It seems to me that the less logical the fear is, the harder it is to overcome.
Jumping out of a plane, for example, is a perfectly logical fear. You could die. And yet people jump out of planes all the time.
I’ve never jumped out of a plane, but I did once climb 30 metres up the mast of a ship. That too was a fear rooted in fundamental fact. All that was standing between me and death was forgetting to connect my safety line properly (easy). Yet I did it anyway. It wasn’t even that hard.
Everyday we do things that are really properly scary. Driving a car is scary. The ways in which you could prematurely meet your maker during a quick trip to the beach are numerous and terrifying. Which is why, quite understandably, we ignore them and continue driving with that particular reckless abandon that has allowed humans to progress as a species.
So why is it we have such a huge problem with spiders?
Spiders are weird and scary looking, nobody’s denying that. But the number of spiders that can actually kill you are not in the majority. Besides which, your chances of actually dying when bitten by a spider, in this day and age, are negligible. Being afraid of spiders makes no sense. Yet most of us, when faced with a spider crawling up our leg, would immediately pitch a spaz. Even if we were driving a car down a highway at the time. Crashing a car is a hell of a lot more likely to kill you than a spider. But somehow the spider is the fear our brains have most difficulty coming to terms with.
Last year while I was staring at a blocked vent in the ceiling letting someone shove a tiny drill into the back of my front teeth, I had this revelation. If my hypothetical future children told me they wanted to become hit men I would be less upset than if they told me they wanted to be dentists.
Maybe you know someone who’s a dentist. Maybe they’re a really lovely person.
But that doesn’t change the fact that their surgeries smell of disinfectant and fear.
I can think of very few things which make me want to burst into hysterical sobs and hide behind my mother. Dentists being one of the exceptions.
That makes absolutely no sense at all. Dentists spend years at university learning how to correctly poke around in your mouth with small pointy things. It is their job. Going to the dentist is ultimately going to benefit both you and your long term heath and attractiveness. Going to the dentist is not scary.
Tomorrow I am going to get up at 6:30am with the express intention of eating a piece of toast. At 11:30 I will go to the hospital and sit around patiently while I wait for someone to stick a needle (another thing I’m not good at being brave about) in my hand. I will then remain happily unconscious while someone fishes around in my mouth with a pair of pliers.
Please do not be fooled by the cavalier phrasing of that paragraph. Just writing it makes my heart start whispering to my lungs that now would be a pretty good time to start panicking.
Tomorrow I’m getting my wisdom teeth out. I have been told that the absolute worst case scenario is that I will permanently loose all feeling in my bottom lip. But the way I’ve been carrying on for the last few weeks would lead you to believe it was much worse than that. I’ve developed the annoying habit of interrupting the flow of conversation to talk about my teeth. I have mentioned my teeth on social networking approximately 150% more than is advisable
I know this fear is irrational. I know I do more dangerous things all the time without blinking an eyelid.
But sometimes you just can’t ignore the spider that’s crawling up your leg.
The title of this post comes from a Tim Minchin talky bit called “Fear”. I cannot find it online but it is very good and also relevant.