I have a lot of irrational fears. I know they’re irrational and I try to face them head on as proof to myself that there is no logic there and I can survive just fine, but sometimes they get too much for me and I panic and run away. I’m pretty sure we all do. Fears of house spiders, fears of pigeons, fears of mice. Logically we know there is nothing to be scared of but most of us have one or more of these silly fears that we let break into our brains.
One of my huge fears is aquariums. Aquatic life in general. I hate it. I panic. I hate looking over the edge on a boat (not that I often go on a boat if I can avoid it) because I hate the idea there’s something in the water looking up at me. I have nightmares about aquariums where I’ll be looking into the glass window and something will start moving in the depths and swimming towards me, or the glass will start to crack. It absolutely freaks me out and is giving me the shudders just thinking about it.
For people who know me, this will come as a surprise. Why? I’m an annual pass holder for the Sea Life Centre. We go regularly. Indeed, we have a trip planned for Monday as an end of the Summer holidays treat for Miss Rose before she starts back at school on Tuesday.
She loves it. She’s fascinated. She gets as close as she can to the glass and examines the creatures inside. She loves the sharks, the rays, the octopus and the jelly fish (all things I’m petrified of) and loves the walk through glass tunnel with water all around (a thing I have had panic attacks in on more than one occasion and taken some serious calming down.) But I’m getting control of it. I’m learning to cope. And because of this, Miss Rose gets to go somewhere she loves with her mum, and hasn’t developed a fear of her own.
It’s a legitimate question to wonder if those fears really would be passed on, considering how much she loves it in there. Would she copy my fear?
Whilst we were in Spain on holiday last Summer, we all went with my mum and dad staying in the neighbouring house, on a day when The Boy and I wanted some alone time (read: wanted to get drunk on the beach and have sex) my parents took Miss Rose out for the day to a butterfly farm. When they came back later that day she was so excited. She had photographs taken with enormous butterflies landing on her arms and her head, she was surrounded by them flying around her, and she told me all about them with enthusiasm and joy.
I like butterflies too. As long as they’re not on me. Or too near me. Or flapping. I like pictures of butterflies. I like the idea of butterflies. I do not like butterflies themselves. But I didn’t tell her that, I enthused with her about how wonderful it was.
Last week we went to Twycross Zoo. There’s a butterfly walk there, much smaller than the one she went to in Spain, but a lovely big, warm tented place filled with trees and vines, and lots and lots of butterflies.
I braced myself. We went in.
Miss Rose was absolutely fascinated. She was loving it.
Then one landed on me and I squealed and flapped to get it off me. My heart started racing. I was sweating. My brain was fogging and I could feel myself start to panic. They flapped in my face and I screeched. I hated it. I was losing control.
My mum glared at me. Rose was mirroring me. She had gone from fascinated and loving it to whimpering and fussing when one got near her, hiding her face and getting scared.
I was so cross with myself. Fuming with myself. I tried to get a grip but I just couldn’t. I had to get out. I couldn’t cope.
When we were outside again Rose told me she didn’t like it and was scared. I asked if she wanted to go back in. She said no. My mum said she’d like to go back in, would Rose go with her?
Nervously, looking at me anxiously, Rose agreed. She went back in.
Luckily within moments she went from panicking and freaking out to laughing and enjoying it again.
I waited outside and played on my phone and felt ridiculous.
Miss Rose isn’t scared of spiders, I am. Miss Rose isn’t scared of heights, I am. Miss Rose isn’t scared of fish, I am. Miss Rose isn’t scared of butterflies, I am. So far I am managing not to pass on my irrational fears, but it’s touch and go. And the older she gets the more likely she is to pick up on my tension and stress in situations I don’t want her to be scared of.
If she develops fears of her own I’ll help her, understand her. I’ll teach her coping mechanisms for anxiety, I’ll teach her about how to face fears as best you can. I’ll teach her that it’s okay to be afraid of things, but that we can master that fear if we really try… even if it takes time and several attempts before you get there.
As long as they’re her fears and not mine. My job is to teach her to face the world and discover it for herself, and part of that is me facing my fears to help her along the way.
But perhaps not butterfly farms. At least not for a while. I’m still getting over my last attempt.