I used to think I was the only person who went through life constantly waiting for a tap on the shoulder. You know, the point at which someone would finally see through the human-shaped carapace and witness what horrors actually lurked on the inside. Eventually though, I realised that it really wasn’t just me – an awful lot of us afflicted by Fear Of The Tap. You know FOTT – the gnawing feeling that, however well you’re coping with life and regardless of how successful you are, somehow, some day, someone will look at you and see you for the fraud you really are.
Because no one really knows what’s going on in your head, do they? It’s invisible and insidious and only you can hear it – that little voice muttering ‘AahahahaAAAA, if they could only see what’s REALLY going on in here they’d run a mile, you fucking freak’. FOTT is related to, but not the same as, the Marshmallow of Anxious Doom, which I’ve written about before – click here to catch up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about (link opens in new window, so you won’t lose your place).
FOTT is MAD’s grown up sibling – sneakier about how it gets to you and more aware of the subtle little buttons to press in order to reduce you to a gibbering wreck, slumped at your desk convinced that you are the only person ever to feel like this and wondering how others manage when you cannot, even though they clearly have it harder than you do and still they manage, so the only answer is that you’re just a pathetic worthless sack of shit who doesn’t deserve sympathy because it is all your own fault so suck it you pathetic sap.
STOP THAT SHIT RIGHT NOW. Make a cup of tea and go open up a browser page with celeb gossip on it. See that 20yr old actress who’s got the world at her feet (and probably that hot as fuck actor in her bed, if the gossip columns are correct)? I am telling you right now that she gets up some mornings with a churning feeling in her gut that her career’s already on the slide, she’s peaked too early, the heartthrob lying next to her is only in it for the publicity and they haven’t had sex for a month because they’re both too tired but no one can be allowed to realise this because that would take the shine off the golden couple and oh god why didn’t she just train to be a vet like she planned in high school…
FOTT gets to everyone. It might only do it briefly in the middle of the night when no one else can see the terror in your eyes, or it might be circling constantly; however it manifests itself, everyone has it. Those people who say they’re completely confident and comfortable in their own skin might be telling the truth now, but at some point in their lives they have found themselves staring in the mirror thinking WHO THE FUCK AM I REALLY, YOU KNOW, REALLY, WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO IT?
There is no cure for FOTT, the only thing you can do is to minimise its threat. Take a step back from your own life occasionally and look at other people. Really look. Remind yourself that they too have had their FOTT moments. And don’t get suckered into thinking ‘But it’s okay for them because they fought through it and now they’re successful and oh god I will never be a success at anything, not even remembering to pay my bills on time because I am a shit excuse for a human being and why can’t people just see me for what I am and get it over with oh jesus…’
Shall I tell you how they’ve done it? Those people have worked through it because THOSE PEOPLE ARE SHARKS. They have forced themselves to keep moving through the treacle of life even when it threatens to pull them under and slowly suffocate them with a mouthful of sticky-sweet ennui, because those people know that the static shark is a dead shark.
Keep moving – a moving target is harder to hit and no one can tap your shoulder if your shoulder is never where they expect it to be. Put one foot in front of the other – just do something you didn’t do this morning, or yesterday, or last week. It doesn’t have to be anything different, just something new. If you write, then go write something. See, new words, right there on the screen in front of you. Yay you!
Sick of writing your blog but don’t want to be seen to give up because then you will be a massive, baby-pants failure? Write a post about how much you hate your fucking blog and stick it on your blog – you hate it anyway, so you might as well wring the last drops of creative blood out of it (but you’ll most likely realise that you write better when you’re angry and suddenly you have impetus again. Woop!).
Sick of your job, but too scared to look for a different one because a new job would probably be as bad if not worse than the current one and anyway you should be able to stick it out because other people manage and you should probably just be grateful to have a job in this day and age, but here you are being a precocious special snowflake who can’t hack it in the real world? Go look up ridiculous courses you can do in your spare time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a copywriter in the day – if you’ve always fancied astronomy, or want to know how to decorate fancy cakes, get and fucking learn. You might not last more than two lessons but that doesn’t matter, because you DID something. Move on, like the shark you are. Whip that tail, bare those teeth and sign up for the next course.
Borrow someone’s dog and go for a walk, or print off your CV and go through it with a red pen, taking out the boring stuff and adding in the skills you’ve forgotten you had, like basic French or arc-welding or knowing how to put flatpack furniture together. There is an actual market out there for people who are happy to put others’ flatpack furniture together – you don’t have to do it full time, but for now it might give you a sideline that soothes your brain enough to stop you going on a murderous killing spree through the staff canteen on a Friday lunchtime when Sandra from accounts gets stroppy because someone’s used a tiny bit of her milk even though she wrote ‘SANDRA’S MILK DO NOT USE’ on it in green sharpie.
Keep moving, keep doing and don’t beat yourself up for not being good enough. So many of us spend so much of our time doing just that, when we should really be out there swimming together like the awesome sexy beasts of the human sea that we really are.
BE MORE SHARK.