Friday, August 10, 2012

Facing Fears

I'm a person who has a lot of fears, worries, anxieties, and stresses.

I think these manifest themselves through my insomnia, jumpiness, panic attacks, and OCD. I also think these feelings and insecurities have caused me to develop a lack of belief in myself - particularly because I'm afraid that I'll either fail at the task or I'll get hurt in the process.

Feeling afraid and anxious is tiring and depressing.

I reached a point - I'm not really sure what triggered it - and decided that enough was enough. Step by step I was going to try and tackle these insecurities.

One of my biggest fears was of water - large bodies of water. The expanse of the ocean scared me, and the idea of swimming around, not knowing where the bottom of the ocean was and with all those fish and other sea creatures swimming around with me, terrified me. Seeing JAWS pushed me over the edge.

My fear grew to the point where even the sound of waves made me feel anxious. To this day, deep water still scares me, and any body of water - even swimming pools - is automatically checked for sharks - I just can't help it. I do it every time. Every time.

A few years ago, I decided to try and get over this fear - so what did I do? I enrolled for scuba diving classes. I went to the classes, read all the material, took each lesson seriously -- and even though during my qualifying dives all I could envision was a shark with it's jaws open waiting to swallow me whole, I did it. I completed my 4 dives. My instructor was phenomenal as was my diving buddy. They never got impatient with me and were there to help me stay calm and celebrate my successes.

I obviously still have some work to do, especially since it's been so long since I got my certification, but I'm getting there. In Italy, I couldn't bring myself to swim in the sea - but I did walk in the water and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks made me feel relaxed instead of tense ... baby steps.

One of my other huge fears is of dogs.

This fear was passed on to me by my mother - her fear plus two bad experiences as a child pushed my fear to complete phobia. The sight of a dog a long distance away would cause my pulse to start racing and I'd start shaking. Dogs coming near me would send me into a screaming frenzy followed by a full on anxiety attack. I couldn't help it.

What would really, really piss me off is how most people reacted to this phobia of mine. Not only could they not understand it, there were many people who would say - You'd love my dog. You won't be afraid of it.

That's not how phobias work. They're irrational fears. I wish that I wasn't afraid, but at that point in time, I was. So many people tried to push me onto meeting their dogs - convinced that theirs would cure me. They just pissed me off even more, showing absolutely no respect or consideration for something that was a major issue for me.

I think it's because of people's reactions to my fear that it took me quite some time to even begin to think of getting over it. I felt like I was being forced or pressured because I was crazy for not liking dogs. What can I say? Not all dogs are friendly. Not all babies are cute. Fact. (People forcing me to hold their babies also pisses me off.)


A year and a half ago I decided to try and face this fear. It started with me not avoiding dogs. Usually if I saw a dog coming my way, I'd cross the street. So I started by not crossing the street - just standing there and ignoring the dogs.

I did alright, and I was definitely put to the test in Argentina earlier this year where there were dogs everywhere!! I totally impressed my friends who had yet to see me be so calm around dogs - especially D, who may still have traces of my fingernail indentations after a particular dog incident in Boston several years back!

Anyway -- let me get to the point (finally) -- One of KD's friends in Italy had 3 dogs. When we went over to her house, she had already put the dogs away, which was the first sign to me that she acknowledged my discomfort and wasn't going to force me to meet her dogs. She had a very calm demeanor which played a big role in her amazing therapy work with horses ... I automatically felt comfortable around her and thought, right - maybe during this trip I'll really be ok around dogs. Part 1 would be to be ok around the dogs, and part 2 - if I felt ready enough, then I would actually pet the dogs.

We went to the horse stables where KD's friend worked - there were lots of dogs around. Everyone was so great around me - keeping a watchful eye on both the dogs and myself, ready to step in if it got too much for me.

The first step - getting used to the dogs. This one below, Otto, seemed to take an immediate liking to me as he hardly left my side the whole time I was at the stables:

After about an hour, I thought I was ready - though I was still slightly hesitant ...

Success!! Contact made!!

I even got comfortable enough to actually fully sit down. This was a huge deal. I was completely vulnerable - there was even a time when there was a dog behind me, but I didn't flinch. That never would have happened a year ago!!

Some other dogs came in to get some affection:

While they were all cute, Otto was my favorite :)

If you've never had a phobia, you may not get what a huge deal this was for me -- but conquering this fear was a major accomplishment. It was one more step in me taking control of my life. I was very, very proud of myself!


  1. Huge, huge, huge success! Congratulations! (I'm claustrophobic and have a slightly less but still irrational fear of spiders...)

  2. It is huge. Congratulations for working on your fears!

  3. I get the phobia thing. Mine is stairs with no risers. I think that is what they are called, you know, the back part of the stair that keeps you from pushing your foot through the back of it. Anyway, I have a complete phobia about those kind of stairs. Most people think it is silly but it isn't, just ask my husband. I have complete panic attacks if I ever have to climb them. Thankfully it has been a very long time since I've seen stairs like that.

    I totally understand how difficult that must have been. Good for you!

    I can't believe I just wrote that where people will see it.

  4. Thats awesome!! My son is terrified of dogs. He was bitten when he was four. He is now embarrased that he gets scared (hes 16). and He wants to overcome his fear. We are looking for a calm dog and owner to help him.

  5. Facing your fears is a big deal. I'm terrified of going to the dentist because of a terrible childhood experience. I'm also a flipping mess if I'm required to speak to a group of people even if it is only five to ten people. I've taken classes in speech and communications and, frankly, they didn't help. Getting older seems to have helped a tiny bit. Maybe because I don't care as much as I once did what they think of me. :)

  6. I'm just catching up on blogs, so I'm going to add several comments here. :)

    1) Congrats on dealing with your fear, you are awesome! I have a terrible phobia of snakes, and to this day will not deal with it. You were so brave!

    2) Awesome weight loss! 6 pounds? On vacation? Great job! I'm sure that although your food choices may not have been perfect, your activity levels and care in not eating too many snacks contributed to your loss.

    3) Those pictures of Italy were beautiful. One day I must go there...

    Welcome back!

  7. You are very brave! I hope you are proud of yourself. It's not easy to do, but you did it congrats!!


Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I can use all the support I can get :)