Book Review: Fear

Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit, is a story of a murder and a marriage and of how far a man will go to protect the foundations on which he has constructed his adult life. Set in Berlin, the protagonist is Randolph Tiefenthaler, an architect living with his beautiful and intelligent wife, Rebecca, and their two young children. Their nightmare starts when they purchase a well located and spacious upper ground floor flat, perfect for family living. Randolph is now sitting at his desk writing an account of events that led to his seventy-eight year old father being imprisoned for manslaughter. Randolph’s father confessed to killing Dieter Tiberius, the tenant of the flat downstairs.

Based on true events, the author has created a thriller that questions how fragile the edifices of civilised life can be, and of the pressures a man feels to be a protector. Soon after moving into their flat, Rebecca starts to receive letters from Dieter. He is watching the family, listening to their movements from below. When the letters become threatening Randolph takes the matter to the police only to discover that no crime has been committed. Dieter’s reaction is to accuse his neighbours of sexually abusing their children.

Randolph writes of his childhood and of the disconnect and fear he felt due to his father’s gun obsession. He is determined to do better with his own children but has allowed his marriage to grow stale. As Dieter’s behaviour escalates Randolph and Rebecca are drawn back together. Their middle class confidence, bordering on arrogance, is pierced as they realise reasonable tactics to resolve the matter are ineffective. If Randolph is to keep his family safe he must consider more radical action.

The voice and behaviour of the narrator come across and honest and reasoned. He is writing to confront the truth which he tells the reader he has not yet fully shared, even with Rebecca. I found it harder to empathise with her. Rebecca had hysterical screaming fits even when her children were at home. For a medical professional this loss of control under pressure seemed strange.

The story though revolves around Randolph, the impotence he feels and the growing realisation that he will need to compromise his valued integrity to deal with Dieter. Despite knowing from the first few pages how things will end, the tension in the telling is skilfully maintained.

Events force Randolph to confront an aspect of himself that he had denied existed. I am curious about how he would cope with that in the afterwards. The child abuse allegation also puts thoughts in his head that he struggles to contain. In attempting to prove innocence his behaviour is affected, as is his confidence in Rebecca.

Each of these strands offer food for thought but it is the basic premise that is the most disturbing. In a civilised society it is assumed that wrong-doers will be punished, the innocent protected. How to define wrong-doing and innocence are perhaps more complex than is generally accepted.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orion.

Panic attack

Monday morning just before 6am. I could have slept in today, what with the children being off school for the holidays. My body clock does not understand this change in routine. My husband left a cup of tea on my bedside table when he left for work so I sit up to enjoy it, firing up my social networks to see what the rest of the world has been doing. And there it is, a simple status update. I have tried so hard to make my loved ones understand the impact that such events have on me. I see the exasperation in their faces, that they think I am making an unnecessary fuss, that I should just stop behaving like this.

If only I could.

*

Anxiety is something that we all experience from time to time. Most people can relate to feeling tense, uncertain and, perhaps, fearful at the prospect of certain events or situations that they find stressful. This type of short-term anxiety can be useful. For example, feeling nervous before an exam can make you feel more alert and enhance your performance. However, if the feelings of anxiety overwhelm you, your ability to concentrate and do well may suffer.

When you feel under threat anxiety and fear can protect you from danger by triggering the release of hormones such as adrenalin. Adrenalin causes your heart to beat faster to carry blood to where it is most needed. You breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy. You sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be sent to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert.

These changes make your body able to take action and protect you in a dangerous situation either by running away or fighting. It is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reflex. Once the danger has passed, other hormones are released, which may cause you to shake as your muscles start to relax.

This response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers. The response is not so useful if you want to run away from a stressful situation where there is no physical threat. If you have no need to physically run away or fight, the effects of adrenaline subside more slowly, and you may go on feeling agitated for a long time.

