Remember the Cakes?


Dear Fear

Thanks for serving me so well for all these years. You kept me safe; you kept me out of danger. You helped me to be aware of risks. Thank you. But the time has come to let you go. Before I do that, let’s take a last look at our photo album together.

I remember. I was in the school playground. I don’t know what I was doing wrong but a teacher yelled at me from the open window up above, pointing an accusing finger. Terror invaded my body. And then my body took charge and set off to face my accuser. Trembling, I went in search of the teacher – it was a large building with many floors. Finally, I found him and approached him meekly, waiting for the final judgment. The teacher looked at me in a distracted way. What did I want? What was I doing? I walked away, confused. The terror had gone but I was still fearful.

To feel afraid was a habit I had gained earlier before secondary school. Oh yes, my primary school teacher! She was such a severe looking individual. The way she frowned, and she did that often, reminded me of an angry wasp. I was so scared of her, always. And the headmaster knew. When he used to come to class to tell us all off (what for, I no longer recall), he would begin by saying “There are some people in this room who should not have to listen to what I am about to say.” I knew he was saying this for me. But I was still the only child in the classroom who would cry anyway at his words.

Why have these memories stayed with me? I have come to realize that I have carried a childhood fear of teachers into my adult life, and it has been subconsciously affecting the way I respond to the world. The schoolgirl has been living inside me all these years; pulling up her socks, pushing her glasses up, fiddling with her hair.

There is, however, some hope. I also have a wonderful memory of walking past the teachers’ staff room when my skirt suddenly fell to my ankles (I knew the button needed sewing, but you know how it is…). More importantly, was my reaction: I laughed out loud with amusement and quickly pulled my skirt back up. This, I have realized, is my salvation. A cheeky sense of humour has also accompanied my fearful schoolgirl, also affecting the way I respond to the world. I think I’d like to keep that! But not the fear! It’s time to let go of you, fear. We need to part ways.

Impossible task? I’m not talking about specific fears. We all have them. I’ve read the famous book by Susan Jeffers: Feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m talking about you: that nebulous fear that creeps up inside and spreads like a fog across a bog. You are the fear I wish to say good-bye to today!

In truth, I have known about you for a long time. I have given you voice, arguing for my limitations. Communicating to others my fear, my lack of trust in myself, my insecurity. I looked to others for direction. When I was a teenager, I recall writing about watching other people drinking tea, looking at their tea drinking faces and wondering if they had the truth, the answer. In later years, I gave away my power in different ways to different people, thinking they could be my guides. Let them carry the lantern, and I’ll walk safely behind them protected by their backs.

I never did much to hide my fear. I believed in sharing it with others. I thought that sharing it would help to lessen its grip on me, but it only made things worse. Some people told me outright I just needed to believe in myself; that I was talented and had lots of skills. I didn’t believe them, and I didn’t believe in myself either. Other people were visibly disturbed by my open sharing of vulnerability and didn’t really have much to say. This only served to reinforce my inner conviction that I was right to be afraid, insecure. And so, this is how I have muddled my way through adult life with moments of success when the sun broke through the fog and moments of humour when I felt empowered and amused by my inner cheekiness, especially when I found other people who could resonate with me. So, it hasn’t all been bad. But, my dearest fear, the time has come for us to part ways.

I have realized I can’t do this by fighting against you. The more I resist you, the stronger you become. I can’t do this through will power. I can’t wish you away. So, for the moment, dear fear, stay. Let’s keep looking through the photo album together. You don’t want to? Why not? Ah! You don’t want me to see through the fog! Too bad, fear. There is no turning back. I’m on my own now, holding the lantern. There is nobody to follow. And you are with me. Inside me and outside me in this thick fog. Come. Let’s go together! I’m going to walk with you and through you to the other side. I shall let my humour guide me, I shall laugh at myself, and my humour will set me free.

There are plenty of childhood memories to help me. Another one! Yes, I have four or five implanted in my brain, in the cells of my body. I remember walking along the pavement in school on the way to class and stopping abruptly. “Oh no! What am I worried about? I’ve forgotten!” I reached down to pull up my long school socks (a habit so ingrained inside me that I remember bending down to pull up socks in the middle of the swimming pool when the lifeguard was looking at me and I didn’t know why. There were no socks to pull up! I felt so silly!). But let’s return to the pavement in the school premises. I stood for thirty seconds or so, lost in this sudden space of freedom. Nothing to worry about? How awful! I had to remember. Eventually the worry returned to my brain. “There you are,” I declared, and I suspect I may even have smiled. And so, I carried on walking and happily worrying. What was I worrying about? I haven’t the faintest idea! That is telling, wouldn’t you say, fear?

The album is full of photos, isn’t it? They span into my adult life. But I shan’t write about them. The details aren’t important. What is important is the realization that I have carried these childhood traumas (yes, that is what they are) and I have allowed them to dictate my life.

What am I going to do about it? Nothing! What do I mean, nothing? We have always tried to do something about it, haven't we fear? Talk to someone. Read a book. Go on a course. Yes, we have, but this time we’re not going to do anything like that. This time, we’re on our own. It’s just you and me, fear. Nobody else. Nothing else! What do you mean? You don’t think it’s a good idea? Why not? I've spent my whole life running away from you. I’m not going to do that anymore. Why are you fidgeting? I thought you’d be happy! I’m going to give you all the attention you have always craved for. Come on fear! Let’s do this together! What’s the matter? You look scared! Come on, I’m excited! We can take another look at the album if you like.

It was the last day of school before the Easter holidays. I don’t know why, but I was particularly fearful that day. Do you remember why? Anyway, the memory which has left a massive impression on me is mum arriving to pick me up from school. She had some home-made cakes she had bought at the fair. I remember climbing into the back of the Land Rover, seeing them spread across the floor and feeling a tsunami of relief sweep through my body as I was driven away to safety with the cakes. This memory has stayed with me, and I think we should look at it together. It feels bittersweet. It is a sweet memory of family, cakes, holiday. A bitter memory of the enormous pressure I was under, and I didn’t know why. How could I verbalize it to anybody if it didn’t even make sense to me? All I knew, at that moment, was that I needed to be swept away from you, and that others, like my mum had the power to do this for me. And here is the hard part of the memory to acknowledge – the feeling that I didn’t have the power to do this for myself. I don’t think my mum was aware of any of this. Why should she be? She was just picking me up from primary school with a Land Rover full of cakes!

Yes. She was picking me up from top class. I was sent to Top Class a year early. That was unexpected. I recall standing in the queue in the playground to go into class and hearing my name called out to go to join the top class queue instead. Did I spend two years in top class? That’s strange. I don’t remember! I’ll ask mum….

Not this time fear! You like to distract me, don’t you? That way, I’ll forget that you’re there inside me, guiding me away from myself. Land Rovers full of cakes, saviours full of promises are all very tempting. But I’ve told you. We’re on our own now. We’re going through this together. I used to look away from you, hide from you, deny you, fight you, subject myself unknowingly to you.

Today I verbalize you. Fear. Go on! Draw near. Reveal yourself for who you are, and I shall do the same. Let’s look each other in the eye. Stop hiding in the shadows! I’m not afraid of you anymore.

You don’t want to come with me? Do as you please!