I'm not scared of the same things as other people

Written in 2019

One of the things I'd always wondered about myself is why I can quite happily stand up in front of a group of people, even strangers, and talk or give a presentation, when it seems like the majority of people find this experience terrifying and won't even try it. I can speak up when I know I'm right, and correct misinformation without worrying about whether I should step in or not (more recently I've started to question this and not get involved in these situations, as it doesn't always end well because people don't like to be corrected) and I don't shy away from conflict, or being threatened (to clarify, I hate conflict and try very hard to avoid instigating any, but when it's happening because someone else has decided to be contentious I'll stand up for myself and others) and I'm good at dealing with these situations in the moment. The last instance was a couple of months ago and people were praising me for dealing with the situation so well, and I didn't really understand that praise because I was just doing what comes naturally.


Later on I might get physical sensations, racing thoughts and other symptoms which tell me I'm processing something difficult, but I don't get these when the situation is active. It's the same with a crisis. As long as it's not my crisis, I can be detached, organised, calm and level headed and will be working to resolve the crisis or to help alleviate it in any way I can. Again, hours or days later I'll get hit by the processing and the results of it, but in the moment I'm totally in control and not scared. I used to do life modelling, which involves being nude in front of fully clothed strangers. I'll admit, the first time was a bit odd, being the only unclothed person in front of fully dressed people, but this thought lasted about 5 minutes and then I was comfortable. I don't mind people seeing my naked body, I don't have any weird extra bits or anything to be ashamed of, and I don't really understand why other people find this prospect so terrifying. I'm told I'm brave (really? I haven't done anything heroic!) for doing this, and that it must be so scary, and I just can't connect to that perception.


The things I am scared of are completely unfathomable to most people. Things like standing on one leg holding my foot behind my back with both hands make me very nervous because I don't understand how it works and I think I'll fall over. I was very proud of myself the first time I managed it (it's one of the warm up exercises on a Pilates video I do) but the idea that something as “easy” as this would scare me is incomprehensible to other people. It's the same with getting on or off exercise bikes. I can't figure out where my limbs need to be and because I have to control all 4 at the same time I get muddled easily and flustered and scared of falling over. Very few other people I know have any issues with this and certainly don't find it scary even if they don't like doing it. Riding a bike is terrifying for me and I although I can ride a bike, I never do so by choice and haven't even thought about doing so for 15 years. It took me months and months to learn when I was younger, and my brother, 2 years younger, got it in 5 minutes with the same teaching.

I can't deal with having my feet off the ground. Skateboards, roller skates and bikes are all terrifying to me. I remember the last time I wore roller skates was at a friend's birthday years and years ago. It was at a roller disco, so already a high stress environment for me. Several people asked me why I wasn't wearing skates so I said I don't like wearing them, I don't have the balance and it scares me. Of course, their reply was all about “oh you'll love it when you're on them/I'll hold your hand/it's nothing to be scared of” which were all utterly useless things to say to abate my fears (I would rather my fears had been listened to and accepted, rather than be told I basically shouldn't be scared of the thing I was scared of). I relented (by this time I had attracted a lot of well meaning attention) and put the damn things on. Stood up, nearly fell, had a huge panic attack with crying (another reason I hate birthdays – someone always cries).


The idea of going to a different swimming pool fills me with dread. It's a new car park, new people, different price, different changing rooms, different showers (maybe with no private cubicles), different sized lockers (which number will I get? Will there even be a 221?) where my standard unpacking might not work, different wristband keys, unfamiliar flooring (which might be more slippery, or uneven). It's the kind of thing I need a good few weeks to mentally prepare for, and definitely the type of thing that would put me in shutdown for the rest of the day, potentially a meltdown if something bad does actually happen and I'd definitely never plan anything else for the same day.


I hate crowds of people, I don't like being jostled about or having to change my walking because people slow down or stop, I'm putting enough effort into remembering where my feet are that I really don't need additional changes to process. I avoid busy times for anything and everything I can and will always seek out some form of sanctuary as a fall back option or for when I really need time out.


For the longest time I always thought I was just really bad at dealing with life. In fact, when I would talk about things that bothered me the standard reply was “well that's just life” and I'd just think that everyone else was better at coping with life than me, but that never quite had congruence with my lack of fear about things most people are terrified of.


Now, I have the user manual for my brain and in there it clearly states that poor motor skills, co-ordination, proprioception (the ability to know where your limbs are without seeing them) and unfamiliarity are known bugs in the system, and that I see the world differently to most people. An innate sense of equity and justice are also part of the system, and the need for hard, truthful facts are part of it too.


I'm not rubbish at dealing with life because of any massive personal flaw, it's just the way my brain is wired and I can accept that because it now all makes sense. Other people aren't better at dealing with life than me, because there are some things I don't struggle with that they do, so it kind of evens out. I'm not less able than anyone else, I'm differently able.

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