No matter how strong, feisty or fierce we are, we all have our fears and weaknesses. These may range from creepy crawlers that make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up as we screech like a cat being chased by dogs, to perhaps the fear of rejection and humiliation (boys not asking a girl out on a date out of fear of rejection, etc).
Now, fear in itself, whatever it may be that makes us tremble or our stomachs churn, holds us back from a lot of opportunities and the ability to progress in whatever we do in life. These fears may have resulted from past experiences that traumatised us, or lack of exposure to particular things which result in people treating them like dangerous aliens. I’m going to publicly admit that I’m scared of a lot of things and I’m still dealing with a lot of these fears. Last year, i don’t know if I was having a pre-adulthood crisis or something, but I made a decision to start changing my life, one thing at a time. To say I was scared of heights is an understatement. I felt a little bit dizzy each time I went any height higher than my own (5’3″), and that limited the amount of fun I could have as I didn’t like trying new things. But you see, I decided on a whim to climb Mt Kilimanjaro to begin with, which is still the biggest challenged I’ve ever set myself in my entire life! Standing tall and glorious at 5,895m, Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. I remember vividly clinging on to rocks for dear life as I tried to conquer Baranco Wall, a very steep part of Mt Kilimanjaro where I’m pretty sure somebody has once fallen to their death. It was very scary and it took a lot of my energy. At that moment I wanted to punch myself for attempting this feat, as I was convinced I was walking through the valleys of the shadows of death, dangerously treading on the edges of the cliff to the afterlife! Oh the inexplicable joy of conquering your fears! I may not have reached the summit Uhuru (which means FREEDOM in Swahili), but I was close and during that journey I learnt to not allow fear to interfere with my plans by holding me back. I learnt that conquering my fears is LIBERATING!
Amongst my fears and quirks, I had a thing against animals where I loved them from afar but wasn’t too keen on holding them in my arms let alone hug and cuddle them! On my journey towards conquering fears, I held a kid in my arms (baby goat) when I was in Tanzania visiting a Maasai village with our students in Simanjiro, and on that same day, I held a chameleon and let it walk for a while in my hand! It was an exhilarating experience and as I tried doing it, I kept gasping and freaking out as it was all overwhelming! I was quite proud of myself and would like to thank those who pushed and encouraged me to do it (Harveen and Hilary), you’re the real MVPs lol.
Soon after returning from Tanzania, I met up for dinner with my friend, and afterwards we drove to her house for tea. She owns a sausage dog and a Rhodesian ridge-back. Upon entering her beautiful home, the sausage dog immediately started barking. Such a loud noise from such a tiny body, I must say, and I was terrified even though I tried so hard to look composed. I was on the verge of silent tears when the Rhodesian ridge-back joined in on the barking and the whole house was filled with noise! Again, I contemplated leaving and silently chastised myself for going there knowing I was scared of dogs. That was just the fear talking, of course. My friend told me how best to get the dog to calm down, and reassured me that she was barking because she was also scared. I went down to her level (she’s very, very tiny) and she calmed down a bit. Later, I held her in my arms and allowed her to get closer to my face and nibble my ears and lick my face! I asked her for a hug and she moved her tiny little head towards my shoulder and gave me the most awkward but cutest hug ever! By the time I had to leave, I had warmed up to her and even went in for a kiss on the lips! She barked when I had to go, I guess it was a sign she’d warmed up to me too! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to bond with the Rhodesian ridgeback, perhaps because I’m secretly still scared of how big it is, but that’s my next adventure – to cuddle and play with her and allow her to shove me to the floor in a big hug if need be, just as long as I get comfortable enough to not want to pee in my pants each time I see a dog.
Having analysed this particular fear of animals, I realised that my fear stems more from the unknown than the animals themselves. Being human as I am, I’m very curious and I love clarity and knowing things are just that. I don’t like major surprises that might harm me (sudden hormonal attack from a female dog, getting scratched by a cat, being kicked by a horse or a goat, etc). Animals can be unpredictable and although they may do it anyway, they probably don’t intend to harm me, they are probably just as scared as I am and trying to look out for themselves. However, my fear was being accidentally attacked and harmed by an animal that could have been my friend.
Another fear I conquered this year is the fear of swimming in an open water source that’s border-less (i.e. Swimming outside of a pool). I’m not a very good swimmer for starters, as I quickly get tired and want to come up for air. I find it difficult to keep my head above the water so I always swim underwater for a while then stop for air. This, therefore, requires me to swim in waters that aren’t deeper than my height for when I want to stop and stand and get up for air. That limits my abilities to swim independently as I automatically panic and need an edge that I know I can hold on to when I need to escape before attempting to swim. When we went to Maji Moto (hot springs), I did exactly that, I stayed on the edges and didn’t dare swim any further. Everyone else had a fantastic time, undoubtedly, and I did too but I could have had more fun if I allowed myself to relax and not be afraid. There were edges and free roots to hold on to if I need it, but somehow my fear got the best of me and I missed out on a greater adventure. Surprisingly, when I went to Zanzibar, there weren’t any tree roots or edges to grab hold of should I need to, but I managed to swim independently in the ocean, which is even scarier than a mere hot spring water source because of the unpredictable waves and rising sea levels. It was a fantastic experience which made me more determined to learn important swimming techniques that will keep me at ease should anything happen (although God forbid).
Finally, for years now I’ve suffered from motion sickness and it was triggered mostly by the smell of fuel or the inside of a car with leather seats. Each time somebody filled their tank with me in the car, they found themselves having to close all windows and doors to avoid any smell coming into the car. I’ve allowed myself to live like this for years, feeling completely weak when I start getting affected by it, barely able to move and being in a sort of “freeze” mode that always took everyone by surprise. Well, just when I was going back to university for my second year, I had to personally come out of the car at the service station, fill a car tank with diesel for a good few moments and inhale the smell as well as exhaust fumes while I stood there. At first I said no, I’m not doing it because the smell was too strong, but in the end I managed to do it.
Having had quirky fears for a while, I appreciate how unique each individual is. What may seem extremely silly and unreasonable to me, could be a life-threatening, panic-attack-inducing fear to someone else, therefore I don’t ridicule anyone for being scared anymore. My message to somebody today is that you need to take over your life and your emotions. Don’t let fear stop you from attempting new things or trying to reach your goals. Fear will only cripple you and may actually end up making you lose your mind in the most extreme sense where you’re in a straitjacket in a room with white-washed walls. I challenge you to join me as I embark on a never-ending journey to conquering my fears! And to add the cheese to the blog post, as usual, I’ll quote from “The Princess’ Diaries”,
“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear; The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.”
And with this, I wish you all a wonderful, productive week of conquering fears!