On Fear Of Fears

Conquering your demons. Fears. Phobia. Whatever you call it, I am talking about that thing that nags you at 4 am in the morning. It could be something small  (why can’t I make a decent biryani), or it can be climbing Mt Everest. I have them, and assume (read: hope) you do. In all sizes, shapes, and forms.

And as I get older – if only I get a nickel for every time I say that! – I have been making an effort to knock these out one at a time. See how many of these I can get rid of in this lifetime.

When I was not quite ten, I used to be afraid of the dark. My mom’s best friends lived in the house across the street and after dinner most nights, she would go to their house and chat with them while my dad was at work (he used to work in shifts). Sometimes I would need to come back home to get something. This meant crossing the small residential street to go across to our house (which was the top portion of the house that we rented from folks who owned the house), climb the stairs, and walk across an open terrace to reach our portion. The second floor (or the first floor as they call in India, and the first floor is called the ground floor) contained just the bedrooms of the owners, so there would normally be nobody at that time, and therefore no lights. The terrace would be usually lit by the light of the moon. I used to be terrified to go alone but over time, I reasoned to myself that there really was nothing to be afraid of, of course ghosts weren’t real, and would make the trip and back to mom.

One of my cousins also told me recently that she thought I was very cool because I used to wade in the farthest when we went to the Marina beach in Madras.

I was jolted into being aware of my many fears when a friend casually, and not at all in a mean way, commented that I had a lot of fears when I froze in fear at her 5 lb dog. Fear of the dark, fear of water, fear of heights, dogs, rollercoasters (yep, I’m not so much fun, but I’m great for watching your stuff while you have fun), and for a very brief, but scary time, fear of highways that I talked myself out of—fears that somehow crept up in my adult life, fears that didn’t exist in my childhood, or my adolescent days.

I have finally completely gotten rid of the fear of dogs (at least the domesticated, pet kind) when my daughter brought this little guy into our lives. Now I have gone to the other extreme, and scare away friends with photos of Kashew, and have become that person who seeks out dog owners to pet their dogs on walks, and is constantly sharing dog videos to my family.

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I also learned to finally completely ride a bicycle a couple of years back, with my son’s help – read all about it here. What can we call this fear—fear of balancing? (“what do you mean, completely ride a bicycle?” Well, before that, I never was actually sure I rode it myself – someone may have been holding on and I sometimes wonder if I did really ride at all.)

So last weekend, when lunch plans came up, an opportunity presented itself to face one of those fears head on. This is not so much a fear, but a social awkwardness. Raj had some appointment, and I didn’t feel like cooking or eating left overs. And I was really really in the mood for a pancake. So, I told Raj I would pick up a pancake from a local pancake place.

Raj: Pick it up and eat in the car? Why don’t you eat it there?

Me: Eat it there? By myself? All alone? In a public place?

Raj: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Well, I don’t like eating by myself if I can help it. Eating is a social thing for me. I can do breakfast by myself, at home, but that’s about it. When Raj travels, I try not to cook and make do with something I eat over the sink for the same reason. I grew up in a family where at each meal there was a guaranteed minimum six people. For 26 years. And I never really got used to eating alone.

As for lunches, I can do a smoothie on the run by myself if I’m running errands. But for lunches I need at least one more person, unless I’m working through lunch and eating at my desk which is not very often.

But to eat by myself in public? Doesn’t that mean I’m friendless and uncool? But the said opportunity got in my face, looked at me square in the eye and dared me.

So I went, armed with my phone and my ipad as a backup in case the phone died. As luck would have it, at the restaurant they said it would be a 40 minute wait and I almost sighed in relief. See, I’d tell Raj, it wasn’t my fault, I was ready to do it, but it was a 40-minute wait and I was too hungry.

But then, they said wait! There is a community table (I shuddered). If we can find you a place, you’re in.

At first it seemed like the worst idea. But on second thought, this was actually a great “dip a toe in” kind of situation. I would sit with total strangers, and if anyone looked funny at me, I would pretend I had come with one of them.

The community table was a high table that had 8 seats and six were occupied. One vacant seat across another lady, and one with a set of 3 frat-looking boys. I chose the one across from a lady who looked like she had come alone, and hoped she wouldn’t leave while I was still eating (which she did).

After I placed the order (one humongous multigrain pancake, and a kale tonic), I got busy with my phone. A few minutes in, I looked up to see what all the people who had come with friends/family were doing. Cool, everyone was on their phone. Hey! This ain’t so bad, after all. I didn’t feel out of place at all.

When the food came, I actually put the phone down, and ate, people watching. And found that it wasn’t as awkward or uncomfortable as I had imagined—even after my imaginary friend across left while I was still eating. Nobody looked at me funny, or with pity.

That’s one more down. With about 97 to go.