Last night, Jenny and I went to see a musical. It was wonderful, dramatic, tear-inducing, and all-around fabulous. But I had a single, powerful, and vivid takeaway. When we were being seated, a wonderfully dressed lady came up the stairs to our row, and something was not-quite-normal. She said, “I can’t turn around,” and, “I can’t sit yet.” After watching for a moment, I realized she was struggling with a height-related phobia/anxiety.
Jenny and I sat patiently with the other audience members in our row until she started coming to her seat. She was shaky, afraid, and understandably embarrassed. Then she said something that broke my heart. “I’m so sorry. This is so stupid, I know.” I looked her straight in the face, and said, “It’s not stupid. We are all afraid of something.” She smiled a little, before passing, and a beautiful thing happened.
Jenny reached across me, and offered the lady a hand to hold. Her face was instantly more peaceful, and she took Jenny’s hand. She said, “It’s stupid, I’m sorry.” Jenny didn’t even blink. She looked the lady right in the face and said, “It’s not stupid.” I can only hope that it stuck. She happened to be in the seat next to Jenny, and she sat down, looking much relieved.
It struck me just then; this lady was not just relieved to be sitting. She had genuinely been comforted by Jenny’s gesture. Offering a hand, and reassuring her that this fear wasn’t stupid, were small things for Jenny to do, but they were the right thing to do, in that moment.
So, if you ever wonder, “How do I help someone who is afraid?”, remember: There’s not a single answer. The key is to be supportive, and to remind them that they are not alone, and that their feelings are valid. Be there for each other. Be there for yourself. You are not alone. You matter.