As part of her 'Dear Daughter' blog series, Anna Mansell explains why she feels so scared so often...
I am, it has to be said, a woman full of fear. I mean, brimming. I don’t know if I’ve always been like this, but definitely, as I age, my fears multiply. They are self-fertilizing. What might have been just a tiny fear – probably from when I had your brother and realized his survival depended largely on decisions I made – well, that grew and grew. Then I had you, and more fears arrived. They took up residence in my home, beneath the bed, inside my wardrobe, in the back seat of the car on a dark night. If I ever walk home on my own, they’re in the shadows. Fear is a constant companion of mine, sometimes it is quieter than others, perhaps it tires itself out. Sometimes, it’s like a drunken friend confessing their eternal love for me whilst smothering me in beer fumes.
The annoying thing about my fears is they are so completely irrational. They’re tabloid fears fueled by propaganda headlines in the kind of newspapers I despise. That such an extreme, contradictory emotion resides in me infuriates. Not least, because of how often I let it seep into the decisions I make.
I have to say sorry here: this is not a letter giving you my thoughts on a subject in a way you might learn from. This is not a letter that people will describe as inspiring or beautiful or thought-provoking. I am in the middle of this subject, I am breathing its noxious fumes and often choking on the smell.
We live in a world that I think may be going to hell in a handcart. There are demons chasing us all and every day. There are people doing hideous things to each other, the scale of which runs from micro to mass in devastation and impact. And whilst I walk each day, logically convinced of the importance of exuding love and goodness in order for society to survive, I find it increasingly difficult to believe it is strong enough to save us.
In most stories, good wins out over evil. The spiritual part of me believes that. But when your brother asks to join the school trip to London, a week with his school friends, an experience that should enrich his life and give him irreplaceable memories, my first and only thought is almost too much to type – my fingers itch as I start to process the fear from brain to keyboard: what if he doesn’t come back?
There are the times we are out in public and you want to go to the toilet on your own. This should not be something I feel the need to disallow. Your desire for independence is a beautiful thing. It shows that despite all I am scared of, you are finding your own way in life, as you should. But I will still accompany you to the bathroom just in case. There are horrible people out there.
There are the times I get a twinge, in my back or neck or currently my hips. What if they are more than just the creaks of a body that has not always been looked after as it should. What if the internet is right and I have just months to live?
Then there are the tiny fears: did I lock the front door, did I put the handbrake on properly, did I say something to someone and make them feel bad? Did I lose something precious, did I ignore someone in need? No matter the scale of it, fear for me, is often an all-consuming and entirely pointless waste of energy. Is it ever useful? Can the moment your stomach ties itself in knots be your body, your mind, giving you a warning signal? Perhaps the fear gives you an opportunity to take a different path and that in itself may change an outcome that might have been. But fear can do that to you when it has no place. When the path you were on, was heading in a glorious direction and if you step away, you miss out.
So perhaps it’s time to be brave. To do as the mock vintage wall plaques tell us: feel the fear and do it anyway. I do that for so many things in life, but when it comes to you two… not so much. Perhaps I should let your brother go to London. Perhaps I should write and submit this piece despite it exposing something about which I feel shame. Perhaps I should let you go to the bathroom alone in a public place… actually, no, sorry; that’s not going to happen for some time; but you get my point, I hope.
I need to find a way to constrict fear, rather than it constrict me. If I don’t, giving those fears oxygen, allows them to survive and take root. What if that act alone, brings about the reality they crave?
Perhaps I should do to fear, what I try and do to other feelings. Respect their place, but move on. Because, a life wrapped in cotton wool will suffocate. And that, amongst everything else in life, is the very last thing I want for either you or your brother. Or, for that matter me.
I suppose I’d better get saving for that trip to London… feel the fear and…
Love, Mum. x
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