Fear Factor

It occurred to me recently that, since my jaunt into adulthood, I’ve developed several phobias that rear their yellow-bellied heads on an increasingly regular basis.

1.     Fear of heights.  This one is evidenced in my post about the state fair, as well as countless other occurrences in which tall places and myself came face to face.  Though I’ve been a little squeamish about heights since I was 13 and almost got blown away on top of the empire state building, the past 12 years have made me a regular sissy pansy wherever a high building, ride, ladder, ledge, or mountainous rock formation is concerned.  My fingers are tingling just thinking about it.

2.     Fear of flying.  I’ve flown pretty consistently since I was conceived, and for a long time I took no issue with it.  In fact, I prided myself in my plane-related bravery, as I was the only member of my family who didn’t desire sedation whilst in-flight.  But then I went to San Diego, and the damn plane tried to fall out of the sky (I’m told that’s called hitting clear air), and ever since then I’ve wanted cocktails and pep-talks before entering an airport.  Why just this morning I hopped on an 8am flight, and it took every ounce of my willpower not to order a double Bloody Mary just to make the sweaty palms and rapid breathing subside.

3.     Fear of being eaten by a grizzly bear.  Okay, this one requires some explaining.  I recently watched the documentary Grizzly Man, and though I already knew the story about how he and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear, I didn’t realize the documentary would go into great detail about how it happened.  At one point the coroner excitedly/creepily described how the bear sunk his teeth into the man’s skull and tore away his scalp…and that, my friends, was the beginning of my newest phobia.  Thanks, documentary-maker-man.

And though I could go on (as I’m a complicated woman and have too many phobias to count), I say all this to pose a question:  when is a fear a phobia, and when is it a reliable self-preservation tool?

I’m afraid of dying; this much we know.  My aforementioned phobias clearly illustrate ways in which I do not want to leave this world, and though I know they may not be entirely rational (as I’m 99% sure Oklahoma is grizzly bear-free), on some level they assist me in staying alive and well and with my scalp secured tightly to my skull.  So I’m okay with these issues of mine, as I can’t see how they’re harming me (save for making it nigh impossible for me to ever venture to Alaska, as all three phobias would then attack my psyche at once).

But I’m also harboring another fear- one I think many of us have at this point in our lives- and I wonder if it’s not hurting me even more than I realize.

To put it plainly, I’m afraid…no, I’m terrified…of having my heart broken.  It’s simple, understandable, and justifiable to most, as there are few people over the age of 18 who haven’t had their very innards ripped out and trampled upon by the boy or girl of their dreams.  And I’m certainly no exception; I’ve been burned more times than I care to admit, and for a long time I thought my fear and subsequent defensiveness were just protective barriers protecting my soul and self-esteem from further harm.

But I’m older now than when I first put on my emotional armor, and I’m starting to wonder if it might be time for me, and perhaps for all of us, to take it off.

When we were teenagers, break-ups were hurtful and unfair and devastating to our fragile egos.  But now we’re older, people are (hopefully) more mature, and relationships, though still volatile institutions in which to engage, are not the emotional tragedies of first loves and high school romances.

It is hard for me to date now.  It’s hard for me to trust people, to open up, to be myself, to let down my guard.  But I’m older and hopefully wiser than when I received my emotional battle scars, and it’s time for me to give dating a chance again.  I don’t want to be alone forever, and I really don’t want to become a crazy cat lady.

So I’ll keep my phobias, thanks very much, as they do little more than prevent me from climbing Mount Everest.  But I’m letting go of my fear of heartbreak once and for all, and I hope you will too.  It’s worth it I think, because without vulnerability one cannot find empathy…companionship…love.

Here’s to taking off the armor and letting people in again.  For even after all my heartaches of yesteryear, I still say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Much love.

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