How to overcome fear

Fear is a liar in the end. It tells you that you can’t do this or that, it stops you from following your dreams. I am still struggling with my fears, but I try my best to face them.

I don’t want to be here

In the second night of our crossing of the Biscay I lay in bed, it is pitch black, the boat is shaking wildly in the waves and when it smashes into some waves it sounds as if we hit a rock. I close my eyes and wish I would be on land, safe and sound. Anywhere, but not here. I ask myself if I am really a bluewater sailor and the honest answer: I’m probably not. But what happened so far? Wasn’t that my dream for the last years to leave my boring, far too well-known life in Germany? That’s what I wanted. Go sailing with my partner, being on the sea, exploring new countries and seeing the world. I have been sailing before. Okay, I used to sail on bigger boats and in the Mediterranean Sea during summer. Here in the Biscay things are different.

After three and a half days on the sea crossing the Biscay, we arrive safely in Spain, but I feel shattered. I had to be honest to myself, I don’t like night shifts, I hate the waves and the feeling of being alone on the sea. Being lost. Well, maybe we just had a bad start. And what about us? Our whole relationship is based on the dream of going sailing and exploring the world like this. What will happen, if tell Alex that I doubt myself? I decided to keep going and not tell anyone about my fears and doubts. I hoped it will pass and the problem would solve itself. Well, two years later I can tell you: it didn’t. Problems and fears don’t disappear by themselves.

waves and dark skies

Another boat might help

After I recognized that I am about to freeze, as soon as the boat starts heeling and there comes more wind than 3 Beaufort, Alex soon started to complain justifiably and I started thinking. If we would have a bigger boat than a ten-meter steel boat, having a centre cockpit, a higher freeboard that will help. Actually, we changed boats. Now I have all of this, but I am still scared. In the end, it is not the boat, it is me. It is one thing when someone tells you this, but quite another when you get to that point yourself. Neither the one thing nor the other is comfortable to recognize. Somewhere along the way, I lost trust in myself. The trust that I could handle any situation by myself. On the one hand a depressing thought, on the other hand, a good one. Who should be able to change that, if not me?

So, I have to work on myself. That must be possible. We meet an American guy, 62 years old who sailed in his boat that nothing more than a 25-foot nutshell over the Atlantic. Alone. With a freeboard that is slightly higher than our dinghy. He seemed to have a good trip. That challenged me. It can’t be, that he managed the way from America to Europe in a swimming miniature of a boat and I can’t handle the way from Portugal to Madeira in our 44 Foot Moody. There must be solutions.

What is fear?

First, I look into the internet about fear itself. This type of senseless fear, not the good one that makes sense. You can be scared about not having enough money at the end of the month to pay your bills. This is a realistic sorrow when you have more expenditures than income. You can make a plan what is important and only spend money on the really important things, at the end of the month you’ll get your paycheck and the sorrows disappear.

With fear, your sorrows just don’t end and they don’t have to be realistic at all. Even though your rational brain knows that there is nothing you should worry about, there is the fear. Just in case that Armageddon is about to become real. This fear can cause physical symptoms, such as higher pulse, shallow breathing, an uneasy stomach and clammy skin. People with this kind of fear have a high imagination. Unfortunately, this imagination can take them to dark places. As if a little witch is sitting inside your head never shutting up and only focusing on the bad things.

I learn that in our brain we have something called the Amygdala and the Frontal Cortex. Normally both work together fine. The eye sees something curled up laying in the shadows and the Amygdala screams: A snake! The Frontal Cortex, pure rationality, says: Let’s go, have a look. Oh, only a rope, nothing to be scared about. The Amygdala is happy now and drinks its coffee.

Would the Amygdala be a human being with its characteristics, it would be the annoying neighbour who only complains about the bad life, the little child that runs around while holding his ears and screaming: “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”. It can’t sit still and as soon as things don’t go the way it was planned it can get completely out of hand. The Frontal Cortex is pure logic but just can’t argue against that fear mongering.

Maybe I’m nuts, but I am not alone

Okay, I learn that I have a little thing in my head that has a right to be there but has to be kept in bounds. Am I mad now? No, after a completely non-representative survey among my sailing friends, I recognize that women are usually the ones who are scared more easily, there are others who feel like me. Great, maybe I’m nuts, but I am not alone and I can work on it.

tunnel view

Well, trust is something that is lost easily but not as easily gained back. So we go out in good conditions and then slowly increase the level of difficulty. Like that the waves didn’t get my friends, but they’re more like undesired relatives on Christmas, that I can have an armistice with.

It also hits into my relationship

The Amygdala hits not only in when waves hit the boat but also when my partner and I have an argument. It sometimes seems difficult to find the right words, that I get understood. When I think, I said something completely logical, Alex looks at me as if I need to see the Doc soon. He thinks, I would make fun of him and my reaction towards his disbelieve and aggression is anger. Well done, about nothing than the colour of the Cockpit we have a fight, we could sell tickets for.

Maybe somebody knows what I’m talking about? As soon as we fight, he withdraws himself what can take days. If I want to talk, I get either no answer or I hear a grumbling noise. While he climbs on the next mental tree, things in my head turn wild. Does he still love me? Is it over now? Where shall I go then? What shall I tell my parents? His silence soon gets into a done divorce in my head. But, after a while, he climbs down from the tree and starts talking again. That’s the point when I need to kick my own ass and force myself to talk to him. To be able to shut up that little babbling witch in my head. Not easy, especially for me, as I am the “avoider”. I avoid discussions that are unpleasant and I don’t ask questions I might get an answer I don’t like.

A ray of sunshine between the clouds

Overcoming my shadows

To overcome my own shadows of fear to talk to my partner took me three years and him a bunch of nerves. Sure, other women may find it easier to talk about topics they don’t like, but I have always fled such situations.

For all of you who are like me: Just do it. Yeah, I know, sounds easier than it is. We got a bigger boat and it helped, but I still get scared when it gets dark and I can’t see what’s coming to me. Only going out when the skies are clear and the moon is shining helped. I still sit in the cockpit feeling the fear crawling up my spine, but as soon as it is dark and I recognize that the situation is fine, that I can handle it, makes me feel better. And I am not alone, Alex knows about my weakness and helps as much as he can after I found the courage to tell him. My wish to keep going and following my dream is bigger than the fear of failure. I always ask myself: what is the worst that can happen? Drowning, losing the boat? So I make myself ‘evacuation plans’ in my head. If we really need to abandon the boat, we still have our security net of rescue west, life raft and EPIRB. And the belief that I can endure everything as long as he is close and we are together. When he comes down, lays his arms around me and I start to ease and let go. I know I can be bigger than I think I am. And you can, too.

Did you face your fears? How did you do it? Let me know in the comments.

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