11 November 2016

Year of the Fear

Location: Lake Windermere, Lake District, Cumbria

I've never been a person that wanted to live within my 'comfort zone'. I enjoy feeling exhilarated, and whilst others may fear change, for me, it's an inevitable factor of life that makes it all the more exciting. That being said, my impulsive nature and often hyperactive behaviour actually pushed me into the last place I ever expected to be: a place where I felt scared. Leaving my teenage years, a stark realisation overcame me that I had to start actually growing up. Life suddenly started to seem bolder and more visceral, as though a bright light had suddenly been switched on, and it became difficult to figure out what I should be doing or feeling anymore. In an attempt to get over my fears, I took it upon myself to once and for all seize the day - and seize the space that lay away from my comfort zone. It was with this pledge that 2016 transformed into my 'Year of the Fear'. 

It began with signing up to Ghana towards the end of 2015. I'd done charity work in the past, and I wanted to help on a larger scale by heading out to a developing country and volunteering with a charity. I originally applied to go to South America, but the placement was cancelled and I was asked if I wanted to go to Ghana instead. The priority was to help in a country that needed my aid, and one of my many dreams had always been to visit Africa, so I pretty much immediately agreed. I was interviewed at the end of August 2015, gained my place in September and before I knew it I was sitting on the plane in January.

In a nutshell, it was incredibly challenging. At times I felt that I wasn't strong enough and just wanted to give up and go home. The lifestyle was completely different, the food was sometimes difficult to eat, it was hard to sleep at night, I got homesick - a feeling I have never properly felt before, and on my fourth week, I hit breaking point when I fell ill. I went to work and half way through the day, I burst into tears in front of everybody in my office for no reason. I won't say I'm not a crier, but I'm not somebody who particularly relishes in crying in front of others, so having a sudden emotional outburst in front of a room of people hit me with a wave of humiliation and I ran away to hide in the bathroom. 

I went back to my house, and honestly, I felt like sh*t. I wanted my duvet; my parents; a cuddle; a cup of English tea; any form of comfort. But it was 40 degrees, I felt alone, and a brick wall had loomed up against me. The following evening I was taken to the hospital as my symptoms had worsened and found that I was suffering from the early stages of Malaria.

To be perfectly honest, Malaria for a Western, privileged outsider is a walk in the park compared to what it might have been. I was given drugs almost immediately and I managed to pull through and avoid what could have potentially been a nasty period of uncertainty. However, feeling so poorly and for a few days, alone, in a foreign country so different to the place I've been brought up in taught me a lot about myself, and thickened my skin. When I was fully recovered, I was more determined than ever to knuckle down and get on with what I set out to do. I stuck out the three months I'd signed up for and in April, I returned home beaming with pride in both myself and my team.

When I returned to England, I was unemployed. Prior to Ghana, I'd left a job in retail which I enjoyed but knew it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. I guess I was terrified that I would find myself too comfortable, working with friends in a job I knew inside out and was good at. If I didn't have an excuse to leave, I never would - so Ghana was the excuse. That meant that when I came home, whilst trying to adjust to English life, I had to find myself a new job. It was difficult, and at times depressing, and I guess I can tell you that I'm still not actually on my set career path. It's been a year of hard work, a year of listening to rejection, of unanswered emails and phone calls with strangers that didn't call again. Interviews that have pushed me, interviews that have terrified me, interviews that weren't even for the job advertised. I could have just gone back to retail, and that would be fine, but it wouldn't have been me. So no matter how tough it's been, I'm proud of myself for sticking to my guns and confronting the terrifying world of post-grad life.

The last period of fear has been getting over an actual, genuine phobia. No guys, I didn't hold a tarantula, but I have taken a stab at overcoming my fear of heights through learning to rock climb. I'd had my heart set on it for about a year, so in May when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday I requested lessons at my local rock climbing centre.

Before I went along, I was absolutely terrified yet I was determined to at least have a go. I learned all the basics and straight away was up on the wall climbing, and although I'll admit I was pretty frightened, I managed to climb to the top, and then take on a higher wall, and then a wall even higher than that. I completed my lessons and was signed off as a safe and capable climber, and considering a few years ago I couldn't even stand on the glass floor at Blackpool tower, I felt like I'd achieved something huge. 

2016 has been a year of uncertainty, a year of asking myself 'what the hell am I doing?' and a year of having to block out other people's opinions and going with my gut. Yes, it's been difficult, and yes I have had to remind myself what I want and why I'm doing it all but ultimately the answers to those questions are what keeps me going. 2016 may have been a year that tested me, but it's been a year that's hardened me, and I know as I enter 2017 I'll be going into it a stronger, better person.

'I have failed over and over again in my life 
and that is why I succeed.' 
Michael Jordan

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