If the anxiety stays at a high level then you may feel that it is difficult to deal with everyday life. The anxiety may become severe; you may feel powerless, out of control. Sometimes, if the feelings of fear overwhelm you, you may experience a panic attack.

A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control and shaky limbs. It can be a frightening experience.

If something distressing happened to you in the past and you were unable to deal with your emotions at the time then you may become anxious about facing similar situations again in case they stir up the same feelings of distress. Some theories suggest that you may inherit a tendency to be more anxious, and so it is a part of your personality.

Anxiety can have an effect on both your body and your mind.

Physical effects

Short-term:

  • Increased muscular tension can cause achiness.
  • Rapid breathing may make you feel light-headed and shaky.
  • Rising blood pressure can make you more aware of a pounding heart.
  • Changes in the blood supply to your digestive system may cause nausea.

Long-term:

  • Fear combined with tension and lack of sleep can weaken your immune system, lowering your resistance to infection.
  • You may experience digestive difficulties.
  • You may feel depressed.

Psychological effects

Anxiety can make you more fearful, alert, on edge, irritable, and unable to relax or concentrate. You may feel an overwhelming desire to seek the reassurance of others, to be weepy and dependent.

The way you think can be affected: if you fear that the worst is going to happen, you may start to see everything negatively and become very pessimistic. If your anxiety is severe then you may find it difficult to develop or maintain good relationships, or simply to enjoy leisure time. Sleep problems may make your anxious feelings even worse and reduce your ability to cope.

For some people, anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it takes over their lives. They may experience severe or very frequent panic attacks, or have a persistent sense of anxiety. Some people may develop a phobia about going out or may withdraw from contact with people, even their family and friends.

*

Like many mental issues, understanding the causes and effects does little to remove the stigma attached. We are expected to just get on with it, to accept what is happening and stop making such a fuss. Others cope fine with far more challenging situations. We are at fault.

I have to make choices. I can try to take control, look after myself, and risk seriously annoying my loved ones in the process. Or I can try to do what is easiest for everyone but me, and thus risk a recurrence of this panic. The thought of that makes my heart beat stupidly fast, the nausea threatens to overwhelm me.

I don’t yet know what I shall do. I want to escape but where could I go? I feel such a failure for not being able to deal with this rationally. Sometimes just keeping on living is so hard.

4900_it____s_all_in_your_head

The things we do for love

The topic for this week’s blog hop is: Remember the time you got really scared

RTT new

I had my three children in a three and a half year time span. Having them all so close in age was a major challenge when they were pre school age, but has meant that they have been able and willing to do the same sorts of things at the same time over the years. As they have got older, the small age gap has made life easier for us all.

I gave up my full time job when it became clear that I would be unable to leave my babies in anyone else’s care. The cost of childcare for three children would have been huge and I wanted to experience every minute of their development myself. I was fortunate in having the choice of staying at home to be with them, and thus to be able to care for them in the way that I thought was best.

My husband and I have always been reasonably active and this continued after we had our kids. We would take them for days out to play parks, gardens and beaches where we could run around, kick a ball and picnic in the open air. I was always strict parent whereas my husband was fun parent. I would insist on sunscreen, hats and healthy food while he would run around, join in on the climbing equipment and slides, and build massive sand structures for them on the beach.

My kids were active and able, learning to swim and ride their bikes pre school. I bought a single seat stroller but, once the kids learned to walk, insisted that they do so. Sometimes this meant that it took a long time to get anywhere but this was fine. I used the stroller for luggage or to confine a naughty child rather than as a means of transport. Given no other option, the kids would walk as required.

When my daughter was eight and my elder son seven they went away for a week to a PGL Summer Camp; I think that I was more nervous about them going away from home so young than they were. They must have enjoyed it though because they opted to go on several more such camps in the coming years. They took a cousin along on a couple of occasions, their younger brother when he was old enough to join them, and then went on several PGL weekends with their various Scout groups.

My husband read up on the activities available and wanted to join in. I must have been feeling particularly loving towards him at the time because I agreed.

