I remember reading somewhere once that fear and excitement are the same feeling, just interpreted differently. At the time, I was trying to deal with something that had become more prevalent for me as time went on — performance anxiety. I was a performing songwriter, out there trying to sell my CDs, and the only way to do that effectively at the time was to play live. But sometimes I would literally feel sick before a performance, my heart rate and blood pressure so high it’s a wonder I didn’t pass out.
Excitement my foot.
I tried to talk myself out of the fear, I tried many things over those years to lessen my anxiety, but eventually, I gave up and stopped performing entirely.
The statics say that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying. I get that. And if you’ve ever been with someone who is having a panic attack, you’ll know that you can’t reason with them or try to rationalize their fear. In fact, trying to reason with them might even make it worse.
But fear and anxiety are also one of the reasons we’ve succeeded as a species. I mean, if you’re not afraid of that wild boar staring you down like you’re his breakfast, you’re not going to last long.
There are plenty of people out there who do things that terrify me just to think about. Like jumping out of a plane with only a big piece of cloth to prevent them from smashing into the earth. On purpose. Or walking on a rope suspended a hundred feet up between two buildings with only a big stick to give them balance. Who in their right mind?
We might thrill to watch OTHER people do those terrifying things, and sometimes we might even be a little guilty of fantasizing about what would happen if they failed. And, of course, many of us like to be scared poop-less by movies or haunted houses on Halloween. But there’s a knowing to all of that, a knowing that we’re safe and nothing bad is going to happen.
All of us at some point in our lives have experienced the “not knowing”, however. Not knowing if things are going to be okay. Maybe there was a bad accident or a job loss, or serious illness and you didn’t know how or if it was going to end. That’s not a very nice feeling. But that’s what we are experiencing as a global community right now. The Great Not Knowing.
Even if scientists and health authorities try to calm us with facts, figures and projections, that fear can just take us over at any moment and we can find ourselves in a panic. Sometimes, it’s our own fault. We read too many tweets about the pandemic, we follow the number of deaths as they rise around the world, we inundate ourselves with scary information. But fear can also pop up out of nowhere and with no rational explanation.
In B.C. this week, May 19th, we began Phase 2 of our “restart” program. It’s a sign that we are doing the right things and keeping the virus at bay. The other morning on my walk, I saw a barber open for the first time in months, and a man sitting in the chair with a big smile on his face. A coffee shop had little tables outside, spaced apart at an appropriate distance, for the first time in months. For some it’s going to be a great relief to see things come a little closer to “normal”, for others it’s going to up their level of anxiety.
We have to trust our federal and provincial governments and people like Dr. Bonnie Henry (isn’t she wonderful?) to carefully lead us through this pandemic and bring us out of it relatively unscathed. So far, they’ve done a fabulous job. One day there will be a vaccine available to us, but in the meantime, listening to and trusting those in charge is our best bet.
There are some, however, who are not going to be calmed by anything. They are scared, they are anxious, and nothing short of complete annihilation of the virus will make them start to feel better. You probably know someone like this, and you might be tempted to secretly roll your eyes at them or giggle just a little. But just as we’ve had to be patient with this whole pandemic process, we need to be a little more patient with, and kinder to, those who are still pretty worried.
Because, you know, they’d probably already be halfway up that hill before you even noticed that wild boar coming at you…
Irene Jackson is a guitar teacher, musician and general writer “wanna-be” living in the beautiful city of Victoria, B.C. Her website is at irenejackson.com.