By Anjani Chadha
I heard the word phobia for the first time when I was in fourth class. The protagonist of my english lesson had acrophobia. The professor explained how we use -phobia as a suffix to name different types of fears and for a good 30-45 minutes I was mesmerised. It was state-of-the-art to realise that a source of fear can be recognised and the ensuing analogous uneasiness can be categorised.
I think I grew up a little that day. In Neend Kyun Raat Bhar Nahi Aati, Salman Akhtar helps us distinguish between a fear and a phobia. The difference is easy. Fear is an unpleasant feeling, phobia is fear with anxiety. When fear starts curtailing your day-to-day activities, it transforms to a phobia. Despite the existence of an array of phobias, the root phenomenon happens to be the same.
For most part of my life I have been very scared of failure. As a bright child in school, I was always appreciated and recognised but with it came the intensive fear of failing, and not being good enough. I have carried this fear as baggage for most part of my life.
On certain days I feel this fear is making me more productive and is possibly the reason behind all my successful ventures but this fear has often translated to extreme anxiety and low self-esteem too. I have lost opportunities out of sheer timidity. I have endured weeks of utter burnout because taking a break means you are succumbing to mediocrity. This fear for me has always been this double-sided sword, it helps me ameliorate but it also shoves me to the ground. I wouldn’t say I am phobic to failure but I have had my share of experiences when I let my fear control my life.
But the chief question is: Is this fear good or bad?
Should it stay or go? Salman Akhtar addresses this dichotomy through a very interesting example. Think of four friends, three of them are standing on the balcony of a house on the 25th floor. The fourth friend does not enter the balcony out of fear of falling. Does this mean the other three are unaware of the possible out-turns of standing on a high balcony? No. In reality, they are as aware of all plausible ramifications as the fourth friend except they have overcome that fear. The friend unwilling to step out is held by this fear. Therefore, any fear that curtails our day-to-day activities needs to go.
Akhtar further explains how behind every phobia and anxiety is a wild desire, something that is sure to end erroneously. The person fearful of flying in an airplane has lingering thoughts of breaking a window or undoing the safety belt. The person not entering the balcony is aware of his deleterious yearnings. With every fear comes affixed a hysterical wish and a dash of guilt.
My fear of failure was something that I was proud of in school. I believe it also made me slightly narcissistic for I attributed all unhealthy thoughts and quirks to a supposed hustle for continuous success. I remember losing a competition and crying in front of the entire class because one defeat meant it was all over. I missed my farewell in class 12th because I was lagging behind in class and I felt I wasn’t deserving enough to celebrate a day off.
Based on Salman Akhtar’s explanation of the psychology of fear, as I analyse my trust with perturbation now, I feel somewhere or the other I had gotten accustomed to the dismay. It was regulating my life and I eventually started relishing the resultant self-victimisation. Every time someone said “Do not be so hard on yourself”, I patted my back. I had started wearing this fear as a crown. In a way, I was conniving this fear as a performance for the world. I was creating a spectacle for everyone around me. I was letting the fear win.
My retreat from the process was gradual and conscious. I had to tell myself that this way of life was not working and I could do better. I had to give up this tendency. I know it isn’t that easy for everyone which is where therapists and psychiatrists play a pivotal role.
Reach out, seek help, discuss. Talk about your fears as much as you can. Thoughts need to have a dump yard. And if, like me, the fear of failure or mediocrity is troubling you, try figuring out the cause of this fear. Once you identify the cause, it is always easier to practice positive affirmations and map your beliefs and goals. In any case, do not let your fear govern your life.
Anjani Chadha is a recent graduate from the University of Delhi seeking to work at the intersection of media practice and social change.
‘Neend Kyun Raat Bhar Nahin Aati’ is a Cineink Podcast Series on Mental Health in Hindi/Urdu, available on Apple, Spotify, Google, JioSaavn and YouTube. Each week, acclaimed psychoanalyst, Prof. Salman Akhtar, USA, is in conversation with Pervaiz Alam.