If you asked me one year ago, I’d define “fear” as the emotion we feel that warns us away from potential harm or pain.
I thought fear was just what you felt while watching a scary movie. Or when you stepped into an intersection and saw a car coming toward you. Or when you looked down a steep ski slope with a sharp drop-off on one side and think you’re going to die. (No? Maybe that’s just me.)
Fear was always an uncomfortable feeling, but I always thought we got over it fairly quickly, once we removed ourselves from that scary situation.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently realized that I’ve been living with fear for my entire life.
This is a different kind of fear. It’s a low-grade, chronic fear that infiltrates every aspect of our being, our actions, and our thoughts. This fear isn’t saving us from harm. It’s not preventing pain, or warning us away from dangerous situations. In fact, this fear is doing the total opposite. It’s keeping us in a state of fearful living and keeping us from our most vibrant, fulfilled lives.
Put simply, this kind of fear is the opposite of love. To quote Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love:
“When fear is expressed, we recognize it as anger, abuse, disease, pain, greed, addiction, selfishness, obsession, corruption, violence, and war.”
When we’re born, she explains, we’re filled with love — pure love. It’s the world, our society, that instills these overarching sense of fear within us.
To be honest, this has taken me a long time to understand. So if you find this completely foreign, I get it! Just bear with me, and I promise it’ll make sense one day. It’s only after spending much of the last year reading and learning from self-development pros—shout out to Gary Vaynerchuk, Gabby Bernstein, Oprah, and all the rest of you awesome writers & podcasters—and lots of yoga that I sort of “get” this kind of fear.
First, the good news: “Fear is an illusion,” Williamson writes. “Our craziness, paranoia, anxiety, and trauma are literally all imagined.”
The bad news? Although it may not be real, this fear can literally prevent us from seeing possibilities that are right there in front of us. In our minds, it plants crazy, untrue thoughts about ourselves and our abilities.
Because of this fear, we don’t apply for that job, or ask for more money, because we don’t think we deserve it. We don’t write that blog post because we’re worried what people will think. We don’t have a fulfilling relationship because we’re scared we’ll get hurt. We don’t let ourselves seek happiness because we’re afraid we don’t deserve it. We don’t take that big leap or make that big decision because we’re afraid we’ll get it wrong (again).
Actually, if you think about it, we’ve been trained to be scared of pretty much everything. We’re afraid of dying young, but also getting old. We’re afraid of being alone, but we’re also scared to let someone love us. We’re afraid of staying still, but we’re also scared of making a change.
No wonder 1 in 4 of us has a mental health issue.
I’d heard Marianne Williamson’s famous quote so many times in the past. Maybe you have too. She writes,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
Even though I may not feel “powerful beyond measure” (yet), I am at the point of realizing I have to stop using fear as my default mode. I have to stop using fear as excuse to play it safe. I have to stop being so afraid that I don’t even see the possibilities that are open to me in my life.
And yes, this means what you think it means. It’s not the fault of your friends, your job, your boyfriend, your boss. You can’t even blame your parents (sorry).
We can only blame the fact that we’re continuing to hold onto this fear like a safety blanket. But instead of saving us from harm, it’s keeping us in a cycle of self-inflicted pain—maybe not acute pain, but subtle, constant pain at best.
Today’s May 1. This date marks a lot of things. It’s (obviously) the first day of a new month, but it also feels a lot like the start of a new season with the weather finally warming up for good. It’s also Mental Health Awareness Month, which, in this insane world, is getting more attention now than it has in the past.
It’s also my dad’s birthday, who I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. He’s taught me that it’s okay to live with this low-grade sense of fear (or anxiety), as long as you figure out how to control it. And recently, he’s confronted some major health issues with incredible bravery, optimism, and positivity—anything BUT fear.
That’s how I want to start living—in both my personal life and in my work: bravely, optimistically, and positively.
I’m not going to lie. This new way of thinking about fear still feels foreign to me, and a little bit “out there.” But I also know that my current life isn’t providing me with what I’m craving and desiring. Basically, I’m at my wits’ end with playing it safe.
Which Williamson gets.
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So here’s the setting fear aside. Here’s to putting myself out there a bit more. Here’s to looking at this world with more love, more open-mindedness, and less anxiety.
Here’s to opening myself to the possibilities out there, and focus on asking myself What if? instead of telling myself all the reasons why not.
Because f*ck fear.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness this May, I’m publishing a series of posts about mental health—and for the first time, not from a journalist’s perspective. Here, I’m writing straight from the heart (and the mind) about my own struggles, experiences, and what I’ve learned (so far).
I’m a writer and health coach who loves hot yoga and cold white wine. Find me on Instagram @lockehugheswrites. Want help staying accountable? Check out my services at lockehughes.com—and get one free coaching call when you mention this article!