful meditation which definitely help. But my symptoms of anxiety are a signal that I need to acknowledge that the past year has taken a psychological toll. This horrible virus may have taken many thousands of lives, but we must not allow it to destroy our confidence, our peace of mind around others or our sense of adventure. We must feel the fear, acknowledge that it exists and then get out into the world once more and get on with the rest of our lives.
Upcoming Event Information:
Teatime with Tricia: Amanda Carr, Fragrance Editor
Day: Tuesday 11th May
Tricia will be in conversation with Amanda Carr, a perfume expert and founder of the We Are Perfume, a website and blog dedicated to demystifying the process of discovering and buying fragrance. They will be discussing how the past year has changed our attitude to smell and fragrance as well as talking about how to choose new perfume and exciting brands to look out for.
Meeting ID (if needed): 834 1888 1593
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
All About Me - Charmaine, The Joy of Reading
Day: Tuesday 18th May
Charmaine is a teacher in an international school in Milan. She is known simply as 'Miss Fursman the literature teacher' (as the school has a separate teacher for grammar) and she will be discussing all the joys of reading, living and teaching in Italy.
Meeting ID: 821 3170 1134
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
Film Club: The Artist's Wife
available on Curzon Home Cinema and Amazon Prime
Day: Friday 21st May
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB