Recently, I visited one of my dearest friends in Boston for the weekend. A couple nights before I was slated to take the bus into the city, I found myself wracked with “worst-case scenario” nightmares. I spent the day after in a tizzy. Should I take the bus? What if it crashed? Maybe my body was telling me something?
I took the bus. And I was fine.
You know that saying, “if you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras”? I always think zebras. I bonk my head on a door and panic. I worry about weird health problems and freak storms. I repress these fears, choosing to share only with friends because I know, on a deeper level, that I am acting absurd.
Every one of us has a fear (likely several)! Transportation anxiety. The dark. Spiders. Some fears are unfounded. Others, like fear about climate change, are very much grounded in reality. We are trained to fear, mostly by the media. We live in a culture of paranoia and it can be difficult to disentangle fact from fiction.
We are also trained to fear, to some extent, by our bodies. There are good reasons why we exercise caution when high up! Our beautiful and complex and constantly changing bodies are wired to protect.
For a long time, I was ashamed to have fears because my monkey mind made it hard to listen in on my body’s innate truth. My mom would almost always chastise me for expressing my fears; she felt (not wrongly) that I was reactive, that I was worrying without reason.
As I sat on the bus to Boston however, watching the bare trees blur into one another, I recalled an e-mail my mother had sent me several weeks earlier. She’d confided in a friend that she felt worried about how much she thought that I worried. “But does it hold her back?” her friend asked. “No,” my mom said. “She does it anyway.”
When my Mom shared this epiphany with me, it changed how I too saw fear.
Because having fears and being fearless are not incompatible. We can’t always change our immediate reaction, But we can change how we respond. We can walk off the worry. We can get on the plane. We can give our full love to those we want to love.
Fear isn’t the same as truth. Fear doesn’t need to govern our lives. I am working on speaking back to my fears, on digging deep into my truths. And it’s this decision to embrace fear that has empowered me far more than shame ever did. I am not fear. I am not the thoughts in my head.
I am what I do, what I try, what I risk, even when I’m afraid. Especially when I’m afraid.
Kate Weiner is the Creative Director of Loam, an environmental arts magazine, and the co-creator of feminist blog The Shapes We Make. A recipient of the 2015 Brower Youth Award for environmental activism, Kate travels the country to talk about joy-driven activism as well as teach workshops on ecological sustainability.