Can you be afraid of fear?

Jean on the edge
| 4 Minute Read |

I don’t think everyone hates the feeling of fear. The adrenalin that comes with fear can be very addictive for some. Why would people bungy jump, or ride on rollercoasters, or go on life-threatening expeditions? I can’t imagine fear is absent in those individuals – they must just love the adrenalin rush which comes with it.

Me – not so much. I recently discovered there is such a thing as ‘a fear of fear’. Phobophobia. I don’t think I’m quite that extreme, I will step into some things I’m terrified of and that provide a good dose of adrenalin – but the “pay off” from doing it has to be REALLY worth it.

Everest RollercoasterFor example, I absolutely hate rollercoasters. Always have. If you check out the picture here, I’m on Everest at Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom. I don’t think anyone could read joy or achievement on that face. That face is saying “Get me the f*ck off this!!”

At least rollercoasters are over pretty quickly – though the unpleasant spike in adrenalin can last for hours. I did discover a much deeper and more visceral fear a few years ago when I tackled a high ropes course as part of my training for climbing Ben Nevis. I had to select a “mini” challenge ahead of the climb, to help me get into the right mindset – I picked the high ropes course because my daughter said she would do it with me… Though on the actual day, she was nowhere to be seen near the ropes – #JustSaying.

On reflection, I’m not sure I thought the whole thing through. Carried away with just enough adrenalin for it to seem fun, and simply part the journey with my coach Jessie Pavelka, the film crew and the Cisco team – it was an adventure.

Once I was at the location and getting kitted out, the fear started to grip me even tighter than the harness I was being fitted into. My mildly hysterical inner voice was working through various options to get me out of the whole thing – fainting being the favoured option.

As it turned out, the fear of letting others down was stronger than the fear the rope challenge ahead – probably one of the few instances where my bloody ‘people pleaser’ persona was helpful! So as I walked towards the starting platform, the whooshing noise of the blood blasting through my ears drowned out most of the instructions I was being given. Then we were suddenly there – the jumping-off point, the moment of truth, unbounded adrenalin and not of the fun kind.

I froze. I swore. I stepped back and away from the edge. I swore some more. I felt I was on the verge of hysteria. I don’t think I’d ever been that scared in my life. My body was physically rooted to the spot. Undoubtedly it was my most significant “What were you thinking?!” moment ever. My coach was yelling encouragement from the other side of the first zip line, “You can do this ‘Jean the Machine'” – I’ve never wanted to actually punch someone as much as I did at that moment. To be fair, Jessie had warned me there would be moments I’d hate him during training.

“I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this…”, it was like a drumbeat in my head. I’m sure my hesitation in taking the leap felt like an eternity to everyone watching. An entire film crew had come up to Scotland and Jessie had flown over from Los Angeles for this challenge. No matter how patient he sounded, he probably felt like coming over and kicking me right up the arse at that point – and I have to say, the shape of the harness made it a splendidly defined target! Still, the voice in my head repeated, “I can’t do this”.

Then in a split second, I jumped off, and there was no way back. With a blood-curdling scream, I zipped across with the elegance of a sack of potatoes and whacked my leg at the other side. But I’d done it!

For much of the way around the high rope course, I continued to curse, shout, and fight back the tears. Once you make the jump you just have to keep moving, “It will eventually be over”, I kept telling myself.

In retrospect, this “mini-challenge” was far more difficult and frightening for me than the mountain climb proved to be months later – though it did give me a glimpse of a braver, stronger version of myself. Thankfully it’s not a mindset I need to draw on daily – nor do I think I could be in this mode every day, as that amount of adrenalin would eventually wear me out. But when I really need to, I know I can call on it.

As I was writing this article, I realised that starting Behind The Hashtag was another jumping-off point for me. However, this time there’s no harness and it’s a very different type of platform, though admittedly there was still plenty of hesitation from me before taking the leap!

What would you love to jump off into? Let me know in the comments below.

Next Steps

There’s a great book by Susan Jeffers called ‘Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway’, this Animated Review is an excellent summary before reading the book.
Also, check out my review of Susan David’s TED Talk on The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.

Here’s another example of one of my jumping off points – my TEDx Talk
6 replies
  1. Fiona says:

    Loved this, Jean. Can so relate with experiences I have had over the last two years. Perhaps not as dramatic, but close to being this scary. Just not physical. So proud of you!!!

  2. Kat says:

    This story is awesome Jean. I have a total unadulterated fear of heights, which has developed in recent years. So reading this actually made me feel slightly sick, the blood pounding in my head was palpable!! You have my utmost absolute admiration for going through with it. xx

    • Jean MacAskill says:

      It’s so visceral isn’t it Kat? But it always teaches us something and I do believe that on the other side of fear is a new part of our story.

  3. Robin says:

    Jean, for me this beautifully depicts the question:-
    Is your mind your master?
    Are you the master of your mind?
    That journey to becoming the Master is difficult and as you share here, often terrifying.
    As we learn though, life becomes much more fulfilling as we respond to what is.

    • Jean MacAskill says:

      Robin! 100% – without the work you did with me on facing up to the difficult stuff I’d never have understood ??


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