For many years, I didn’t think I was afraid of anything. In psychology, this would probably fall in the realm of “flawed self-perception” or maybe simply “denial.” Needless to say, this bulletproof attitude likely just served to make me a more dishonest person. Those things which exist in us unrecognized can hold the most power over us in their insidious, sleeping way.
So, starting with easy culprits like batteries and sleeping bags, I began recognizing and publicly admitting to those things that make me shake. This isn’t a tick list, I’m not looking to get out and “conquer” my fears. Well-placed fear is a healthy, vital human emotion that serves well in protecting us. However, not all fears are well-placed, and it can’t hurt to sit down occasionally and consider what we’re afraid of, why, and whether that fear is boon or burden.
The things I am afraid of, in no particular order:
Water that is deep, murky, or fast-moving. I have no interest in drowning or being eaten by a water creature. Thus, I try to keep away from situations where either of those things could possibly happen.
Cattleguards. In particular, running or walking over them. Yeah, this one confuses me a bit too. But I’m working on it. When I lived in Carbondale last summer, I had a running loop that took me over a cattleguard that was filled in with dirt. You could see the bars, but there was none of that threatening space that a leg could actually fall into. I used this “safe” cattle guard to confront my fear, first walking and then running over it at full speed while paying exceptional attention to technique (landing on but NOT sliding off of those thin, slippery metal bars).
Being trapped in a sleeping bag.
Imprisonment. I doubt I’d make it a year in jail.
Being alone in a large building.
Elevators. Ok, I can ride in them, but it makes me nervous. If the stairs are an option, I will almost always take them. Even, ahem, when living on the 21st floor of a building in Manhattan. I do a bit better with glass elevators. Open-air lifts do not scare me.
Dying while under anesthesia. I’m actually not particularly scared of death itself, but the possibility of being robbed of the experience of dying, of having my brain chemically co-opted during that time, is very threatening to me. Everyone dies. It is possibly the last thing we get to do. I want to experience it fully, completely, balls-to-the-walls, no masking or numbness, just pure death.
Rabies. Growing up midst a rabies epidemic in upstate New York, my five older siblings and I would watch Stephen King’s Cujo way too often. After my step-father exploded a rabid woodchuck who was terrorizing our garden (he shot him with a Winchester he uses for elk hunting) we became fairly convinced that our cat Miss Kitty, who drooled when she was content, had rabies. We were constantly “testing” her by offering her water. On the occasions that she refused, we’d run to our parents and quiz them once again about the up-to-datenesss of her vaccines. This fear of a disease that leaves you a gnashing, drooling, psychotic mess has mysteriously perpetuated into my adulthood . . . though it still doesn’t stop me from hanging out with wild rodents.
Batteries. They seem like the kind of thing that will emit deadly shocks or explode corrosive material at any minute, most likely in my face. Lucky for me I had a good stretch with an old VW that needed a jump start about every day. Now, I no longer saunter casually off to hide whenever someone jumps a car; in fact I can even do it myself. A couple months ago, I harvested olives in Italy using a machine that I had to attach and detach from a car battery several times a day. Big win. That said . . . I still don’t trust batteries.
Creative exposure. I’ve got some insecurities about my writing, and for many years they prevented me from allowing anyone to see it. Obviously, this is limiting when your plan is to make writing your career. My issue is not only with the (questionable) quality of my own craftsmanship; I tend to write in a way that is intensely personal and raw. I’m mildy terrified of people seeing all my tender bits, of being misunderstood, of people looking at all the blood I’d smeared on the page and thinking it’s just grape jelly. This blog has been a means of me confronting this fear. I still have at least a minor panic attack every time I post to it.