What is Fear Anyway?

I was merely 5 years old when my family noticed my fear of heights, which probably was a larger aha moment than when they realized I had a fear of the dark. I mean, that is why man created the ‘nightlight’, right? Yet my fear of heights, toppled with carsickness, seasickness, and airsickness would put a damper on anywhere we wanted to go.  While there are new gadgets for that stuff now, back then, the advise was to grab a bag and go anyway, or the route I took: try not to go anywhere!

But did I have a fear of heights? Or was I merely afraid of getting sick?  Perhaps no way to know for sure, but I can tell you that to this day, I still cannot look down into the valley below, or even out the window of a glass elevator.

I had a normal childhood, filled with all normal childhood activities. I went on vacations and sleep-away camps, learned to swim, ride a bike, and even water ski…but all the while, quitting things along the way. I quit softball, because it was too hot, and gymnastics because there was too much ‘upside down’ time.

Let’s just say, I had a lot of ‘stuff’. Though my stuff felt real to me and the longer I stayed away from it, the more justified I felt by my fears. Once I stopped riding a bike, I was pretty sure I was afraid of falling. Once I stopped swimming (as a 10 year old), I was pretty sure I was afraid of the water.

But what is fear really? And do you actually need a hypnotist to get over it?

I think not.

In 2008 I was challenged by a friend to train for a triathlon: a simple swim, bike, run race. At the time I was a fair-weathered runner (running only when it was not too hot, too cold, too humid, etc.), had crossed a few finish lines and did believe that human beings should not be stopped by fears. So sure…a Triathlon? Why not?

Yeah, well there were a million reasons why not…but for starters, I hadn’t been in the water or on a bike since I was ten. Ten years old, that is! I was determined to take on this training, though, much like my life. Stay focused on the task at hand, dig deep and keep doing it until you get it right. The first day in the pool I was able to swim 2 whole laps. TWO. I would have to get that to 60 laps for the race I was competing in that year, as well as get over my so-called fear of being in the dark, dark lake, but that was not the focus. The focus was: Good for you. Two laps. By the end of the week we will have to double that.

Five years later, and 10 triathlon finish lines, I decided it was time to get ‘fast’, which is not an easy thing to get. I was a 9-minute/mile runner. Period. I had a very good reason why I couldn’t go faster though. Fear. Not my fear of speed, heights or water, but my fear…of feeling sick.

I learned (with the help of my trainer) that this was my ongoing roadblock. It was simply my fear of what ‘could’ happen if I continue to push. He quickly saw what my body was capable of, tapped into the fear in my eyes as my body yearned to stop and would push me gently to the other side of my fear. He confirmed for me that the only thing to fear for sure was fear itself. He would not allow me to stop, sometimes letting out a roar as he could sense my body going down, and I finally learned that my mind didn’t have a clue about what my body could do.  It was a fascinating experience to run an 8-minute pace and still feel strong, and to hit the 7:30 pace, feeling almost like a machine. It gave new meaning to the words: fear and strength,  and a new understanding of the controls I hold.

It is amazing what the mind is capable of, though even more amazing what the mind is capable of keeping you from doing. This year will be my fifth summer crossing the  triathlon finish line…a challenge that never gets easy for me. How can it? Each race embraces every fear I own. It wraps tightly around my mind, squeezes deep into my gut and hisses to my body that I’m just not cut out for this kind of thing. But I do it anyway, because my race finish line simply makes my life finish line look easy.


It really does mimic life, doesn’t it? Dig deep and when you can’t take one more step, take ten small ones, but keep moving. Focus on the present, and control only what you can, making sure you don’t confuse that, with the things you can’t. Feel like your life has you wrapped around its’ finger? Find a finish line and start training! I promise you, the ‘finish’ will simply be the beginning.


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