Learning how to cope with fear in overdrive

Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear
by Eva Holland
Penguin Random House

By the time you’re reading this column, the paperback version of Eva Holland’s fascinating study of fear will be out from Penguin Canada for about $10 less than my copy. The hardcover is the one I read.

By the way, I think the paperback cover is much more evocative of Holland’s actual major issue. Yes, it knocked her down when her mother died, and the huge spider on the cover of the original is something that most of us will react to, but the triggering event that made her decide to dig into this issue so deeply is her fear reaction to heights. The paperback illustration captures that perfectly.

I empathize with the height issue. It was one I didn’t really have until my mid-40s, when I moved to using graduated lenses in my glasses. Realizing that the problem stems from the optical distortion caused by looking down through the reading portion of the lens allows me to understand what’s happening to my sense of balance, but it doesn’t make the problem go away.

I don’t like ladders anymore and I take my glasses off when I have to change a light bulb. Thinking back to when I used to run all over the rock formations at Peggys Cove (they dropped the apostrophe a few years ago) and leap from one boulder to another, I know I wouldn’t dare now.

I actually identified more with the issues that came after Holland’s several vehicle accidents. I’ve never had a rollover, but I’ve left the road a few times, and the scare I got inching my way down the glare ice on the Dome Road one early winter while touring with one of our Berton House writers remains with me more than half a dozen years later.

Holland fills us in on all the incidents that left her with a kind of PTSD, but then she goes on to examine the science behind the feeling, accepts the reality that a certain amount of fear is hardwired into us, and investigates what things one might do to ameliorate what can become a debilitating problem.

Sometimes repetition helps. Once upon a time I was probably afraid of needles, but I had scores of them over a two-year period in my early teens to deal with allergy issues, and they’ve never bothered me since.
Holland tried repetition, medication and counselling (with one of my daughter’s high school friends), but I think it was most important that she immersed herself in the topic, learning so much about it that she could produce this fascinating book, and could experience rational fear, which she concludes is absolutely essential, without going into panicked hyperdrive.

This was necessary for her to be able to pursue some of the adventurous subjects she has taken on as a writer.
Near the end she talks about not having to make her world smaller in order to be able to live in it. Overcoming our limitations is a worthwhile goal and this book underlines that point very well.

Facing Your Fears

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