When fear is the easy option

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I’m quite excitable by nature – it doesn’t take much to give me one of those mini-rushes of everyday joy*. The mere sight of Brighton’s white buildings against blue skies. Meeting dogs – any dogs – on the street or at the beach. Plump-cheeked toddlers. Pretty skirts and dresses. Pretty skirts and dresses that have pockets. New music from my favourite bands, new books from my favourite authors.  Make-up. Spending ages in the library. Pizza with pepperoni and lots of hot, stringy melted cheese. Sharing a bottle of wine with a friend. Tulips in every colour.

*When I first floated these thoughts to Drummer Boy, I phrased it as: “it doesn’t take much to please me”. Dear reader, you should have seen the side-eye I got by way of reply.

When I was mired in the worst of the anxiety – unsalvageably drunk on a cocktail of panic and mild depression – one of the things I really missed was being excited about things. I didn’t realise how immune to life’s smaller joys I’d become until the medication kicked in, and I started to regain an appetite for borderline-mundane, quotidian pleasures. As the laughter began to filter back in, like pins-and-needles in a numb foot, the future began to look bright again. It started to look like a place I wanted to go, rather than a haunted house full of trap doors and ghosts.

Which leads me to politics. (I mean, why wouldn’t it?)

As someone who’s had a lot of practice at being scared, it looks to me like as a nation, we’re running on fear. It’s been a nagging hum for the last few years – since the recession began in 2008, I suppose – but since a date for the EU referendum was set, the strings have been tightening, and the tone of national conversation has got ever more hysterical.

You see it everywhere, once you start to look. Our lack of adequate policy for the care of our elderly tells you one thing: we’re scared of old age and we don’t know how to handle it. Theresa May’s intentions for increased regulation of online activity tell us that our current politicians don’t know have nearly enough knowledge and understanding of the internet, and are therefore scared of it. Fears about immigration, a fear of “foreigners”,  fuelled a significant amount of the crosses in the ‘leave’ box in last year’s referendum. Worst of all, those immigration fears were essentially manufactured for us by the shrill right-wing elements of the Press who are so terrified that their dead-tree media are obsolete, they feel the need to be more sensationalist and crass with every passing day.

Like some poor soul in the grip of an anxious episode, all we’re seeing is what could go wrong, what might hurt us. We’re not seeing the good things – that with the right funding and planning, we could make old age something to be settled into, not something to dread. That an internet which enables ill-informed, xenophobic trolls to join forces is the same internet that enabled the people of Manchester to communicate that they had spare rooms available on Monday night, and could give lifts, and offer food and drink. That a 2014 estimate put the percentage of non-British NHS doctors at 26%. Without immigration, we wouldn’t have a health service (and we won’t have one for much longer but I’ve had that rant before and I’m sure I’ll have it again).

And in the aftermath of events like Manchester, every time, the professional trolls (you know exactly who I mean) come out and spread yet more fear and hatred, under the guise of “telling it like it is” and “just saying what the average Joe on the street is thinking”. While most public figures, journalists and columnists are calling for unity, praising our resilience and our refusal to be cowed by acts of terrorism, a handful of usual suspects are claiming we are scared and lost and hopeless.

Thing is, it’s called terrorism for a reason. It’s designed to scare us into changing our ways of living, drain us of our generosity of spirit, kill our hopes for progress and peace. Don’t give them what they wantfor goodness’ sake – that’s the easy option.

It’s easier to stay scared than it is to take a deep lungful of fresh air, grit your teeth and decide to be brave. I know this from the hours I spent curled on the sofa in late December and early January, panic hijacking rational thought. “Why don’t you try and go for a walk?” Drummer Boy would suggest. I couldn’t. Getting up, going out – that would mean forcing myself to believe, if only for ten minutes or so, that things might be OK, eventually. That disaster wouldn’t strike just because I’d decided to let myself relax for a moment. You know what fear does? It keeps you on the sofa. It keeps you inside – inside your head, inside your house, inside the walls you’ve built and the lines you’ve drawn.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t mourn the innocent people killed in Monday’s attack. Of course we should mourn, and never, never forget that they were young people tasting life as it’s meant to be lived, experiencing one of the nearest thing to real magic that humans have – live music.

But this must not be another reason to be fearful. This must not be another thing that drives us underground, that pulls us in on ourselves, that makes us scared of the “other” – whether that “other” is people not born here, an online world that fosters as much joy as it does anger, or simply those who hold views we don’t share.

Fearing the future has never once slowed or stalled our journey into it. We must accept, we must plan, we must greet it with a clear-eyed smile. United, not divided.

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