Accepting we're afraid

As I'm sure you know, Nelson Mandela passed away this week. Some of the weird ways in which we use social media always come to light when anyone well-known passes away, and this was no exception.

With the passing of Margaret Thatcher, a whole lot of ugly surfaced across the web. Some of the things I read on social media traumatised me far more than the news itself. Similarly, along with the recent news of Ian Watkins, some people felt impelled to let their followers know they were disgusted, it made them feel sick, and they just couldn't understand.

When the news spread of Mandela's death, another curious trend emerged:  the posting of his most famous quotes. But something possessed me to click on an article that had kindly collated them for me, and so far I’ve only made it to the end of first one, which was:

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I’ve heard the quote constructed in similar ways before, but this time it resounded with me. Every morning when I wake up, my mind does a quick scan of the day ahead and flashes red, warning me of a hundred 'what if's, every worse-case scenario and reasons to keep my eyes tight shut and not stray from under the duvet.

Mandela’s quote refers to ‘the man who does not feel afraid’. Sometimes I wonder about those people that seem completely unperturbed by life, sailing through the day without ever worrying about what could go wrong. In the past I’ve been extremely ashamed of being scared, and have gone out of my way to keep my fear undetectable to others. I've pretended to be one of those calm people, but probably not very convincingly.

But with long-term fear comes perspective, gratitude and a more grounded outlook on life. It gives you resilience and resolution. One person might be able to jump out of a plane purely for fun, but if you’re scared of getting out of bed in the morning then you’ve achieved far more when you do.

Being scared of something and facing it is far more difficult than living life without fear. Being scared isn’t something we choose, and battling it is never the easy option. Taking a deep breath, bracing yourself and diving into something when you truly feel in danger is admirable. Fear may be an illusion, but it's a rather convincing one. 

A few years ago I went to Paris with my mother. We rode on a boat that took us to the Eiffel Tower and as soon as she saw it she couldn't contain her excitement. She ran right up to the highest point she was allowed to go.

Looking up at the tower made the world beneath me spin, and my feet feel like gravity had failed them. For over an hour I sat on a concrete step, facing the opposite direction, staring at the same bit of water and pretending that there wasn’t a looming building right behind me. Even knowing it was behind me made me feel I was drowning.

I felt irrational annoyance as I watched tourists point up towards the sky with one hand and hold onto souvenirs with the other. I remember feeling very self-conscious about looking visibly anxious and being the only person in sight who was facing away from Paris' beloved landmark. I tried to channel a typical Parisian nonchalance but my camera and sunburnt nose gave me away.

Whether you're scared of rollercoasters, wasps, getting old or the colour green, fear is fear. Whether you come into contact with your fear every day or once in a blue moon, the ability to be open about it is something we should strive to do.

Far too often I've sat in the doctor's waiting room clenching my jaw, hiding my shaking hands and trying to resist from widening my eyes.. And I don't think I'm alone.

Many of us have a tendency to secretly take a deep breath, keep the smile on our face and gloss over fear when we're in the company of others. On the inside our hearts could be racing, our brains clouded with adrenaline and our legs weakening. We have a natural defence, an automatic urge to keep fear to ourselves.

Thankfully, the association between fear and weakness is slowly becoming an archaic one. When I was in primary school, I remember a playground favourite that involved running around and making chicken noises if someone admitted to being too scared to do something. (Although, if someone started doing this in the doctor's waiting room now I'd be relieved of an alternative distraction to three-year-old gardening magazines).

When you're little you're told to be proud of yourself for overcoming fear. Remember those endless trips to the doctors for jabs? You'd be praised for being so brave, even though you were terrified. In the years since I've learnt that bravery really is getting through something despite the fear. If only we still got a sticker for it.


  1. Great article! You write so eloquently on this topic! -x-

  2. A thought-provoking post, once again :) I think a lot of us are scared of showing fear and it makes us feel weak to admit it. We often see people in the media, or people we know in real life, that seem to be confident and self-assured - and while this can be inspiring it can often end up making you feel worse about your own fears and anxieties. But, like you said, surely having a fear and overcoming it is far more rewarding than not being scared of anything at all? I completely agree with what you've said in this post - that overcoming fear, however big or small it may seem, is an achievement and something to be proud of.

    1. Thank you Gemma :) it is very satisfying to overcome something you're scared of, you're right!

  3. Nail. Head. Bam.
    Happy birthday :)
    Love your posts. Want a sticker!
    I read a thing on Facebook that this reminded me of. Think it was something like 'everything you are afraid to do leads to something you want' xxx

  4. Thank you! :) Ooh I like that quote a lot! xxx

  5. A wonderful post, and I have to say, as a man I know this all too well. Men aren't supposed to have fear. We're always supposed to be strong. So admitting you're afraid of something is especially seen as weak.

    Since you mentioned it, I'll say that I'm afraid of roller coasters. One almost killed me when I was a little kid. The ride operator separated me from my dad, put me on a single seat all by myself without strapping me in, and I had to hide in the bottom compartment and held on for dear life to avoid flying out. I haven't stepped foot on one since, and refuse to in the future because of this fear and the bad memories associated with it, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

    1. Thank you! And that story actually sent a shiver down my spine, I don't blame you for never going on one since!

      And the good thing is that a man admitting they're scared is usually a turn-on for women - so you get to admit that you're scared AND get man points.

  6. This is fabulous post. There is such a stigma about being scared or asking for help, as though it makes us weak to do so.

    The worst thing about the Mandela quoe trend was that 50% of them weren't actually quotes by him - people were jumping on the bandwagon without even checking their facts x