So I came across a post today (you can find it here) prompting anyone who happened to come across it to write a post about an irrational fear. Because my life is basically a handful of irrationalities – late-night poetic whims, capricious mood swings, cravings for the most random cuisines – strung together, I thought it’d be worthwhile to take a moment from my unfortunate 11PM maths revision (irrational? Maybe) to write a little something that happened to me a month ago, something I thought would be nice to share:
A month ago, I went to Thailand for a school trip. In all honesty, it wasn’t a fantastic trip: we were kept pent up in a resort for the majority of the time and thus, you know the drill… school trips always become super annoying and unnecessarily bureaucratic at one point or another. Anyhow, because we happened to be in Thailand there also happened to be the biggest profusion of insects ever. Everywhere I went, they seemed to follow me: spiders would line the showerhead, ants would crawl into my toothbrush, moths would somehow stick themselves onto every window… and I absolutely detested it. Although this sounds really whiney and too ‘oh-urbanity-where-art-thou’-esque, if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I am terribly afraid of insects. All kinds of insects, mind you.
At one point I got used to the insects and stopped squirming every time I happened to see one trespassing across the line of sanctity I would subconsciously set out for myself every time I crossed the bathroom floor. I still felt uncomfortable, but in contrast to my original conviction that my entomological terror would only worsen as my stay lengthened, I was surprisingly at ease with the fact the critters and I literally shared the same habitat. Because you know, ants brush their teeth too, right…
But then, the penultimate night happened. And it was a bad, bad night.
We had to go on a confidence course that required us to do a bunch of physically elaborate things (like catching a rope in mid-air, turning 360 degrees on a pole etc, etc…) above a lukewarm, probably untouched pool of water that existed to scare the living daylights out of us. Because if you want to instil confidence in someone, you scare them witless, right? Right.
Due to my extraordinarily impressive physical prowess, I fell into the water during the first obstacle. And the second. And the third… and although I did get back up on the course after the first two trip-ups, on the third I realized – in supreme, incoherent horror – that the pole we had been required to clamber up was literally gilded with spiders and cockroach-like bugs that seemed very reluctant to get off. The water, too, was filled with creepy-crawlies; and by this point, as you guessed it, I was going delirious.
It was then I made the impulsive decision to wave the white flag and exit the course. When it happened, it was the greatest solution I could eloquently figure out in my mind; but afterwards, as I stood before a fire contemplating the courage behind my decision, I began to feel really bad. Eventually, I had to burn my backside watching every other student mastering the course – much to my embarrassment.
That night, I wrote in my trip journal about how utterly useless I felt: it’s never a good feeling when you become subsumed by an irrational fear. I felt as if I had failed to live up to something I could have easily overcome, and let the silliness of my mind get the better of me. And as a naturally competitive person (with myself, sadly), I felt terrible about that. I remember the journal entry being filled with a pageful of laments, and I still remember the way I sheepishly handed it in to the teacher in charge the following day.
I spent the rest of the day feeling slightly guilty for all the events that had occurred the previous night. I couldn’t get over this overpowering sense of failure, that I had let myself down. But – and hallelujah to this! – when the teachers gave our journals back to us, I realized my teacher had written a comment that was to completely flip my perspective on everything:
He told me to stop being consumed by this feeling of regret and self-loathing, and instead realize that irrational fears are, as they suggest, irrational, and therefore cannot be expected to be overcome rationally. He told me that if my fear of insects hadn’t been conquered on the night of the confidence course, this meant that there still exists a hundred other opportunities to conquer the same fear another night. My failure wasn’t a failure; it was more like a stepping-stone to realization.
After this one comment, my day became significantly better. My way of thinking, too, was significantly brightened: irrational fears should never hold you back or make you reprimand yourself over and over again, as the case was with me. Instead, they should serve as a reminder that you, too, are human, and that like the majority of other humans you have thousands of days to use your irrationality as a rational measure to see how far you progress in life.
Now that’s a nice way to put things, isn’t it?