The truly scary bit in all of it is that, even though the course is for three years, after only one I’m let loose on real people. As my sister rather succinctly pointed out – “how does that work, when you are probably more mental than the clients?” She has a point and so I thought I’d better do a bit of research. It turns out we are mostly ruled by our fears and it’s these pesky little blighters, real or imagined, that are preventing us from getting on with our lives. I found the top ten fears that caused people to seek psychological help in 2012 and thought it might be nice to have a little practise. So come on my dear reader, hop onto my couch.
10. Putting on weight – I don’t know why I’m shocked to see this one featuring so strongly in our collective fears. I mean, I can’t say I relish the idea of getting fatter but I don’t think it would send me scuttling towards the nearest therapist’s couch. Having recently gained weight, I am now a fully fledged member of my local slimming group and the whole industry, it seems to me, is one big con. Hardly anybody who goes to my group loses any weight even though lots of the members have been going for years. The weight is clearly a symptom of something else as these women’s lives revolve around being on a diet that, for whatever reason, isn’t working. They all talk and plan for a future in which they are slim, paying no heed to the fact that it’s robbing them of the here and now. In my own case, I’ve lost most of the weight I gained but it’s suddenly not enough. I find myself disappointed that I don’t feel thinner. It’s a slippery slope and I suspect our fear about gaining weight has nothing to do with how much we weigh but is more about not feeling good enough or a fear of not being able to control a situation that is unquestionably beyond our power. After all, I would guess that the biggest cause of weight gain is age.
9. Being Alone - This is a strange one for me because I have no fear of being alone. In fact, I like being alone. My fear, I suppose, is just the opposite. I have a fear of being dependent and needy. However, I know that a lot of people are driven to make all sorts of bad choices out of a fear of loneliness. The problem, as I see it, is that if you have a fear of doing things by yourself then you are always going to be at the whims of others. If this is a problem for you, maybe the answer is to start off small by doing little things on your own, going to a gallery, the cinema or theatre and then build up to taking a trip by yourself. I think you’ll be surprised how much you enjoy it and surely then it will increase your confidence in being by yourself in day to day life. I don’t know if I’m just a freak of nature in that, even as a small child I enjoyed going off and doing my own thing. Or maybe it was the result of being surrounded by a large chaotic extended family that made me crave time alone.
8. Getting caught out – Apparently we all fear getting caught out either in our jobs or day to day life. It seems we create identities that are so far beyond our real capabilities, the fear of being exposed in our true incompetent glory, dogs us. I can’t really identify with this one at all, as everybody I know is already fully aware that I’m a blundering idiot so it wouldn’t come as any great shock. Not only am I not haunted by the fear of any deep dark secrets, I can’t think of anyone else who is either. I mean, we all start off trying to impress people with a better version of ourselves but, realistically, it only lasts until you have one too many with that person and then the truth comes tumbling out. Is it even possible to create and maintain an idealised self? I suspect that people who fear getting caught out are deluding themselves. I’m willing to bet their friends and colleagues already know their flaws.
7. The environment – It seems we are all consumed by the fear of a blighted environment be that through our own doing or natural disasters. There’s no denying it is a worry. Pollution has caused environmental illnesses such as asthma and allergies to be more prevalent, not to mention environmental links to cancer. I’m convinced my dad’s cancer was caused by environmental factors but ultimately there’s not a lot we can do. We live in a world that has been poisoned and polluted beyond repair. I try and do my bit with recycling but, it’s just a drop in the ocean, and I don’t feel optimistic that we can save the world from some sort of environmental disaster. There’s not much point in worrying about something over which we have so little control, however, so I would probably recommend that you bury your head in the sand and try not to think about it – it always works for me.
6. Speaking to the opposite sex - I take this to mean looking for love and trying to connect with someone of the opposite sex or indeed the same sex. Again, I’m not much help here because I’m useless at romance. I have never been the type of person to whom the opposite sex is drawn. I believe that some people naturally give off a vibe and it has nothing to do with appearance. It’s a primeval thing that maybe you can learn but I’m not sure. In fact, this is not my area of expertise at all. All I do know is that my own vibes are the equivalent of a romance repellent.
