A couple of years ago, I became involved with a story unfolding on a horse forum. I never forgot it, and I remembered it the night I began this journal.
A woman hesitantly brought up the subject of fear on a thread in the forum. She said her husband had given her a horse for her birthday and she was so happy, but it had been years since she'd ridden. She said she was anxious and nervous. She couched it in terms of being intimidated by the instructor who was giving her riding lessons. Little by little, she revealed more. People posted comments on the thread, offering thoughtful suggestions to this woman. Maybe she was encouraged to say more, not by the advice, but by the interest people showed, the claims of a common experience. Maybe she just needed to scream. But over the course of a few weeks, something happened. Her fear increased, or she began to tell the truth about it; I'm still not sure which. It got to the point that she began to miss lessons. She would log on to the forum, and post a guilty message. She said she knew she had cancelled a lesson because she was afraid. She described sitting in her car, shaking, as she tried to talk herself into going to the barn. Responses would pour in, mostly kind. Try a new instructor. Just groom your horse. Don't be so hard on yourself. Every now and then, someone would try tough love. The woman would disappear for a few days after that kind of post. Subplots unfolded in the thread, people comparing notes on bad falls, hot horses, bolters, buckers, biters, getting back on, how you always have to get back on.
There was a tone of growing desperation that somehow bled through this woman's posts -- desperation, shame, sorrow and resignation. Other people on the forum began to sense it, too. A chorus of cheerleaders sprang up, saying, "Don't give up, don't give up, we know you can do it." Their pleas of support created another sense of pressure in this woman, though they meant only the best. I could feel it building in her. One night, she came on and said, "I just can't do it. I am too afraid. I gave my horse away today. But thank you all for your kind words. I'm very sorry." Then she disappeared from the forum. It was heartbreaking.
I still think about her. Not that I think I'm like her; I don't. But I know how hard it is to tell the truth about fear. Fear is a stain, a force and a deceiver. It is the best conversationalist in the world, and seems to know your every thought.
I don't know who I'm writing to. Maybe her.