Lala at Seasons Change, and so have I reminded me this morning of some very sensitive subject matter that I often overlook. See, I’ve programmed myself over the years to minimize my fears. Fears are just another expression of weakness. Or so I’ve been inadvertently taught throughout the course of my life. Fears are irrational little demons that have no place in reality. They are something to be ignored. Fear is an overreaction and another possible way to be overdramatic about events that occur in life.
Fear is just another excuse not to do something.
There are a million reasons those phrases fail to sit well with me. First, I am a person that has a complicated relationship with authority. If fear were allowed to conquer my own free will, then it would become an authority figure. I would become conflicted against my own self, and come to fear and loathe myself. I can see the fallacy in the contradictory nature of all of those statements. Because, I experience it regularly. And the experience of fear complicates itself and entangles itself into my psyche.
I have phobias, whether I want to admit it or not. At this point, I would rather come clean than try to diminish these symptoms any further. It seeks to compound the confusing presentation of these intense fears. Worse, I can’t readily dismiss fears like I used to. As life progresses and my experience expands, I’ve come to situations that force a confrontation. And the effects that the denial and repression produces are intense.
I fear planes and cars crashing into my house.
When I was a child, a plane crashed somewhere near my hometown. The only reason this event was significant hinged on how it affected my area. I lived near a fire department, a highway, and two interstates. It seemed like there were people and sirens all night. It was a hot summer night, and all of the windows and doors were open. People had their eyes skyward. And the thought of a plane falling out of the sky had never crossed my mind before.
In case I didn’t mention recently, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time of 9/11, I lived about ten miles from our local international airport. And we are the closest city to the crash site of Flight 93 that went down in Sommerset County, a few counties over from us. That day was similar to the night of the crash from my childhood. Only this time, it wasn’t an accident. It was a terrorist attack.
I also lived by an Air force and an Army base. When all of the planes were grounded, the skies were filled with military planes. It was like living in a military state. Other than those planes, the sky was empty. The winds were unusually quiet. And my best friend and I laid in our adjacent yards, staring skyward for the threat.
Somehow, throughout the years of being a pedestrian, the definition of “crash” came to include cars. And Xan always joked with me about how silly it was.
In May 2010, a drunk driver crashed his jeep into the front of my house. It was the day after Mother’s Day and only five minutes after my husband had left to put our one-and-a-half year old son into the car to come get me from work. Had it been five minutes earlier, my son would be dead. The impact to the front of the house sent the sofa into the middle of the room. The impact would have been enough to serious maim Xan and kill, then 27 lb, Beast.
Since then, I would cringe every single time I would hear a car make an awful noise outside my home. It is among the dozens of reasons I moved from 511 to 106. Except, 106 is only a couple of miles from the airport now. Instead, I cringe at low flying planes, and look skyward to their shiny metal bellies.
I fear enclosed spaces and crowds.
This comes to include any area that could become cramped or would be difficult to maneuver out of. I fear being crushed. I have dreams about it sometimes. I’ll go in after Beast in one of those kids tubes, and it will start to collapse on me. Or, I’ll just get stuck. And there will always be something threatening happening.
This definition expanded after the Columbine School Shooting. It came to include areas where I would be “trapped”. That means classrooms, buses, shopping malls, lecture halls, and unfamiliar cars. Anywhere where I was not openly permitted to leave, or wasn’t easily escapable became suspect.
This was compounded when I was pregnant with my son. I was afraid that I was going to be accidentally harmed in a public place by someone careless. And, it was made even worse when Xan was involved in a serious car accident in June 2011. People get hurt by the negligence of others all of the time.
I fear having an episode in public.
I know Bipolar Disorder isn’t as episodic as an anxiety disorder. Maybe I have an anxiety disorder. I just don’t know, and I’m not qualified to make that determination. I’m afraid of being overtly symptomatic in public. I just have this severe anxiety that I am going to have an unrelenting panic attack and do something, for lack of a better word, crazy. Or that I’ll break down in hysterical tears over something practically benign, like losing my scarf or breaking a pencil. Or worse, I’ll go out and binge eat to suppress some other urge.
I fear elevators.
Combine my fear of catastrophe, a mild fear of heights, and a severe fear of enclosed spaces, and a torrent of anxiety develops. That’s what an elevator represents to me.
I have always been afraid of elevators, because the motion doesn’t agree with me. I don’t like that moment of weightlessness when ascending and I don’t enjoy that feeling of plummeting to doom when descending. I don’t like the jolts and starts. And I especially don’t like being knocked off balance.
Compound that fear with actually getting stuck in an elevator. It was my freshman year in high school, and I was assigned a dorm room on the sixth floor at camp. We were children, and we were stupid. The elevator clearly stated that the maximum capacity was 14 people. Instead, we had closer to twenty, all jammed in that elevator. When it opened, I could clearly see the floor between the fifth and sixth floors. We were stuck in midair in a rickety old elevator, where no one could immediately get to us.
From then on, I took the stairs. I dragged my footlocker and luggage up flights and flights of stairs to avoid any similar occurrence. Of course, it never happened under their watch again. But the singular experience was enough to have me fit for stairs and hiking stairwells for the rest of my life.
My doctor’s office is on the third floor of an office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been running late, and I arrive at that check in desk breathless and sweaty.
Then, there are the sillier fears.
The aforementioned are just huge fears that have come true for me. There are fears that have absolutely no grounds in reality. For instance, I fear toilet snakes. I know there is no such thing. I don’t know if there has ever been an incident of someone getting bitten by a poisonous snake while using the bathroom. And if there has, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.
I fear lightning strikes.
I fear bugs in the bed. Or just bugs crawling on me in general.
I fear the apocalypse. Irony of ironies.
I fear being touched by a stranger. There are a million different reasons why that’s a serious fear that has no grounds. All my brain knows is that sometimes touch is bad.
Then, there are the more common ones.
I fear judgement. I fear failure. I fear unfamiliar social situations. I fear being alone. I fear dying alone. I fear getting hurt and having no one there to help me. I fear strangers. I fear germs.
I know that some of these are rational, and these are things that should be reasonably feared. But most of the time, they strike me, and I’m left with the deer in the headlights feeling. That is unreasonable.
What are the most common fears out there? What are the most uncommon? Which are ones that my mind made up?