Martha O’Brien – Lonely


       “Hello, I’m Brian and I’m scared of everything.”
This is how every meeting starts. It annoys me, really, because it sets the bar too high. I mean, in a support group for people with phobias, starting the session by announcing that you are scared of everything basically renders everyone else’s fears tiny and meaningless. Well, I guess mostly they are.
        Brian’s not scared of everything, unless you use “everything” as a synonym for “losing games”. Because that’s all this group is to Brian; a game that he can win by having a fear bigger than anyone else. Everyone’s given up on trying to tell him that he isn’t scared of everything; he wouldn’t be able to walk out of his house to come to the meeting if he were. Mostly we just carry on round the circle, introducing ourselves and our fears.
        “Hello, I’m Sarah and I’m scared of having my photograph taken.”
        “Hello, I’m Greg, and I’m scared of small holes.”
        “Hiya, I’m Stuart and I’m scared of unplugging electrical devices.”
        Yeah, they’re weird fears, I know. They know, but it’s not their fault they have them. I’m sitting next to Geoff today. Once he has announced his fear of answering the phone, it’s my turn.
        “Hello, I’m Bea and I’m scared of falling over in public.” The group nods sympathetically as one before shifting their eyes to Tom, sat on my left.
        Rosa, the leader of Working Against Phobias, is always telling us that our fears can be traced back to one incident or course of events, and if we get over this incident, if we are able to openly, confidently share it, we are able to conquer our fears. This school of thought has forced me to tell my most embarrassing moment to a group of what are essentially – no matter what Rosa says about “community” – strangers, on a number of occasions.
        “And Bea, how about you? Feel like conquering your fear today?” I look up to see Rosa staring at me. I breathe in deeply for effect.
        “When I was fifteen, in High School, I had to give a speech in assembly.” I say methodically, because I’ve told this story so many times I practically know it by heart. “When it was my turn to talk, I stood up to walk to the microphone, but fell. The whole school laughed at me, and saw my underwear. I’ve never got that image out of my head. I’m scared it’ll happen again.” Rosa looks at me as if I’ve just confided that I have an hour to live.
        “Thank you, Bea, that was so brave. Now Greg…”
        It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t true. Well, the story was true. I did fall – it was humiliating, too; the whole school saw my bright yellow knickers for five seconds more than anyone should have seen them. But I’m not scared of falling over in public. That was the lie. I was scared of falling over for a while after the incident, but now I’m just as nervous as the next person.
        My main fear – the one I fully intended to share on my first day at WAP – is being alone. Well, I thought that was it, but I have since realised that my main fear is other people becoming aware of just how lonely I am ; which is very. So, on my first visit to WAP, I sat down, ready for some deep conversation. But as I looked around the group, I realised, with a feeling like someone had punched my in the stomach, that I really didn’t want anyone to know of my loneliness. I don’t mean loneliness in the metaphorical sense. I mean in the literal live-on-your-own-sleep-on-your-own-work-on-your-own-eat-on-your-own sense. I didn’t want people to know I was alone. It somehow made it worse.
        So I created this story about being scared of falling over. I feel awful about it; there’s Stuart crying about his older brother daring him to touch a live wire, and here’s me, lying about being scared of tripping over my own shoelace for the sake of an hour’s company a week.


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