‘Fear cuts deeper than swords.’
I love Game of Thrones, I think it’s an incredible piece of art and there are so many beautiful lines in it that sometimes I just want to weep. This line is one of them. Maybe beautiful is the wrong word. But it is true and it does resonate with me. Fear cuts deeper than swords. In the book, Arya is learning to sword fight, and her fencing master teaches her to make her opponent scared of her, and not to give in to her own fear, or she will lose. Because once you give in to fear, you are defeated.
Since I was a kid I have struggled with fear. Most people do, in some form or another. But I believe, whether my natural propensity to be over dramatic (thanks Dad!) or the ability I’ve had since I was aware of my own thoughts to over think them, I took being a fearful child to a higher level than most. When I was about seven years old, in the first year of junior school, my class was shown a video on electric safety. I am not joking when I say it traumatised me. If you ever sat through this video as an innocent kid, you will know what I mean. What was surely intended as a safety awareness lesson literally became the stuff of nightmares to me. For weeks I didn’t sleep. If I did sleep, I saw electricity lines being hit by careless people walking with their fishing rods and dying from the shock. I saw boys being electrocuted after jumping into generators to save their footballs. But it didn’t matter if I was awake or sleeping, the same images played in my head, and consequently, this time became the first time in my young life that I was ruled by fear. There was an electric generator at the bottom of my street. I couldn’t walk past it. If some cruel twist of life meant that I absolutely had to walk past it, I would do so with my eyes closed. Even the gentle buzzing of it would make my insides turn to jelly.
And then, the saying ‘fear breeds fear’ came into play. Fear had its grip on me when it came to this electricity thing, but it bred another fear. About a year after the video, my school burned down. Cue Caitlin’s Deathly Fear of Fire. My dad is a former fireman, and that meant I was brought up with a healthy respect for things that burn. But this was different. I wouldn’t allow candles to be lit in my house. Bonfire night and the weeks leading up to it gave me stomach ache. I remember months of travelling in the car with my eyes closed, just in case I happened to see a fire on the mountain (a common occurrence in the Rhondda valleys). I couldn’t even tell you what specifically I was so scared of.
And then there was the news. Growing up in the early nineties meant that I was aware of certain events, one of the main ones being the first Gulf War. In the same way that people say they remember where they were standing when they heard Kennedy had been shot, I remember exactly where I was (sitting outside my house playing dolls) when I first heard the name Sadaam Hussain. My friend Melanie told me he had bombs that could end the world and he wanted to kill us all. Even now, twenty years later, I still feel a shadow of that memory, a slight twist in my stomach, as I think about it. How the blood seemed to rush to my head, in the exact same second as ice was running through the rest of my body, and my stomach was literally melting into nothing inside me. When you are seven or eight years old, you don’t know that that feeling is fear, an emotion, often a very unreasonable emotion, with no real grounds. You just know that its bad, and you don’t want to feel like it anymore.
Sometimes I think if I look back at me being a kid, it’s funny. What a strange little child. But to me, then, I can assure you it wasn’t funny. What started off as something ridiculous, got completely hold of me, as more years passed by. When 9/11 happened, I was a wreck. I remember my dad sitting with me for hours in my room, answering my political questions, and showing me Bible verses that would help soothe my mind. If I saw news stories about war, I’d get this instinct to run and cry. Even when there wasn’t anything specific to cause me to be afraid, I’d still be hit with it. I recall wandering through shops in Cardiff with my mother and getting this awful, sick feeling that she was going to die. I couldn’t swallow or speak, or tell anyone. I just suffered the torment in my brain, held her hand tight and waited till the night to cry. That wasn’t the first time it happened. It kept happening. A few months passed, and then the same ice block hit me sideways and this time I had terrible visions of my dad dying. My sister. My whole family.
What I didn’t understand then was that fear is unreasonable. It is wrong. Very often it has absolutely no grounds in reality. It is not supposed to happen. IT CAN BE FOUGHT. In the same way that fear wages a war on your mind, you can wage a war on fear. But you have to keep fighting, And you may have to fight for your entire life. You can’t let your guard down. I made that mistake before. Running, hiding, watching episode after episode of Friends until it had passed, and then peeping out of my little cocoon, only to be bowled over a few months later.
