the strangeness of our fears

image by ♥KatB Photography♥ via flickr

I am rather boring in my even-keelness. My mood swings are usually limited to getting thrilled over a well crafted phrase or a child’s perfect smile, only to fall to the depths of sadness over a story’s triste dénouement.

When I was twenty, at dinner with friends on some beach in Spain, a man we were having dinner with told me that I was like a pillow, una almohada, which I found rather odd and borderline insulting until he told me that people when around me just feel like laying their head on my shoulder and… resting. (It sounded better in Spanish.) Suffice it to say I’m usually the one doing the calming, not vice versa.

During the harried days of working for a weekly magazine my colleagues used to ask how I stayed so unruffled amidst the endless crises. I told them with a sweet smile that when I arrived home I would often beat up my husband (which of course I didn’t, since he’s as zen as me. In fact we’ve raised three children who are also known for their chill personalities…it’s a genetic trend.)

I’ve survived some rather harrowing experiences in life (haven’t we all by this point?) relatively unscathed, and I can honestly say that I am quite incredibly pleased with my life, my love, my whole existence.

But.

I have this fear.

I won’t tell you what it is, though those who know me know. I suppose that’s one of the problems, for by telling one’s unspeakable fears they instantly strengthen until they gain purchase in one’s real life, leaving behind the dark recesses of imagination. I read an interview with some author once who, when asked what his greatest fear was, declined to respond. Brilliant man. I thought at the time this was because he was afraid of some stalker filling his mailbox with spiders or showing up dressed as a clown, but now I understand that it is more than that. Once you speak its name, you give it life.

Because mine is a silly fear, an irrational one, it became in others’ eyes a bit of a joke, something to tease me about in the gentlest of ways, and I laugh, I do. Until yesterday, when one comment brought that fear just a bit too close, closer than it had ever been and inexplicably I burst into tears. I am not one to cry, at least not real tears. I’ll shed a few over dramatic moments in movies or scenes in books. When I was pregnant and on modified bedrest I watched a childbirth show each day and cried over every episode, instantly, just as the baby was born. But I don’t cry like this, with big shockingly messy sobs that make the phrase “crying like a baby” an understatement. I think it lasted all of a minute or so, but whew, it was insane (bad choice of words, I assure you I’m quite sane).

It passed, kind of. The thing with irrational fears is that they are just that. They are quite dreadful, like dragons in closets and red eyed demons under the bed. They come out at night or when you turn your back and until you learn how to sap them of their strength they hover there, waiting. But I am not one to give up so easily, and perhaps that was the tipping point for this silly fear of mine, and all it took was a google search.

Type in “irrational fears” or “fears” or “phobias” or how to get over them, and you come up with such so much strangeness my little phobia seems positively mainstream and dreadfully dull.

There is the fear of looking up, of birds (well I suppose this might be connected to the prior phobia), fear of objects to the left side of the body and fear of thinking. Lest I forget, fear of knees, of men, of fire, of air drafts, of asymmetrical things. There is even the dreaded anglophobia, or fear of England or the British, or the appropriately named phobophobia, or “fear of fear” (not the Fassbinder movie).

There are tens of thousands of you tubes about fears, most covering the standard fears (lots of fear of flying, etc.), but others more original like fear of blue people (pre-avatar!), snowmen, public bathrooms (rightly so), and let us not forget the one that my kids told me of long ago, fear of pickles (yes, there is apparently a girl quite well known now for her multiple appearances on daily talk shows screaming over pickle juice, I mean like srsly…).

The standard internet medical advice includes “make a chart of the steps you will take to face your fear…go slow!” and “irrational fears are common, we all have them” or “contact your physician, there are medications which can alleviate your stress.”

I’ve, however, developed my own method of self-help.

Read about other’s phobias. Watch a few of the videos on youtube of people describing their fears. Look out the window and do it again.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Promise.

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4 thoughts on “the strangeness of our fears

  1. *sigh* I’ve had some debilitating fears over the years. I’ve learned to rationalize most of them, but even in a rational mind-set, the actual physical response remained real, and THAT is what was paralyzing.

    Reading your well written post made my heart race for a moment, as I woke one of my old fears recently…I refuse to fuel the flame, ergo, no thinking about it at time like now, when I’m tired and spent.

    May you continue to understand your battle… and as Pema Chadron writes, visit “the places that scare you” peace ~ a

    1. I suppose if I were afraid of war, or death or something dreadful (even inevitable in the case of the latter) it would be more difficult to dismiss. My fear is really quite idiotic, and I remind myself of that often, and I do think I will be able to shake it, eventually. In the meantime it really doesn’t affect my life, which is fortunate, I know.

      I’m convinced that fears are sharpest when we are very young and when we grow older (not that I’m old, but…). In the middle I suppose we’re just too busy living to have time to fear!

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