John Masterson: Fear the fear, and don’t do it anyway

By | April 26, 2020

Last week I experienced an emotion that I had almost forgotten was part of my psychological make-up. Fear. I had to rack my brains to remember when I last felt fear. I remember feeling distinctly uneasy on a plane during bad turbulence years ago. I got through that by telling the passenger beside me, who was terrified, that it was all grand, and it never had any effect on me getting on a flight since.

am also distinctly uneasy on heights but I have no need to be on heights. I will never do a parachute jump. I will not be a crane operator. I avoid cliffs, partly because of that irrational thought that many people have that they will lose it for a few seconds and jump before they have time to change their minds.

I do feel normal anxiety at times, or worry, but that is not fear. I would always rather have been to the dentist than be going to the dentist. I gave blood recently and I hate the pin prick that they do to check your blood before you donate. I am ashamed to admit it. But it is still not fear. I am not keen on being where snakes are but that does not cramp my lifestyle much in Kilkenny. And as for phobias? I have none.

The fear I experienced was in what is normally the least threatening of places, the supermarket. Hand sanitiser was provided. I was offered gloves and put them on. They were controlling the numbers. As I was deciding which cooking oil to buy I became aware of another shopper at my shoulder. They too were in that shopping daze looking at the product choices on offer. And I felt a wave of fear. I moved away, not suddenly but slowly as, despite feeling as much threat as if my fellow shopper was wielding a knife, or had ebola, I did not want to appear rude.

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In a few seconds I realised how much the social distancing mantra had sunk in to my mind, and how much I feared the invisible threat that this virus presents. I suspect it changed for me when I saw how close Boris Johnson, not elderly or feeble by any stretch, came to leaving this world. Before Boris I behaved responsibly, but was a little blasé. I didn’t want to get it but sure, as a healthy, moderately fit non-smoker, I would be grand. After Boris I wasn’t sure at all.

I mentioned this incident to a woman who had a brush with cancer some time back. “Now you know how I feel,” she said. “I have no idea if my immune system could cope with it.” She was right in suspecting I would not have understood her fear before I felt something like it myself. So much for my abilities to empathise.

Boris may have done the under-seventies a great favour by his close encounter with the Grim Reaper. None of us can feel confident that this virus is only for other people. As the days pass and more and more is understood about this virus we are also becoming aware that more and more is not yet understood. We have a long way to go and I, for one, would like to be able to look back on it a few years hence.

Until then I will count the days until golf courses open again and then I can face the lesser demons that I am familiar with: lakes, bunkers, trees and sockets. Probably the greatest recurrent fear I have is that feeling of standing over a three-foot putt that I will never hear the end of if I miss it. Thankfully the people I play with suffer the same fear. And with the same results.

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