Facing Fears

Not a lot in this one about games. Sorry. This one’s more for myself.

I spent a long time afraid of dogs. Like, really, really afraid of dogs. I would studiously avoid visiting friends in grade school if I knew they had a dog, and my first thought when visiting a new friend’s place was “I hope they don’t have a dog”. I would freeze up when seeing someone walking their dog on a leash 100m away in a park. It was a problem.

This lasted for about twenty years. Ed, a very good friend of mine, has two dogs who instantly recognized I was terrified of them, and stayed out of my way. Over the course of about nine months, wherein I hung out with Ed because he’s awesome and I didn’t want him realizing I was terrified of dogs (protip: he knew instantly), I got used to his beagle, who could not fathom a world in which a person existed that didn’t want to pet him.

This is River, my puppy. She’s the final stage of me getting over my dog-phobia, and it’s been really successful. She’s one of the first times I’ve faced a fear head-on, and the results have been great.

I’m a relentless planner– I work out what I’m going to do and how I’m going to approach situations almost ridiculously far in advance. Every single day I consider possible options– what if X person wants to do something this evening, what if Y event occurs, what will I do if Z happens? I have contingency plans within contingency plans, and as a result I’ve gotten really good at working out ways to avoid things I don’t want to deal with. Plausible excuses are my bread and butter, and I can hide my own inconvenience well enough that most people don’t notice when I’ve done something stupid like overbook myself.

Actually facing my fears or things I’m uncomfortable with is, as a result, rather difficult for me. It’s intentionally putting myself in a situation where I can’t plan out my reaction. It helps, *a lot*, to have friends willing to help out. Mostly, this means being a wall pressed up against my back to prevent me from backing down.


In the same year I got River, I tackled another fear of mine: needles. I have always had a problem with the idea of something being injected or withdrawn from under my skin. I used to donate blood regularly, and I’d see the needle, see spots, and pass out– this eventually led to them refusing to draw blood.

The answer to that one? A tattoo. I got my friend Jess to accompany me there, a calm, collected person who has an elaborate, impressive tattoo of her own on her back. She was there when I scheduled the appointment and worked her schedule around a bit so that she could come to the parlour with me, so there was no way I could back out. She’s also extremely supportive but has a low tolerance for cowardice, so I knew that I could count on her to be that wall.

End result:

It was done in two sessions, and while I was petrified during the first, I was perfectly fine for the second.

Now I’m working on an MBA, and one of the core classes I’m taking involves team-building at a ropes course– read: a place in which you climb up high places with a team. This is another of those things I’ve studiously avoided in the past– in undergrad, I actually signed up for a class for the sole purpose of creating a schedule conflict so that I had a good excuse not to go to a ropes course.

There’s not really any avoiding this one. Heights have been one of those things that I can avoid, and it’s a relatively recent (since college) fear of mine. It’s not hard to simply not go to high places… except now I’ve got a ropes course I can’t avoid. It would be easy for me to let the fear take control and just sit out of any events I don’t feel comfortable with– while I have to attend, the class syllabus specifically mentions (multiple times!) that while attendance is mandatory, participation isn’t.

Except, the whole point is to bond with my class– my cohort, who I’ll be with for most if not all of my core classes for this degree. Team-building is a skill, and it’s one I’m supposed to be developing. I’m bad with trusting people; I prefer to do the work myself and fully own both my successes and failures without worrying about whether or not I’m taking responsibility for someone else. When I do delegate, it’s because I’ve already come up with a contingency plan in which I swoop in and do the rest of the work myself.

My classmates are understanding, and I haven’t known them very long. I suspect they’re unlikely to care one way or another if someone they’ve only known for a few hours (two class sessions thus far) separates himself due to fear. It would be easy to plan a way to back out, but today we did trust-building exercises. Really simple stuff, the standard trust fall, that staple of team-building that often gets mocked. There was also the lift, like a trust fall except in a group, and when you’re at about 60 degrees, a few people pick your feet off the ground and then the whole group lifts you above their heads. This is enough to trip my fear of heights– I’m up high enough to hurt myself if I fall, unsupported by anything except a bunch of people’s hands, many of whom are smaller than I am.

But it was fine, I came out unscathed, and given my track record at facing fears head-on, I figure this is another one I can take on rather than hiding from. Now I’ve written it all down; I can’t back out now. Whoever’s reading this: thanks, you can be the wall for my back to be up against. We’ll see how I feel in a week.

Source: Digital Initiative
Facing Fears

Leave a Reply