5. Rejection – Fear of rejection or failure is something that we all struggle with. I have never felt it so keenly as when I started writing. In terms of career, I couldn’t care less what other people think and to a large extent the same is true socially. Obviously, nobody wants to be universally hated but being popular has never been my driving force. However, since putting my writing into the public arena, I find myself crippled by fear. As soon as I learn that someone is reading anything that I’ve written, I’m consumed by the dread that they will hate it. Despite reviews being an integral part of selling books, I’m secretly relieved that I don’t have many because it means that there are no really terrible ones. In my real life, not that many people know about my writing but, even amongst close friends, I find it excruciating to talk about. In fact, I’m mortified by the very mention of it. I don’t know if it’s normal to be so hypersensitive but thank God it’s only in one small area of my life or I would surely be in counselling for the next twenty years.
4. Creatures – This can be anything from bees to zebras, it seems we all have a fear of something living. I suppose the really common ones are spiders and mice, we’ve all seen the images depicted in cartoons and comedies with people balancing on chairs whilst screaming their heads off. These are mainly irrational fears as, small household spiders and mice can’t really hurt us, and who knows where they originate from? I have a fear of birds and I know exactly where it comes from. When I was about ten, my mum got a part time job with another woman who had a daughter the same age as me. This girl had no friends and, had anybody bothered to consult me about the issue, I could have told them why – the girl was a psychopath. Typically there was no consultation and my mother decided that I should spend a day at this girl’s house and befriend her. The dad bred budgies which he kept in a shed and psycho girl took me outside to see them. Opening the door to the shed, she pushed me inside and held the door shut from the outside. It was pitch black and all I could hear were the budgies flapping around my face and head. It felt as if there were thousands of them and I was completely traumatised. When she finally let me out, I staggered back to the house where the entire family thought it was all a great a hoot. Even my mum didn’t express much sympathy although she didn’t make me go back again. So you see I can understand irrational fears. I know rationally that birds aren’t going to hurt me but I’m still scared of them.
3. Speaking in public – I think the key to this one, much like the being alone one, is practise. I suspect my fear would be greater had I not been in a job where it was a prerequisite. I’m not a natural speaker and frankly, most of the time, I’m an inarticulate, bumbling fool but the secret is not to worry. If you actually listen to what most people are saying, even the most confident, it rarely makes much sense. The only way to speak effectively in public is if you have a pre-planned speech, the truth is very few of us are spontaneously articulate.
2. Death – I suppose death is one of the few unknowns in life and that’s where the fear comes in. My own attitude to death changed after my dad died. Before that it would have featured pretty high on my list of fears but now I don’t fear it so much. I don’t believe that death is the end; I think there is something beyond the here and now although I’m not sure what it is. Far more terrifying for me and possibly my number one fear is illness. I dread being ill and suffering the way that I witnessed my dad suffering in the last two years of his life.
1. Getting old – The number one fear is getting old and this is probably a damning reflection of the society in which we live. I’m not sure whether we fear age because of vanity or the limitations that it brings. Vanity is probably a large factor if we take into account the burgeoning cosmetic surgery industry. We live in a society where beauty and worth is defined by youth and so it’s understandable that people’s self esteem might take a battering as age takes its toll. It’s inevitable that, as age overtakes us, we become physically more limited and ultimately might not be able to care for ourselves. People are living longer and longer but the quality of life might not correspond with the number of years that we live. A youth obsessed society can see age as a weakness and even an inconvenience and nobody wants that future for themselves. Maybe all we can do is try and keep ourselves as fit and healthy as we can in the hope that our bodies might last that little bit longer but ultimately I think what will be will be. Maybe it’s some comfort to think of the alternative, my dad only lived to be 63 and lots of people don’t even get that. Instead of fearing age, perhaps we should be grateful for whatever time we have.
Right then that’s your lot, you’ve had your hour so get off my couch. Before you go though, what do you think – am I a natural?