How a tiny dog helped me overcome a big fear

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How a tiny dog helped me overcome a big fear

The first time a boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go hiking, I was confused.

“Hiking?” I said. “To where?”

“Anywhere,” he replied.

“Why?”

“No reason. Just to, you know, walk. For fun.”

Fun? Hiking was not fun! I thought it over for a second and then said, “How about we sit at home and make Excel spreadsheets with numbers in them?”

“What for?” he said.

“No reason. Just to, you know, make Excel spreadsheets with numbers in them.”

* * *

Until that point, walking had only ever been a means of getting from point A to point B, like if point A were the couch and point B were a block of cheese. But if there were a car, a bike, a plane, a shopping cart, or a strong person with an unguarded back in my immediate vicinity, I would not opt to walk.

Walking in Tasmania

You see, walking was an entirely unsafe activity. I walked to school from age five to seventeen, and my school was situated right beside a block of assisted-living apartments that housed a colourful spectrum of mentally challenged people. It was not uncommon to find naked strangers masturbating in the bushes around my neighbourhood.

I saw more penises than snakes.

And let me remind you that I grew up in Australia.

Walking Tasmania

To compound the general paranoia I felt over the concept of hiking, I also watched far too many horror films, which meant that forests were places where protagonists got hunted down by killers, or where decomposed bodies were discovered by early morning joggers. A person who grows up on horror films, who lives in a neighbourhood rife with masturbators on the loose does not venture into the woods for fun.

Hiking for fun! Ha ha ha!

As an adult, I refused to walk anywhere unless it was 100% necessary.

That was until I got a dog named Frida. Frida didn’t care if there was rain, hail, sunshine, or a strange panting man in the bushes wearing only a pink t-shirt: come five o’clock Frida would start hassling me to get out of the house and go walking. (This dog looks tiny and gorgeous, but she can tyrannise like Regina George from Mean Girls.)

Frida the dog

Come five o’clock, under Frida’s rule, I would close down my laptop, put on some comfortable shoes, and rush her around the block, before returning to lock myself back up in my house as quickly as possible. Every day involved the same boring routine.

Fear does that to you. It keeps you circling around and around the same old block. It keeps you from discovering anything new. The trick to overcoming fear is pushing yourself slowly towards the Scary Thing; going a little closer each time to the place that makes your heart pound. So with Frida tugging me along, that is what I did.

Over many months, we’d walk further and further from home. Our walks would become increasingly ambitious: a block further from safety, the path a little more remote and bushy, my pace a tad less hurried. It was scary, but never boring.

Tasmania Walking

The fear was still a swollen bubble in my chest, but I learned to keep it still and stop it from bursting. I learned to separate that uncomfortable sensation in my chest from the reality of any actual danger. Fear in the chest does not a pervert maketh. Or, to be less convoluted: There is a distinct difference between danger that is felt and danger that is real, and learning to sort one from the other is the key to overcoming.

Eventually I was able to walk alone down wild, empty trails in the dim blue light of dusk without any fear at all.

After a few years of walking five or six kilometres a day, walking became my happy place. Any complicated problems of the day would unravel with each step I took, and I would arrive at inspiring new solutions by the end of the walk. I came to need the walks as much as my dog did.

Who knew an animal the size of a loaf of bread could teach a person to overcome fear?

Dog bread

Every time I overcome a fear, the world becomes infinitely larger than it was before. It’s like unlocking a new level on a game, which allows you to play in brand new scenery with brand new challenges. Until you unlock that new level, your life is confined to the boundaries of the same old level, played on an endless loop.

On a recent trip to Tasmania, I did several long hikes through the wilderness areas of Cradle Mountain and the Tarkine region. Alone in the woods, it was just me, the birds, the wallabies, the trees, and the perfect peace of the wild…

These days I walk whenever and wherever I can. I go nowhere in order to lose myself in thought. Only outside am I able to go deeply inside.

In the woods, by the power of my feet, I can escape news reports and Internet memes and human stupidity to remember there is still beauty in the world. Happy birds and healthy trees, not all doom and gloom. It costs nothing. It consumes no resources. It even burns off that block of cheese that some idiot left unattended on point B.

Walking for therapy

Sarah Steenland SushiWritten by Torre DeRoche and illustrated by Sarah Steenland. Befriend Sarah on Twitter and Facebook, or check out her blog

 

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This post was sponsored by Tasmania Tourism, who probably had no idea what they were getting into when they hired me to write for them. Check out Discover Tasmania for more inspiration on the beautiful wildernesses to explore in Tasmania. 

