When I was nine years old, I was sure I would die. The fear of it snuck up to me one evening in my Father’s living room, surrounded by dinner and aunties and homework. Confronted with this sudden mortality, I had what would be my first panic attack or anxious meltdown? It is hard to tell. I fought the feeling by holding on to the night. Convinced that if I dared as much as blink, I would drift into oblivion, carried into the underworld by my inability to fight off sleep. So, I stayed awake and trembling, my chest racking with confusions.
A Life of Fear
I often tell people that I have lived my whole life being afraid. Fear is how I learned to spell my name, the voice of the teacher hanging over my head at four, or was it five? Fear was definitely how I learnt to read the time, with Aunty Nurse (We called her that) hit my wrists with pencils anytime I could not tell when it was five minutes past four. And fear was how I learned to be my father’s daughter, moulded into quiet compliance, perfecting the act of disappearing.
The thing about fear is that it is logical. Really, it is. You put your hand in the fire, you get burned. So, you save your hands by avoiding fires. But no one tells you that you also learn to avoid warmth, you learn to avoid anything that reminds you of a sting, and then, when your mind has perfected this guise of protection, you avoid the whole act of feeling. Who needs to feel anyway, when the feeling is merely transportation to getting hurt? You see the perfectly routed imagination. Until one day, you would have so protected yourself that your boundaries become your prison.
When Fear Unmakes Sense
It is a fact of life that humans wake with stale breath, that bacteria breeds in closed spaces, that silence is not always golden, sometimes it leads to foul smells. I woke up one day as a fully-grown adult thrashing her way through the maze of life and decided: I am done with stale breathe and festering wounds, done becoming the nine-year-old watching her back for the monsters that would come and snatch her life, done being the teenager terrified of the changes in her body, and I am done being the growing woman desperate to be liked, needing to be chosen like a vase on a store rack. I am done living in fear.
Fear is Invisible
But the thing about fear is that you cannot quite scrub it off under the shower or yank it off your chest like a piece of fading jewellery. You cannot unafraid yourself. It simply cannot be done. So, you learn to fight, in your mind, your thoughts, your body under siege. You learn to confront the thoughts: I will not die but live. And you learn to seek the heat because a burnt finger only one side of the story. You learn to unbend yourself, even when it hurts. Also, you learn to speak up, to mountains and people, you learn to insert yourself in spaces. You learn to sing your praises and you learn to silence the voices of circumstances who do not. You learn that eventually, fear leaves on its own when you make the environment unconducive.