Why I decided to write out my fears
Sometimes, if you surprise your fears by naming them, they themselves feel too sheepish to stick around
I find it amusing to come face to face with my fears because I take myself pretty seriously as a grown-up and grown-ups are not supposed to have childish fears.
Yet, fears are so tenacious. You think you are done with them, you have gained confidence and experience, and then suddenly you are about to do something you have done many times before and you realize that you are afraid of all kinds of vague possibilities all over again.
I remember making a list of my anxieties when I first started writing this column in June 2011. I was whining because writing about being a parent to young children would mean that I would have to be more self-aware. I would have to be more present. To be able to write anything worth reading, I would have to be honest. To be honest, I would have to be good, because even though it feels wasteful to be a responsible adult when no one significant is watching, it is much more awkward to be nasty and then have to be honest about it.
Being good is hard work but over time we find out that it sure beats being indolent and decadent.
I really wanted to make this column work. I needed to hear from readers and peers to guide me, and that happened effortlessly. It still feels foolish and inappropriate to share about one’s inner life in this external way, but my sharing has catalysed others. There is always some mocking and rejection, but the engagement from readers continues to make me believe that even if I cannot always articulate the motivation behind personal writing, I must not doubt its relevance.
Not everything can be spoken in words. Therefore we write.
What I didn’t expect was that I really would become better understood. The initial feedback was always from readers I did not know personally and for years I remained worried about embarrassing and offending those closest to me—my family, friends and other inconvenient relatives.
There is, however, a great power in perseverance. In sticking it out even when one wonders whether one is moving forward at all or not. After about half a decade of writing this column, I find that all these words have changed me and the world I live in. My mother gets me, my brother trusts me, my husband protects me and my children and father are mildly proud of me. I accept myself better. I smile at myself in the bathroom mirror as if it is natural to smile at oneself.
Dear reader, after six years of writing this column, there will be a book, My Daughters’ Mum, a compilation of essays knitted together from new writing and articles that were first published here, in book stores next month. Published by Simon & Schuster, it is already available for pre-order online.
And with the book have come a bonus set of new fears. Are they original? No. Are they universal? Probably. Are they real or are they foolish? Both.
Sometimes, if you surprise your fears by naming them, they themselves feel too sheepish to stick around. I wrote them out in a list in order of their appearance:
■ Fear of asking for what I want: I am sure this one goes way back to early childhood, where one timidly decided that the best way to not have to deal with rejection and the feeling of being undeserving is to not ask for anything in the first place.
Silly little fear, please step aside. Grown-ups ask for what they want, because no one knows better than them what they need.
■ Fear of getting what I want: Meet the evil twin. What if I do manage to create a good book with a nice cover that sparkles on the shelves of book stores? What next? Will I have to write another one? Behave like an author? Perform a role? What if I am revealed to be the imposter that I feel like? Is this what wild, incredulous panic looks like?
Take a deep breath. Distract yourself. Send fear to the back of the queue.
■ Fear of standing next to my work: Self-belief and self-doubt are clearly fond of each other because they are always hanging around together and creating confusion. Why mess with their relationship? Just accept their uninvited appearances and carry on with what needs to be done. If you must be seen in public, plan your clothes and shoes. Plan the commute, you might as well reach well-dressed and in time.
■ Fear of success: This is a novel one. After spending years worrying about the fear of failure, you discover that the idea of success is scary too. Dismiss it. Get back into your pyjamas and water the plants.
■ Fear of having to abandon my fear of driving: It dawned on me like an epiphany one day that my last two beloved terrors are—fear of writing a book and fear of driving a car. I know how to do both, I have trained and practised and done trial runs and yet I have resisted getting into the driver’s seat and hitting the highway for years. Once the book is out, will I have to start driving too? Who would have thought they would be related.
Essentially, both of them are a fear of assuming control. Of crashing and hurting someone inadvertently. They are an obedient reaction to the critical parent’s voice that warns children against creating trouble by being incompetent and dangerous. That teaches girls that their mere presence is perceived as a threat by others.
All I need to accept is that I am quite harmless, actually. I am powerful and able and it is safe to be so. In fact, it is essential.
Read an exclusive excerpt from Natasha Badhwar’s forthcoming book My Daughters’ Mum in Lounge next week.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar