Face your fears and do it anyway
Are you like me and find that you are much more timid about things as you get older, asks Monica Dyson. That there are many more things to scare you than when you were younger?
Take driving. I’ve been driving for over forty years, having passed my test when I was about seven months pregnant and possibly only because the examiner was afraid that he might have to deliver the baby in his car! Now, in all that time I’ve never had any sort of untold incident. I’ve a clean license, wouldn’t know what to do with points, whatever they are and never been done for using a mobile phone or eating a sandwich whilst I’m driving or not even amazingly using my lipstick. But, I do not like driving at night, in bad weather or even at dusk, and I won’t drive on a motorway under any circumstances. Or at least if I absolutely ever had to, you’d know me, I’d be the one driving at 20 miles an hour in the inside lane. I feel positively ill at the thought of driving on a motorway in the dark and when it’s raining.
I think it’s a combination of growing old, busier roads, aggressive drivers and the fear of the unknown. I find myself planning routes before I get into my car. Trying to avoid unfamiliar roundabouts for instance, as we all know that they are the worst places for drivers who don’t signal their intentions. Things seemed so easy when I was young, I could drive anywhere, but I must admit that road rage hadn’t been invented then and no one ever shouted ‘you silly old woman!’ at me! And as for being a back seat driver, well you ask my husband. I invented the phrase ‘do you have to go so fast?’ And I never drive abroad! Help! The very thought.
I’m paranoid about safety in my home. I don’t think I’ve got OCD, well perhaps just a little bit as I’m convinced everyone has it in some shape or form, but I practically lock the door when I go to the bin! And I’ve a friend who won’t go into the city centre on her own under any circumstances. She’s worried about being mugged, although as she did once have her handbag stolen, I think she can be excused.
But we know that it’s just an age thing, that lack of confidence that attacks the elderly, worrying about something that will probably never happen, and is not particularly anything to be concerned about. But many people have suffered from much more severe fears and phobias for ever and they have often really ruined the quality of their lives.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, phobias affect approximately 10 per cent of adults. There are a number of explanations given for why these develop, including evolutionary and behavioural theories. Whatever the problem, it seems that they are treatable conditions which can be overcome with cognitive and behavioural therapy techniques.
There are some fears that are more common than others, things that lead to dizziness, nausea and breathlessness. In some cases escalating into a full blown panic attack. I’ve never had any experiences as bad as that but I do confess to feeling faint recently when I tried to find the way out of Ikea at Attercliffe.
One of the worst fears that people have and the most irrational is of flying, called pteromerhanophobia. What a waste of time that is. There are so many people who have denied themselves the chance of seeing wonderful parts of the world, experiencing other cultures, never standing in wonderment in front of the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids, and all because they won’t seek help. A friend of mine has never yet seen his baby grandchild because his fear of getting on a plane is greater than his desire to see the child, but he views any sort of help to conquer his fears as unmanly, something to be ashamed of doing.
This fear is often linked with a fear of heights, called Acrophobia, when people often have panic attacks at the thought of having to travel in a lift or look at the view from a tall building. Also linked with this may be Agoraphobia and also Claustrophobia which is a fear of situations in which escape is difficult. These may include crowded areas, open spaces or situations likely to trigger a panic attack. People are often so afraid at the thought of facing any of these situations that many of them, in extreme cases, may refuse to leave their homes.
You can go on for ever. Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes and as with Cynophobia, the fear of dogs, can usually be linked to personal experiences, often in childhood, as can Androphobia, the fear of men. Astraphobia is the fear of thunder and lightning. Many people hide when there is a storm, closing the curtains in their home. This fear is also called Brontophobia, Tonitrophobia and Ceraunophobia. What I actually want to know, even though I am very sympathetic, is, who on earth came up with these names?
Then there is Ablutophobia which is a fear of washing or bathing. No, this can’t be used as an excuse by teenage boys. Aichmophobia, which is a fear of cats. Always an emotive issue anyway with people either loving or hating them anyway, but this is much more than dislike, it’s a real fear.
It is important to face your fears and phobias and realise that they are highly treatable. You don’t have to spend your life suffering. There is self-help, counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. None of these are as fearsome as they may sound.
Your doctor will be sympathetic and recommend the correct treatment. You’d go to him if you’d got flu wouldn’t you? Phobias are just another medical condition to him.
Sometimes my senior moments seem quite unimportant compared to real problems.