Fear can be described as an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or anticipation of danger. The frozenness and reluctance to proceed when stifled with fear is recognisable and understandable to everybody when faced with pressure and uncertainty in potential outcomes in life; preparing for an interview for a new job; meeting new people in social occasions, a visit to the doctor. The strains of fear are many and constant and in facing our fears we as beings have different ways of dealing with any given situation.
In my younger years, I was engulfed by fear in different ways and for different reasons. I lacked the confidence to interact coherently with friends and family. I was uncomfortable in social settings and disliked big crowds of people. In no way was I shy, but like most teenage boys, I had little clarity or self-perception of my own personality and characteristics.
This social anxiety was brought to the fore through two means; firstly in school I was a victim of bullying. Standing a little plump and pudgy in my teenage years, my understanding as a boy was that ‘chubby’ kids were picked on and that was the norm, that being neglected and subpar to other kids was just a rule in growing up and in going to school. I accepted the taunts and the kicks and failed in any way possible to respond or defend myself.
I cried. I sulked. I considered the changes I should make to ensure these people would like me. Could I be like them and be cool? How could I change to be popular? Again, this was my understanding as a boy; that individualism was irrelevant and fitting in and altering your image and behaviour to gain respect and stance was the only way to feel an ounce of self-importance and belief.
There was no inner fear in dealing with these perpetrators as in my naivety I saw them as friends. They were the cool kids that everyone loved. I was an extra, part of the group only as geography and circumstance would have it. We all lived close and we were all put in the same school. My real fear was explaining to my teachers and my family my constant frustration and upset in not being able to fit in and be an idol within the group. I often fantasised of being the leader, the one wearing the new expensive clothes and runners, the one the girls all talked to and the one everyone was afraid of.
My feelings of neglect and anger were notions I pointed towards myself more than anyone else. I was angry and afraid of my own personality and as a result of being put down; I was embarrassed at my own talents and abilities. I was always a talented artist, I loved drawing. But in the eyes of the perpetrators this wasn’t seen as acceptable and wasn’t judged as being a talent for popular kids to have. Having won a local art competition in school, my prized entry was ripped up in front me by ‘the leader’ – the guy I wanted to be – and thrown out the window much to the classes amusement and cheer.
Despite my upset, again I convinced myself that I was excess to requirement in a class full of popular people. My talents didn’t matter. My being didn’t matter and this was all very normal for a chubby, quiet 12 year old.
Was it all doom and gloom? Of course not. I played football and loved it. I was a talented goalkeeper, but ‘the leader’ constantly reminded me that I was only the goalkeeper because I was not able to play in an important position outfield and he amongst others ensured that I knew very well that there were several other players there who were all better in goal than I was. I stopped playing as a goalkeeper and switched to outfield because it was what the popular kids were doing.
The second leveller that caused an explosion of fear and social anxiety came on 5th April 1998. Aged 13, I went into the city centre to buy a new football jersey. Ireland had missed out on the World Cup, but had issued a new range of playing gear and training gear and I had saved up money for months in order to treat myself. Having made the purchase, I decided to walk home from town. My mind wandered and the regular thoughts of a boy my age filled my head as I made my way home. My solace was disturbed when closing in on home. Not far from where I live, a man pulled me aggressively from behind. He grabbed me by the shoulder and began shouting at me: ‘GIVE ME YOUR JERSEY!’ ‘GIVE ME YOUR FUCKING JERSEY!’ I was completely shocked. Stunned into statuesque fear. Terrified. How did he know what was in the bag? He must have followed me. The situation worsened. Holding his forearm heavily across my throat in order to restrain me, he reached for his pocket with his other hand and pulled out a syringe. I could see clearly its contents. Brownish liquid. ‘I’LL FUCKING STICK THIS IN YOUR NECK YOU PRICK! GIVE ME THE BAG!’
I screamed. I seriously screamed. It was 2.20pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Broad daylight. People around. Cars on the main road. But I was alone. I somehow broke free and ran the entire way home. I climbed into bed and cried. I stayed in bed for days. The effects were harrowing. Already a nervous boy lacking severely in confidence and in belief, I lost faith in living. I lost faith in people and developed an unrelenting fear of society and its goings on. I refused to go anywhere alone. I rarely left the house. I was afraid of strangers and I was afraid of living. DOC