Lightening the Burden of Fear
At some point in our lives, we all face fear. It is the feeling that makes us want to run, to hide, to stop, to not try, to give up. Fear is a barrier to doing the things we want or must do. It can make us feel unsafe, unloved and unfulfilled. It can also be an obstacle to building relationships and understanding each other. In this light, fear can be seen as unhelpful and something to challenge.
Sheila Cassidy is famous for rising to fame when she was arrested and tortured for treating a guerrilla fighter under Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile. She is now an expert in care of the terminally ill. Sheila wrote about the 3 different realms of fear.
· Experienced fear
· Remembered fear
· Anticipated fear
I experience all three realms of fear (as most of us will do) on a regular basis whilst going about my life and work in my local community:
During lockdown (mid-June, early evening) I was walking to the corner shop to buy milk and bread for breakfast. One of the local children who I had met with his parents during my regular biking and walking around the community was at the top of my street, crying. He said that he had missed his curfew by 10 minutes, had come home late and had found the house empty. His family were out looking for him up at his Granny’s.
I said to him, “Do you trust me? Can I help you?” (Fear of safeguarding issues.)
He said yes. I asked, ‘Where does your Granny live? I will walk with you.’ We walked towards the house. His father spotted us from across the street. He ran over and started to scream at the boy and try to hit him. The father was scared and angry and fearful at his son's disappearance.
I stood between the dad and his son. In that moment, I experienced fear for my safety. Who knows what that man had taken, or what weapons he had? But my initial reaction was to ensure the lad's safety. We stood in what seemed like an age glowering, me hiding the boy behind my back. The mother, sisters and aunty (all of whom I knew) arrived and screamed at the father, “Don’t you dare do anything to Christine.” They took the boy and I walked home as I wanted to feel safe.
10 minutes later there was a knock at my door. The whole family was on the doorstep thanking me for helping the boy and apologising for the behaviour of the dad. He was absent.
A few evenings later, I needed cereal for morning breakfast. It was dark, the shop was only 3 minutes away, but I remembered fear. I had anxiety. I didn’t want to run into that man again. So, I stayed home and had toast for breakfast the following morning.
On a separate occasion, a care worker asked me to help him with a case he had been dealing with - a young man who had an abusive father. He needed my support as a DBS checked professional to look after the young man while police intervened. In that moment, I anticipated fear. I was fearful of the things that are possible in this world, the things that people can do to others.
Fear is different for all of us. Yet, there is a commonality: what helps us to process it. I thoroughly believe that fear is dissipated by light. Light of friends, family, loved ones, services, GPs, podcasts, therapy… I could go on! With my own experiences and every story, I have heard from those I meet, it is the sharing of that story that has brought them some solace. Like the young woman who fled her home and came to Gateshead with nothing and knowing no one. She has been welcomed and uplifted by local organisations and neighbours who give her friendship and support as she develops a new life here. Or the woman whose husband died by suicide who, with support and funding from her community, has retrained as a bereavement counsellor for her area. She can now support others in her community experiencing the same kind of grief, loss and fear. Or the 84-year-old woman who was badly beaten over the robbery of her mobility scooter. She has been financially and spiritually supported by her local Facebook group.
For every story of trauma, fear, anxiety there seems to be a glimmer, a sparkle of hope. Someone or something that makes the darkness less dark and helps us face our fears.
A wise philosopher from the first century reportedly said, “When I light a candle at midnight, I say to the darkness, ‘I beg to differ.’” I don’t know what caused this person to be up at midnight. Probably the same things that keep me wide awake: Fear, worry, anxiety. But we as individuals in our community have an opportunity and, perhaps, a responsibility to be that light. We can be that glimmer that helps to break away the shackles of fear, regardless of its realm (experienced, remembered, perceived). We can be the listening ear, the comfortable shoulder, the smiling hug that helps people to share their burdens. We need to make space for conversations that help us bond, build trust and let others know that we care. As the old idiom goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Christine is a community development worker coordinating an inquiry in the Teams and Dunston area of Gateshead. The project examines ways of bringing a community together to identify what's strong and what's wrong in the area, and coming together to make improvements. Christine was recently announced as Gateshead's winner of the North East Acts of Kindness award.