The most terrified I’ve ever been was when I got lost in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest… twice. I was 19 volunteering with a kids camp for a month, and I was staying in a reserve deep in the rainforest. The first time I got lost was when I was initially trying to get to the reserve after first arriving in Ecuador. I was on a bus when suddenly the vehicle pulled over. The bus driver dropped me off in the middle of the road in the depths of the forest. I didn’t speak much Spanish so I couldn’t ask him why he was leaving me there, all I knew was that I was alone in a foreign country in the middle of the rainforest, not being able to speak the language. I was surrounded by nothing but trees. Fear pulsated through my veins. I was sure this is how I was going to die. Then, I saw a small hut up the road with kids playing. There was a girl about my age. I desperately walked up to her and tried explaining my crisis using my Spanish to English dictionary. This was before international sim cards. There was no google translate, and my cell phone was useless. The girl got the gist of my issue and called a taxi for me. Through the broken translation of the dictionary, I understood what she said: “Us girls have to stick together.” I will always remember her. (I learned later that the reason the bus driver dropped me off where he did, was because there was a connecting bus that would have taken me right to the reserve.)
The second time I got lost in the amazon rainforest was at night. I was coming back from viewing the gorgeous sunset from a tower overlooking the forest. The Germans I was with kept talking to each other in German and completely ignored my existence. I figured my time would be better spent back at the reserve instead of with them, and I thought I could make it back before the sun completely went down. It was about a 15-minute walk. I had no flashlight, so I had to be fast. I found myself running to beat the emergence of night. I ended up accidentally taking the wrong path, and the next thing I knew I was alone in the dark, lost in the rainforest…again. I started screaming through tears and stepped into a pond, soaking my shoes and pants. I assumed this was definitely how I would die. A creature would emerge out of the darkness and eat me, for sure. Eventually, I heard the voices of the Germans who found me in my sodden state. They scolded me for leaving without them and I realized it was a stupid mistake on my part. I vowed I’d never find myself in a position where I’d be that terrified again. I remember being completely consumed in fear. It took over my entire body. I had no control over it. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we can have. If we let it, it can dictate our choices, ultimately making us slaves to our own nightmares.
Fear crops up in less extreme examples every day. Fear of rejection and fear of the unknown are the two main fears that control our lives. Fear of rejection keeps people from admitting their true selves. It keeps us ashamed of who we really are. Fear of rejection is the transgender woman who’s scared her family will abandon her, so she continues living as a man. Fear of rejection is the man who’s been in love with his best friend for 20 years but is scared to tell her for fear she’ll deny him. Fear of rejection is the dancer not auditioning for the top drama school for fear that she won’t be good enough. Ultimately, fear of rejection is deeply rooted in our self-esteem. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough so much so that we start to believe it, leaving the door open for fear to be all-consuming. We’re not scared of the other person rejecting us, we’re scared they will confirm our suspicions about ourselves. I asked out my first guy when I was 24. I was terrified. At this point, I had already gotten lost in the amazon rainforest 5 years prior, so you’d think if I could handle that, I could handle asking out a boy to drinks. Nope. I realized after doing it that I was more scared of him saying “no” because he saw the flaws that I saw in myself. The trick to kicking fear of rejection in the face is practising self-love. Once you do, you realize that rejection isn’t necessarily negative. That person who said “no” to you isn’t worth your time because you deserve someone who doesn’t hesitate with their “yes!”
Fear of the unknown, on the other hand, is the unhappy couple staying together because they’ve been together 10 years and don’t know what life would be like apart. Fear of the unknown is choosing to stay at your job where you hate your boss because you’re scared you won’t find another position with similar pay. We’d rather stay in uncomfortable familiarity than take a risk in the unknown, which is why so many people are dissatisfied with their lives. We’re slugging away in jobs we hate and we’re staying in toxic relationships because we’re too scared of uncertainty. Yes, breaking free of our toxic situation can be terrifying at first, but with time we heal. With time we grow stronger. With time, we find a new familiarity.
Fear of the unknown can also be dangerous. It can breed ignorance, hate, and bigotry. We fear what we don’t understand. This has caused wars and genocide throughout history and is one of humankind’s many illnesses. I hope that as a population we can grow to accept people’s differences and stop living in fear.
Looking over the Amazon rainforest before getting lost in the dark.