We booked ourselves in for a Family Active Multi Activity weekend. The rest of the family were full of excitement, especially as I had surprised them all by agreeing to not just go along but to take part in everything offered. For once I was determined to be fun parent; to step outside my comfort zone and give things a try.

Did I mention that I am afraid of heights? I coped fine with the quad biking, the archery and the fencing (although it felt icky putting on the damp, sweaty, protective fencing clothes provided), but when we moved on to the climbing activities I could feel my nerves tingling. I told myself sternly that all the safety equipment made falling unlikely; I was not going to make a fool of myself.

Determined to honour the promise that I would try everything, I made it half way up the climbing wall before declaring that I had done my best. Both boys were up and down the wall like little monkeys and my husband was in his element. My daughter shares my fear of heights but also coped with a limited climb.

We moved on to the trapeze and again I managed to get about half way up before calling time on my attempt. I was actually feeling quite pleased with myself for getting so far without panicking. On this equipment I had to let go and swing on the safety rope in order to get back to the ground. I did not feel comfortable with that lack of control; these challenges were getting harder.

However, so far I had held it together and, although I was being laughed at for wimping out before I had gone particularly far off the ground, at least I had taken part as promised.

My undoing occurred on the Giant Swing. For this activity two participants are strapped in, side by side on low slung, canvas seats. The swing is then hoisted up to a maximum of thirteen metres above the ground before being dropped. There is a free fall of a few metres before the ropes tighten and the contraption starts to swing. Because of our relative weights, I was asked to sit alongside my husband. He, of course, ignored my pleas to only be hoisted a short way up and called for us to be taken as high as we could go.

Thirteen metres up, dangling on a rope whilst sitting in a cut out sack I realised how truly terrified I was, but it was too late. I tucked my head in, closed my eyes and felt the drop. At this point, my animal instincts for survival took over. Apparently the cry I let out reminded one lady of the pain and fear of childbirth. The sound resonated around the site.

When the instructors were able to get to me they looked almost as scarred as I felt. I was pulled from the seat and collapsed, curled up in the foetal position on the ground. I realised at that moment that some things are not worth pushing yourself for. I could live with being the boring parent so long as I didn’t have to do such a thing ever again.

My husband was due another swing (each participant had two tries) so grabbed a son and went again while I recovered. I became aware of strangers watching me, looking concerned. Shakily I stood up and made my way up the steps to help pull the rope that hoisted the swing to start position.

Something in me had changed. The guilt that I was made to feel when I acted selfishly by not doing what others wanted had been assuaged. On the final day, when we went to a nearby lake for raft building and kayaking, I sat the activities out on the side.

There have been times since when I have been persuaded to do something that I have felt uncomfortable about, and regretted afterwards that I did not refuse to take part. So many times I am expected to do what others think I should. As I experience these events, I learn that I need to say no and to somehow make myself heard. I cannot take sole responsibility for other’s happiness; I do not wish to live my life by other’s standards.

I have a fear of letting those I love down, but I am learning to listen to my own inner voice and to insist that I have a right to have my needs considered when decisions are made. My fear of heights may be no more rational than my discomfort in certain social situations, but being forced to partake because this makes things easier for others will not always work out as expected. My cry may be internal but can be just as desperate and perspective changing.

After our Family Active weekend, my husband volunteered to help out at a couple of group activity weekends that our children took part in. They all enjoyed these events while I enjoyed staying at home. We are all different. Accepting that will make life more pleasurable for everyone.

English: Free Fall Image

To read the other posts in this week’s blog hop, click on the link below.

There and back again – me

Although I was only in Berlin for five days, and have been back home for over a week now, the sights and experiences of the trip are still uppermost in my mind. It feels as though I have learnt so much in that short space of time, not least about myself.

It would seem that, despite my inner desire to avoid conforming to societies expectations of how a wife, mother and woman should behave, I am still overly indecisive and submissive. The former I can understand based on my day to day experiences over many years. The latter I find more irritating but suspect that it is an innate part of my character. I dislike conflict and wish to please.

