Giramondo goes FEARamondo: Anxiety, concerts and why we need to stop applauding the fearless.

Like millions of other people around the world, I was watching the One Love Manchester Concert on Youtube the other day – and I won’t say I didn’t cry because it simply wouldn’t be true. All these artists – no matter what you think of their music – gathering in a spirit of love and unification with and for those affected by the sickening, horrific attack on a pop concert, is a truly meaningful thing to me.

There’s more of three hours of footage of that concert online, and perhaps I am being unfair, because despite all the touching, heart-melting moments in this event, it is just one little quote, one little moment that stayed with me – and that upsets me enough to sit down and write this.

There’s a lot of talk of love, of resilience, of courage, of being strong in these three hours. But it’s Pharrell Williams’ words that struck me. He who bowed to the Manchester crowd because “despite everything that has been going on in this place”, he says he doesn’t “feel or smell or hear or see any fear in this building”.

While that might sound like a heartfelt compliment at first, I couldn’t help but feel really unsettled at his words. Is the reason these people deserve his respect really the fact that not a single one of them was scared that night? I haven’t been to that concert and I haven’t been to the one that was attacked in the first place. But you know what? I do feel scared. And I’m done being ashamed for it.

Fear and worry and anxiety have always been a part of me and they always will to some degree. I fight hard for them not to define who I am and what I do – and that’s a battle I fight almost everyday. Being an anxious person is not easy, it’s not fun. But it sure is no reason to be ashamed either. I have spent most my life trying to hide my fears from the people around me because I wanted to be liked, to be respected, to be cool – I wanted to be normal.

Deep inside, I was still the girl who checked twice if the door was locked. Who constantly looked over her shoulder in fear of who might be behind her on her way home. Who thought of car accidents when her parents were out. Who had her mind racing about plane crashes one every journey. Who worried too much about getting sick, about not doing well, about impressions and expectations, about others and herself and – everything. It’s not fun to be that girl. But it’s part of who I am. Fear does not define me. I don’t let it define me.

And I don’t think that a full 50.000 people, many of whom have been traumatized by a vicious terror attack days prior, should be defined by and applauded for their fearlessness only. I’m more than glad for anyone who feels fearless, let me make that clear. I feel like bowing to them myself, specifically those among the crowd in Manchester who went through this attack and stood there feeling fearless despite it all. What an amazing feeling that must be – I’ll never know.

What I do know is another great feeling – it’s the one of conquering your fear.

Two days after the Manchester attack, I flew in to London with my boyfriend to visit a friend of ours. We’d been planning the trip for months and were really excited to go, but honestly, I was shitting myself also. I was scared to be on the tube for as long as it takes to get from the airport to our friend’s house. I was scared to be in crowded public spaces. And I was scared to go the concert we’d bought tickets to months ago.

Did that mean I wasn’t going to go the gig? Honestly, I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. The problem with fear is that it is most often not rational and we cannot help it or ease it with probabilities or whatever might tranquilize a more balanced mind. Did the attack on the concert in Manchester make it more likely for the gig I was attending 4 days later in London to be attacked in a similar manner? It did absolutely not. Did that affect my perception of it as terrifying to a point where I wasn’t sure I could make it? It did absolutely not. Do you see where I’m going with this?

The fearful mind does not listen to voices of reason, no matter how loud their shouting is. It’s louder than them all, ringing in your ears and making your vision all fuzzy, your voice trembling and your body unsteady, waiting with every fiber on the disaster, on the catastrophe to fulfill itself and to run, run, run for your bloody life.

I know this may sound exaggerated, ridiculous even, to feel like this at a regular concert, on the subway, on the airplane, wherever that may be. But let me assure you, we are there, the people who feel like this. And let me assure you that people like that were in Manchester, too.

These people don’t deserve Pharrell Williams’ bow less than the others do. Not meaning to judge here, but maybe, maybe they deserve it more. Because they were scared, scared to their bones and they wanted to hide and to stay at home safely. But they didn’t. Instead, they fought their battle and they won. They probably wrestled with their fear all day before the concert, starting to feel sick a couple of hours prior, not able to take deep breaths on their way to it. A lot like I felt on the day we went to see the gig in London.

But despite all their fear, they stayed on that car, that train, that bus, they stood in that line and they went inside and said to themselves “Fuck this shit, I’m doing it anyway”. I am not letting fear take that away from me. And that’s an accomplishment which, for me, as an anxious person, is beyond comparison.

When someone comes to you and tells you that they don’t feel safe going some place, think for a moment how it hard it must of have been for that person to admit their fear. Don’t tell this person it’s “letting the other side win” if they stay at home from fear of terrorism. They know that. They don’t need your shame. They’ve got their own.

Instead, talk to them. Ask them what triggers their fear, what it’s connected to. I’m not necessarily talking about someone who was actually affected by a terrorist attack such as the people who were at Grande’s concert in Manchester because it is rather easy to see where their fear would be coming from. I’m talking about every other person you might know. Because some of us are more fearful than others and that’s nothing to be ashamed for.

Being afraid does not mean giving up. It does not mean letting anyone define your life for you. It does not mean staying at home and resigning. It just means we’re fighting harder for each and every one of these things. When 50.000 people come to a concert like that, I agree with Pharrell Williams and the other artists involved, all of them show a shitload of courage and deserve to be bowed to. I just don’t think it’s just the ones without any fear that should be applauded the loudest. My personal applause goes out to everyone who feels fears inside them – but looks them in the eye, no matter how hard it is, no matter how loud the voices are, no matter how overwhelming the panic – and says: No. You are not taking that away from me. You are not me. I am not you. I am not my fears.

Feeling any of this? Some tipps for… attending a concert:

  • Talk to someone. Assuming you’re not going to the gig alone, let the people around you know how you feel. It’ll help you feel more comfortable in the situation itself because they’ll be looking out for you (if they don’t, I suggest you get new friends instead).
  • Get there early and familiarize yourself with the gig venue a bit. Not only does it give you time to settle in before the actual event starts, it also helps you to pick a spot where you’ll be as comfortable as possible. No matter what you’re scared of – knowing where your nearest exits are can be very reassuring.
  • If you feel like you need it, think of a little strategy to help you get through. See where you’re at ten minutes into the gig. Can you do ten more? Great. If not, don’t pressure yourself. Have a five minute break outside if possible, then try again. Being faced with many little chunks of something scary is a lot easier than with a massive two hours monster that can easily make you feel overstrained.
  • Lastly and maybe the best working one in my opinion: Dance it off. Panic makes our fight-or-flight-response kick in and it prepares the body for intense physical action. You’re not likely to be running for your life or fighting for it any time soon (even if it feels like it), so why not put that adrenaline to good use and shake what your mama gave ya?! It helps, I promise.
Shaky proof that I really went to the gig that night.

This post is part of series I am writing about anxiety and the many ways it has interacted with my life so far. Anything I write here is my personal experience and thus just one little dot in the whole picture that can be painted about mental health issues. If you have any questions, concerns or personal experiences you would like to share, feel free to leave me a comment below.

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