I am afraid of many things. I don’t mean the kind of paralyzing fear that mental health professionals label “phobias,” but neither do I mean the common everyday fears that those same experts might label “normal.”

Not Afraid

I guess one might call me anxious. Although I reject that term since it brings to mind Woody Allen and well, this guy:

Furthermore, no matter how much improv I do, I am still afraid.

Sure, I can fly without drinking heavily or taking drugs. I can walk the streets of a city at night, if I need to do so. A bat can fly by my head and I (probably) won’t scream. No, my fears are strange and amorphous, at least to me.

True Story: The other day I was sitting by the water, looking across Puget Sound at the Seattle skyline with my wife. Doesn’t that look cool, she said, indicating the buildings. Mind you, even thought I do not currently live in Seattle proper, I used to, for 8 years. Seattle is one of the friendliest, most livable cities in the U.S. But sitting there, looking at it across the water, the emotion I felt was fear. Those dark shadows between the buildings? Scary. The way the structures seem to huddle together below the Cascade Mountains? Freaks me out.

Lately I have found myself afraid of camping. Most city dwellers do not find this surprising – so let me explain.

1. I grew up in Maine. Where there are no cities. Not really.

2. I was literally raised at summer camp. This one:

My mom was one of the camp directors.

3. When I turned 8, I went to this camp for seven weeks, every summer until I was 15:

I loved it!

4. I used to lead 28 day wilderness trips for this camp:

Best job I have ever had.

And yet, last time I was in a tent on a four-day backpack trip. I had a panic attack and had to be subdued with a cocktail of whiskey and lorazepam.

I am a teacher, for God’s sake! and yet the dominant feeling I have about the beginning of the school year each fall is fear. (Ok, bad example, I have been told that all teachers feel this way.)

Here what I think has happened:

Somewhere along the line, my Fear-o-nator got mixed up with my Excite-a-tron. Some how in my brain, these two emotions have become confused. That feeling in the pit of my stomach, the sweaty palms…that is actually what other people recognize as excitement. For some reason however, my neurons got mixed up and instead of my brain saying “Whoopie,” it started saying “Holy SH*T!”

I would like it to switch back now.

Advice, anyone?

Today’s Improvmantra: I will do what scares me, just because it does.


About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
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13 Responses to Yikes!

  1. Jordan says:

    I am intrigued by the idea of doing things that scare me. One thing I do sometimes to get over the fear is ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Public humiliation, death, physical pain – all of these things, I can handle. Once I realize that even if the worst happens, I can handle it, then it seems a little bit less frightening. Usually, after moving through the fear and doing it anyway, I feel more powerful, exhilarated, and ready to face the next scary thing. Another technique is to remind myself that I am not that important. The world does not revolve around me. If I make a fool of myself, people are not that interested – they are much more interested in themselves. In fact, people sometimes like you even more if you screw up. Perfection is intimidating. Falling short and owning up makes us more likeable.

  2. erin says:

    Sorry, but I don’t think those two things are related. Excitement is pretty much just happy expectation about some thing, but the irrational fear (unless there was a lion outside the tent or the rollercoaster strap broke, in which case totally rational!) is probably not at all related to the thing happening at the moment. In my experience irrational fears and anxiety are about not truly acknowledging thoughts or feelings I’m having. Like if you don’t open the door to them, see them, slip them on for awhile, they push through a window, at random times, and freak you out.

    • improvmantra says:

      Yes – This is very possible. The fears I feel are not really related, or only sort of related, to my current experience. The fears are actually related to things I am studiously ignoring – feelings and thoughts I am not acknowledging. But how do you face those fears? How do you delve into those hidden secret corners?

      • erin says:

        It’s not easy. Journaling sometimes helps if you play things out on paper, like what if’s, or follow a thought or feeling out to imagined expression. It’s easy to go big about it all, if I finally am honest with myself then….the sky will fall, no one will like me anymore, I’ll be homeless, but somewhere less than that is probably more true. And they don’t all disappear if you get honest with yourself, there’s still fear but there’s a lot less and it’s not that monster in the dark feeling, I think. Dreams are cool to notice and play with, too, but if you’ve hidden from yourself for a long time, you may not be able to force yourself to confront the issues on your own. It’s kind of relaxing when you stop masking yourself, though, and get more authentic.

  3. improvmantra says:

    One thing I am currently doing is looking at my dreams. I am reading a very cool book called “Active Dreaming” by Robert Moss. Perhaps if I seek answers there – in my sleep – I will find something useful.

    • erin says:

      I’ve heard good things about him, but haven’t read his stuff. I’d try to pay more attention to the content I’m getting in dreams rather than lucid dreaming where you try to step in and change things. To see what your subconscious is working on and bringing up, rather than consciously altering anything, imo.

  4. Sandi says:

    Maybe fear is a default when you are feeling responsible for too much. Ya know, wanting everything and everyone to be ok…it’s a very wonderful, teacher/director quality, but can’t always be done, so you’re doomed to “fail” sometimes….failure = fear. It’s a falsehood, however, because your support and guidance are given sincerely…no matter what the actual outcome. Sincerity = trust = no fear!

  5. Dear Todd, thanks for reading my blog, http://www.mulberryshoots.com and liking my blog post called “Toeing the Tao.” I read your post about fear and might suggest that you explore consulting the I-Ching to perhaps gain more insight about your fear and what it means at this stage in your life.


  6. Is the fear affecting our life in a negative way? If it’s not, I’d leave it alone. Otherwise, I’d isolate/define it as specifically as possible and read up on how to conquer. Two good friends’ fear of flying were solved by this method. ( I was going to say “was solved by them crashing in a plane”, but didn’t want to scare anybody).
    My next books on Phobias from A to Z!

  7. improvmantra says:

    See my last post… since becoming a dad all the things I thought I was afraid of don’t matter anymore… Now I have a whole new set of fears, like eventually having to face a horney 18 year old boy wanting to take my little princess out to the prom!

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