When I am on my own and my decisions affect nobody but myself I have no problems choosing a course of action. As soon as I become responsible for an outcome that will impact anyone else I become anxious. I fear other’s opprobrium should things not turn out well for them.

My husband is hard to please. It is rare for him to offer praise or satisfaction over anything; with the exception of food, his default setting appears to be disappointed. With my inbuilt desire to please I experience a sinking, crushed feeling every time something I have suggested disappoints. To avoid this I try to get him to take responsibility for his actions so that I may not feel to blame. I have developed a habit of avoidance, indecision and deferral.

Society is all too willing and eager to judge mothers harshly for their actions and results. Between media advice that is thinly veiled criticism, the education establishments desire to churn out clones, and the competition that seems to exist between some women over their own and their children’s behaviour and outcomes, I have felt blamed for a plethora of choices over many years. It is hard not to feel cowed and defensive at times.

In Berlin I was being asked to make simple decisions such as choosing a restaurant; I just couldn’t do it. I tried hard, but there was an inner voice squealing at me that I had no idea what these places were like and it would be my fault if I opted for what turned out to be a bad experience. Of course, none of us had prior knowledge of these places. I knew, however, that I would not be concerned about outcomes so long as it were not my responsibility. I do not like that I was so incapable of dealing with something that, in this situation, mattered so little. My friend would not have reacted as my husband would and I was forcing him to take me on as a follower rather than an equal.

My fear of being blamed for bad things also manifested itself in my desire to leave vast swathes of contingency time when we travelled. I chose to get to the airport with hours of spare time, preferring to wait around rather than risk missing a flight. I imagined all the traffic delays and accidents that could result in us having to rush; I had a deep seated fear of how I would ever face my husband if he had to pay the exorbitant cost of replacement flights if we missed those we had pre booked so cheaply.

I had not realised until this trip just how submissive I am. My inclination to follow has left me unsure of how to lead; my children showed more ability at navigating baggage check in, security and boarding. All I seemed good for was packing, ensuring we knew our times and route, buying cups of tea and taking care of passports and paperwork which I checked and rechecked constantly. Travel tickets that needed to be bought from machines, even withdrawing cash from ATM’s, was left to my son as I feel panic if I do not understand what to do next and fear losing my card or money and the difficulties that this could present.

I find it hard to believe that I once traversed the globe alone without any of these concerns. When did I become so anxious? I can see how the habit of following has developed along with my desire to please those I love, but to have become so incapable of simple decision making is an irritation for me and must annoy those who are forced to help me out.

Within our home I run much of the time keeping and organisation that ensures we are all where we need to be at the correct time and with whatever we need. I forward plan and build in contingency as best I can. Once I step outside though it would seem that my confidence evaporates and, with that, many of my abilities. I have developed a phobia of letting others down.

None of this detracted from my enjoyment of the trip because, at every stage, there was someone to pick up where I could not cope. I may have exasperated my children at times, but they accepted my concerns and apparent lack of ability as how I am. It frustrates me though that I have allowed myself to develop in this way. I know that I am capable and that my fears are unfounded; people will generally be more forgiving of failure than I give them credit for. I know that I should not take the negative comments that are sometimes made so much to heart.

My newly honed awareness of these issues offers me the opportunity to work on improvement. I suspect that my husband would prefer me to be more innovative; he married an independent career girl and has ended up with a useful doormat. If anything is going to disappoint him then it may well be that.

Just as I have started the new academic year with the aim of improving my health and body shape, so I now wish to work on improving my mindset. Breaking a habit can be tough; developing a thicker skin even harder. It is obvious though that I am the only one who can modify what I have become. Most of my problems exist only in my head and in the way I perceive and react to my day to day experiences. Only I can do anything to counteract what I have allowed myself to become. I will learn this lesson and do my best to improve.

Experience