It’s that time of year again! That time of year when I lose my mind over how to roll the perfect swiss, which baker made the best ciabatta, and why oh why, lord in heaven, why isn’t my own genoise sponge rising?!? Yes, it’s bake off time. But don’t worry, this isn’t another blog post about Candice’s glorious lipstick or Selasi’s amazing composure. This is a post about fear.
As the blossoming contestant, Tom helpfully put it this week: “Fear is the mind killer,” showing us that he is not only capable of conveying a rock-climbing disaster in gingerbread, but he is also one of the geek collective (“One of us! One of us!”) by quoting the Litany against Fear from Dune:
Now, I’m not a Dune expert at all, so I didn’t even notice Tom’s geek prowess until I googled the quote for this blog. (Sorry, Dune fans, will do better next time). But when I watched the episode on Wednesday night the quote jumped out to me. “Fear is the mind killer.” I had spent most of the day in a state of fear. I was watching the episode with my adorable sister snuggled on the lounge bed, whilst my husband slept in a hospital bed down the road, recovering from an operation. It was a routine surgery for a chronic condition; we have done this many times before and will probably have to do it again in the future, but it still gives me fear. Partly because fear is a big part of my everyday life.
As you know I have anxiety, but I also have struggled with a phobia for years that has left a clear impression on my mental health. Fear has been something I have had to mould my life around, something that had affected the way I have grown as a person. Consequently, I have often found something compelling about platitudes concerning fear, I have been drawn to quotes, books, blogs, you name it. I’m not belittling this, I know this is a helpful practice for some people, but I actually have found it to be a bit conflicting over the years. Rather than build me up, sometimes these platitudes have actually made me feel worse. For instance, when I was a teenager, the movie Princess Diaries came out. The lead character was Mia, a sixteen-year-old heiress to the rule of an imagined European country, with a fear of public speaking and a mountain of anxiety to overcome. As you can imagine, I identified with her. We also had similar eyebrows. However, my identification was over by the end of the film – as was Mia’s anxiety. Following a letter from her Father, she was able to overcome this anxiety and claim her crown. My anxieties had never been put to bed so quickly or so quietly. My teenage mind clamped onto the contents of the letter, wondering if it could do the same wonders for me. It couldn’t.
I don’t have any problems with what Mia’s father wrote her in his letter; it is my experience that courage and fear come hand in hand a lot. One can be brave and afraid. But one can be afraid, and know that something is more important, can desperately try to move towards that thing, and still be immobilised by fear. I guess what I found so troubling as a teenager was the idea that fear could be “thought” away. Had I not been thinking correctly? If I just told myself not to be afraid, would I stop?
When your fear takes control of your body, your sleeping, your eating, it’s hard to believe that it can be thought away. How can I think away sickness? How can I think away insomnia and night terrors? It is my experience that it cannot be done. It is my experience that it has to be lived through.
I’m a person of faith, so this is a difficult area for me.
I have heard preachers who call my mental illness a product of my lack of faith, my fear a symptom of my lack of prayer, lack of joy, lack of something. They might be right – perhaps my faith is not strong enough to outweigh my fear. Maybe. It is my belief that my faith asks me to walk through places of fear. I don’t know how you think of feel about the concept of God, but my God does not require me to be fearless, he requires me to be faithful.
So I don’t find narratives where people recover from their fears quickly helpful. Mia’s narrative ultimately does nothing for me. I find my encouragement from narratives where the characters fear dreadfully and make mistakes. When their fear sometimes ruins them, but they keep going. Because when you live in fear, the bravery does not always come from overcoming the fear, it comes from the living. Living every day. Knowing that you might be afraid every day, for the rest of your life, but continuing to live all the same. In my case, also continuing to believe.
Believing that whilst fear might be the mind killer, it will not kill me.