teadog1425: (Maze)
[personal profile] teadog1425
"Without fear, we wouldn't even know what it is to be brave."  Martha Beck

Somewhere in my head is a long and thoughtful post about fear, and me, and riding, and I'm almost certain that this post isn't it.

But, on the grounds that performance anxiety is the main thing that stops me from posting here - sometimes I write whole blog posts in my head, and then never manage to commit them to the screen - I'm going to hash together this not-a-post about fear, and maybe it can be a bit messy and that will be ok...

So.  I've been thinking about fear a lot recently.  Not just thinking about it in an intellectual sense, but physically grappling with it.  Turning it over and over in my head, in my actions, like a rubiks cube that I'm trying to solve - believing that if I can just find the right sequence of moves, I will be free. 

I don't know whether that's true (the being free bit), but I do know that not grappling with it isn't an option.  I've tried avoidance as a solution before - and I know from experience that avoiding the situations that cause the fear is only a short-term win.  You think you've avoided the fear itself, but, in fact, all that happens is the fear occurs in more and more places, and your comfort zone gets narrower and narrower, until almost all your actions are controlled by this attempt to avoid being jumped by the fear-feeling and you look up one day and realise that you are in a narrow, dark place and the fear is still all around you.  And you think, this is not a life.

I can't remember when I first started having panic attacks, but I think I must have been about 10 or 11 (I'm a lot older now, lol!).  And for years (maybe decades, actually) I would never have described them as panic attacks.  I always thought that  a panic attack was something loud, dramatic - with shrieking and flapping arms, clutching at your chest, unable to stop talking...  What happened to me was silent, locked in, paralysed - the fear would hover above me like the shadow of a hunting hawk, and all I could do was to freeze, to make myself as small and as still as possible, and pray that it would let me go.  A lot of my triggers involved food, or becoming ill, or feeling out of control - and it took me a very long time to work out that the fear was not about the thing it seemed to be about, that it had nothing to do with the particular event that had triggered it, but that its occurrence was a reflection of how happy (or not) I was generally in my life.  The panic was a message from my sub-conscious - pay attention, all is not well here...   And realising that was the first step to being able to work through it, because if the trigger wasn't the problem, then it wouldn't help to avoid it. 

The second stage (not that these were linear, but you get the idea) was realising that the panic always wore off - however bad the feeling was (and if you've ever felt a full-on, ice-cold body panic, you know that it can get pretty bad), but the severity of it would always ebb - I could come out the other side, and I could be OK.  So, I worked on desensitising myself to the triggers that were most entrenched, and I worked on sorting out the reasons why I was feeling unhappy with myself in the first place, and the panics came less frequently and I got more techniques to help handle them when they did come, and the next thing that happened was that, about three years ago, I took up horse-riding! 

From the beginning, I was always a nervous rider, but I usually felt much better once I was on and riding - the anticipation was worse than the actual doing of it.  And from the beginning I knew that this was just...  addictive.  Despite the fear, and the disadvantages of being an un-fit, unbalanced, unathletic, overly-intellectual adult starter, I knew in my gut that horse-riding was somehow essential to the core of who I was - I still don't understand that, but it is still true.  And I worked hard at getting better - I took lessons and went on courses, I read books (obviously!), and I wanted with all my heart to be effortlessly good at it.  I outgrew the riding school horses (mostly because I craved more horse-time than was possible in that format), and I started taking a share in horses (a part-lease).  The first horse I shared was a difficult, overweight and unhappy cob, whose history as a riding school and trekking pony had left him cynical and jaded about humans (particularly beginner riders) - he was too much of a handful for me, and I looked around again and found my current share, an Icelandic gelding, who is not above the odd cheeky moment, but who is a real gentleman, and who I love utterly and completely.  And, although I was never a brave rider, I thought that I had worked through to a place where I could get on and ride without feeling anxious.  I was starting to think that I had got a few skills under my belt.  I was having lessons on a few different horses, and I felt like maybe I actually knew what I was doing. 

So, of course, what happened next was that this new-found (and pretty uncharacteristic!) confidence took a knock after a couple of (pretty minor) incidents - a friend's horse bucked and spooked and I fell off, and my safe, sane Icelandic got spooked by other horses and took off with me.  Somehow the combination of these two events, tipped me into the same panic-feelings of old, but now the trigger was the thought of hacking out.

And so, now here I am again, wrestling with the same question of how to manage these feelings of panic - and it's complicated this time by the fact that it is not helpful to freeze when you're on horseback - I have to find a way of still being able to function even when the fear feeling strikes. But the difference is, this time I've told people how I'm feeling - rather than struggling with it on my own, and feeling deeply ashamed about it - and I've discovered that almost all other riders struggle with their own fears and anxieties, even though theirs might be triggered by different events.  Horse-riding is a scary thing to do, and it can be dangerous, but if you love it, and you want to do it, you have to find ways of managing that fear and keeping going. 

And I wanted to talk about the things people have told me that have helped, but this is already really long, so I'm going to save it for another post!

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