My middle daughter, Angharad, was scared of dogs. We just got a schnauzer from a local rescue centre, and now she isn't any more. Apparently facing your fears head-on is one of the best ways to overcome them.
I have always had a phobia of clowns. I think it's something I read in a book when I was young about how clowns can paint a smile on their face but be feeling something quite different underneath. Somehow I have imagined that they were all in fact murderously evil and out to get me, and I have avoided them ever since including not taking my children to the circus, for example.
Last year I decided that I needed to overcome my phobia, and was (unknowingly) aided in this by Salvo the clown, who lives in my village and is a familiar local character. Rather than avoiding him as he modelled balloon animals at the school gates or in our local shopping centre, I stopped to say Hello and got to know him. We had several friends in common, and before long I was able to admire him as a man of great itegrity and faith, dedication and patience, and with an inspiring life story. I've spent time with him when he's been in and out of character, and I think I can now say that my phobia is cured, and Salvo is the reason why.
I have learned that behind the painted smile, clowns can be great people.
I have also come to realise that it's not just clowns who paint on a smile and pretend to be happy and jolly when they are not. We all put on a face to the world and try to hide our true feelings. At least clowns do it for a noble purpose - to make others happy and provide entertainment.
Maybe we have to. Studies have shown that forcing yourself to smile - but putting a pencil between your teeth if you have to - can elevate mood. Any how many of us would be a little short of friends if, every time they asked how we were, we listed our various ailments and woes? Perhaps a painted smile isn't a bad thing at all.