Leave a Comment

  • Janice Stringer March 12, 2014, 8:17 am

    Love this Torre -especially your ‘this post was sponsored’ comment above. Made me giggle :-)
    I live in a little English seaside town called southend on sea and regularly walk the quiet beach offering views of the Thames estuary. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is (although I prefer winter because it deters the crowds) I always gain some expansion of mind. Yet I can totally understand why you would fear something so simple, after your experiences as a child. That’s how were made up! Glad to read your writing again. :-)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 14, 2014, 6:07 am

      Thanks, Janice. The Southend on the Sea sounds nice! Got a spare room? ;)

      Reply
  • Heather March 12, 2014, 6:07 pm

    Awesome post! It baffles me when people don’t understand hiking for fun… but a dog definitely makes it easier! I hike alone all the time, but with my dog beside me I never feel lonely (or unsafe). Hiking is a great way to unwind and reconnect – with nature, not technology!

    Reply
  • Emily March 12, 2014, 9:38 pm

    With a cop for a dad, I grew up not much of a walker since the backyard was deemed the only safe place for us. With time though, I have come to love walking…you’re right about it being the best way to escape and do some great thinking.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 14, 2014, 6:10 am

      A cop for a dad. Ha. I can’t imagine. I hope your backyard was nice at least?

      Reply
  • Jimmy Dau March 13, 2014, 8:46 am

    lol @ the penis and snakes illustration. Would love to go to Cradle Mountain one day to take some landscape shots. Do they have snakes down there?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 14, 2014, 6:12 am

      Oh yes. But they keep to themselves. You think a snake is threatening, you should try sitting there on the ground, minding your own business while a giant two-legged, flesh-coloured, animal-killing HUMAN comes stomping your way. Snake says: “It’s scary, beyotch!”

      Reply
  • Millie Noe March 14, 2014, 5:24 pm

    Ha! Torre this is so true. Dogs can piss you off more than anybody and they can make you laugh harder than anybody. Our dog got us out of the house and cross country skiing one year when the snow was too deep for walking . Not going out was NOT an option. Hells bells, now we’ve skiied in several American Birkebieners.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 25, 2014, 12:03 am

      If only my dog did not bark at every passing stranger, or pirouette her butt on the carpet when she’s screeching fleas, like some sort of deranged ballerina, she’d be just about perfect.

      Reply
  • Katie Wills March 18, 2014, 11:12 am

    Loved your analogies, the way you expressed yourself and your resolve to overcome your fears. I can so relate to this, especially coz I’m a sort of a person who needs no reason to walk long distances…! I just love to walk

    Reply
  • Adelicia March 18, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Someone once told me that the acronym for f.e.a.r. is False Evidence Appearing Real. I try to remember that when overcoming my own fears (and right now it’s trying to get over fear of the open ocean so I can have my own sailing adventure! – loved your book BTW). I do love hiking tho’ but I have a human hiking buddy instead of a dog. I’m still a little chicken to go on my own since around here I could end up a tasty snack for a bear. As they say, I only have to be the one to run faster and no way could I outrun a dog.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche March 25, 2014, 12:00 am

      So the dog gets eaten in this scenario? Hmm. From now on I’m going to befriend more athletes. ;)

      Reply
  • Carmel March 23, 2014, 6:15 am

    I was so scared of everything in Australia before we went there last month. I got over that, but I’m still quite nervous in the SE Asian jungles. We are currently on an island in Malaysia and yesterday went to a local part of town to (supposedly) see wild boars come down to feed near a school playground. On the way up there, my husband says to me, “This is usually how a lot of horror movies start.” Why would he say that to me?? Needless to say, that made me extra jumpy. That and the massive rat and lizard we’ve seen in the sewer here. Like they were going to jump out and attack me… :\ Maybe I need to travel with a small dog. Or maybe just not with my horror-loving husband.

    Reply
  • Nathan March 31, 2014, 7:44 pm

    haha this really clever! Thanks for coming back with such a great post

    Reply
  • Larry April 6, 2014, 5:39 am

    Dogs can do a lot for a person it seems…!

    Reply
  • Katie - The World on my Necklace April 22, 2014, 4:42 am

    I was the same and never enjoyed walking/hiking until a trip to Hawaii when I was 25 and something just clicked. Now it is my favourite thing to do and I feel happiest when I am wandering around or hiking somewhere. It is such a great way to explore a place too. I have started walking the 7.5km to work at least 3 days a week and its a great way to start the day. It’s nice to see that other people get it too

    Reply
  • Rose Perlmutter April 30, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Hi Torre,
    Your blog is wonderful! As someone who loves nature, but has been known to get lost on “easy” hikes or become fear stricken on top of high hills, I look forward to more of your adventures!

    Reply
  • Peter Dew August 12, 2014, 2:45 am

    a real shame so many of the nicest places are closed to dogs

    Reply
  • Jimmy Dau August 25, 2014, 1:31 pm

    Just re-read this post. Strange how penises, snakes and walking all collided in your recent adventures in Italy! SHEBAM!

    Reply