But this year I had enough. In a summer of incredibly depressing news stories and seemingly hopeless world situations, my personal fear indicator was off the scale. When you get to the point of being constantly on the verge of tears, your stomach is permanently twisted, and you can’t even get on a bus in case you see the headlines of the Metro newspaper, you know something has to give. Because fear is utterly and totally exhausting. Like a poisonous weed, it wraps around everything you love and suffocates every little bit of joy out of every single area that’s yours. It has no regard for boundaries, there are no limits to the depths it will sink, no part of your mind that it won’t seep into and choke. It will get you. Because fear cuts deeper than swords.
If you let it.
This summer I learned, for the first time in my life, that fear didn’t have to control me. I could control fear. I could fight it. I didn’t have to hide and wait for it to pass, I didn’t have to have marginal victories and just hope it never came back. I could fight it and I could win. So first things first. As the Manic Street Preachers told me, Know Your Enemy. I bet there aren’t any successful war commanders that are ignorant about the foe they are fighting. Intelligence is important. So I read about my enemy. I invested in a Kindle (by the way – being a die hard book fanatic, I was unsure, but it won me over!) and downloaded loads of books about fear, and peace of mind, and emotions, Christian and non Christian. I read them all. There was a lot of advice, and in a way that I really hope doesn’t make me sound like I’m trying to be a self help book, I learned the following:
– Fear isn’t real. It is an emotion, and you can control it. You might have a situation that is really bad, tough, that nobody else understands, that seems like the most rubbish thing ever, but there is always hope, there is always a way out, and even if it’s really hard to do, there is always a way to make things better.
– Your mind is important. In the same way that if you feed your body rubbish it becomes run down and weak, so does your mind. If you constantly watch negative television, read negative things, browse negative things on the internet, how on earth can you expect to fight negative and fearful things that come into your head?
– Running away from fear doesn’t help. It just prolongs the bad stuff. Hiding from stuff doesn’t make it go away, so you might as well face it.
– Hope is stronger than fear. If you read or watched The Hunger Games, you might recall President Snow saying this, realising that giving the people he controls with fear a little bit of hope will ultimately lead to his downfall. My hope is God. It is not an idealised hope that everything is always rosy for me if I go to church and read the Bible, but a real hope that ultimately, whatever life throws at me, whatever I go through, God will give me the strength I need to get through it and be better off for it.
– Peace does not come easily. Neil Young called his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace. I love that phrase. It’s what I’m doing in my head now. I’m fighting for my peace of mind, and that phrase reminds me that I have to keep fighting, no matter how long it takes. It also made me see peace as a force to be reckoned with. Peace is not gentle, it is not an unreachable, idealised view of how things should be. It is powerful and vital and if you genuinely have peace of mind, I believe that is worth everything.
I don’t know why I am writing this. I am not trying to preach to people, I don’t think I have it all sorted. But I can see how many people are living with fear and just accept it. I think fear is probably the root of most of the evil in the world, terrorism, racism, wars, anxiety, loneliness, stress, broken relationships. I reckon most bad things can be traced, at least in part, to this terrible, consuming force. My own particular brand of fear is world affairs and the future I guess, but for someone else it might be money (or lack of it), thinking you aren’t good enough, weight, failure, rejection. You name it. I just know that I never talked about it, and it made it worse. I spent a lot of time this summer talking to my amazing mother and boyfriend about it. I know that helped more than I imagined it could, so confiding in wise people you trust is always a good move. I also know that I don’t want to lose another day to that sick, exhausting, icy feeling that choked me so many times. I want peace. Peace in my mind, peace in my life. Fear is a thief and takes that away. I want to enjoy every little and large piece of good that I am privileged enough to experience, and I want to live in the most abundant, joyful way possible. Surely that’s worth everything?
‘Peace is the only battle worth waging’ – Albert Camus
‘You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You,’ – Isaiah 26.3