| 1052 words

There's something fascinating and mysterious about fear. I've kind of touched on this topic before, but I feel like it's worth digging into a little bit more. I'm fairly familiar with fear; regularly doing lots of new things means you're constantly brushing up against your limits and pushing them. But there are many different kinds of fear, and some behave differently than others.

I used to think that most fear operated only in the abstract sense. Say you're scared of traveling alone on an airplane for the first time. Since you're nervous, maybe you research every aspect of the journey. You double and triple check your tickets, plan out your route in the airport, and ensure the plane you're flying on is a safe one. These might all lessen your fears, and while there's still some anxiety all you have left to do is follow the plan.

This is what some people might describe as a rational fear. There's a lot of stuff that can go wrong in a complex place like an airport, and you're rightfully afraid of something happening. Then, with preparation and research that fear lessens because the chance of something going wrong is lower. With enough experience that fear might even entirely go away! Even the scariest horror movies often rely on jumpscares and quick tricks; nothing that will truly cause dread.

However there's some fears that might be considered irrational, even though I'm not the biggest fan of the term. Going on a rollercoaster could be one. Some people say they're scared of the danger of riding a rollercoaster, but statistically they are very safe. The chance of anything going wrong is miniscule. So then, what is there to be afraid of? If you can be almost certain that in 5 minutes it'll be all over and you'll be ok then why be scared?

I find this to be an interesting question because it is exactly how I interrogated myself about my own fear. One easy answer is that you might be scared of the uncomfortable sensations in the stomach that go along with a thrill ride, but I'm not so sure about that. It's certainly a convenient answer but I have my doubts. In my opinion, having been on some roller coasters, the sensations weren't really that bad, even in loops and tight turns. There's something else there, some part where the knowledge that you're sitting on a roller coaster and can't get off intensifies the fear.

And that feeling is incredibly potent. It's completely unlike that other type of fear I was describing, that you might get when traveling. It's incredible, the animal that awakens inside of you when fear wrests control of your brain. Fear is a primal instinct, built into us on a fundamental level. Animalistic, almost alien. It's not something you encounter when you're nervous about a flight or an exam; I get the sense that most people have felt true, primal fear only a handful of times in their lives. And this is a blessing thanks to our modern day conveniences.

If you're the kind of person who's deathly afraid of roller coasters, and you decide to face it by sitting on the tallest one you can find, then I imagine this is what you'll be feeling on the long ride to the top. It was only after experiencing something similar that I understood why some people recite a sentence to themselves repeatedly. Something simple like "I must not fear" over and over again. It's because at a time like this, it's literally all your brain is capable off. Every higher reasoning faculty shuts off, overcome by the lizard brain underneath.

It's pretty incredible to witness yourself like this. I like to think I know roughly how my mind works, I'm sure we all do, but this is something that's installed into us at such a base level that it's easy to miss. I don't recommend intentionally traumatizing yourself, but if you are ever in a similar situation it's fascinating to watch the mental tug of war between fear and yourself play out in your brain.

The other amazing thing is that humans can generally adapt to almost any fear. Facing your fear tends to work, and with enough exposure you can desensitize the lizard brain to almost any stimulus. Despite only being on a handful of roller coasters, I feel like I'm already capable of so much more. Even intense enough visualization can help lessen fear; the primitive brain is too silly to know the difference between imagination and reality, and if imagining something scary causes real fear then that can be one avenue to really conquering it.

Lately I discovered I get scared when falling, perhaps partially because I'm so tall. This can especially be an issue when trying to master anything fancy like jumping into a roll or doing handstands. Plus this is more of a roller coaster fear than an airport fear. It's surprisingly primal, and although I've fallen many times before, sometimes intentially, it's pretty stubborn. Even the worst falls do little more than bruise if I'm on a gymnastics mat, and yet there's still an innate fear of them. One that makes me drop everything to prevent the fall, even if I'm doing it intentionally to practice something.

Of course I have faith that I'll desensitive myself to it eventually. It's not a serious impediment to learning, and realizing it exists is half the battle. However, it's very insightful when you notice something new about yourself, and I never had a better opportunity to look inwards and examine my fear so closely before. It's amazing that how no matter how well you prepare yourself and talk through it, the fear doesn't change. The lizard brain is too primal to understand our human concepts like learning and planning. All we can do is speak to it in the only language it understands, sheer repetition and brute force. After all, who wants to be scared?