My Thoughts On: Fear

This is a short memoir I wrote for a creative writing class. I think it has a good moral to it, even if it's not my best work. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe even get a good life lesson out of it.

Illustration by Matt Mahurin
Illustration by Matt Mahurin

My relationship with fear has changed over the years. When I was very young, I was afraid of everything. I'd be afraid of my own shadow if it weren't for the simple knowledge that a shadow means light is nearby. After all, there was nothing I feared more than the dark. Not the dark itself, of course, but all the things I convinced myself that the dark was hiding. I'd always imagine any number of horrible things lurking just out of sight. At night when I got up to go to the bathroom, I'd usually run or at least walk briskly from the light of my room to the light that had been left on in the kitchen, and from there to the bathroom. Clear through my teenage years, I'd sprint through the house in the middle of the night for fear of being caught by some ghastly creatures that I instinctively knew had just been conjured up by my own imagination.

As I got older, though, the fear of dark faded. It has gotten to the point now where I am uncomfortable in too much light. I like to stay up late and goof around on the internet, or watch some tv, be it a silly late-night talk show, or maybe the occasional scary movie.

Speaking of which, I was also scared to death by horror movies when I was a kid, particularly vampire movies and zombie movies. There was something about their affinity for blood and brains that just chilled me to the core. Even today some old Living Dead movies will scare me senseless. It was always a psychological thing, though. My fear of vampires stemmed from two things: fear of blood loss, and fear of sharp pointy things, like vampire fangs.

Relating to that, I had a fear of needles, which of course created problems at the doctor's office. I needed all kinds of reassurance before I'd even consider letting them stick a needle into my arm, and even then I couldn't bare to look.

In my late teens, I ended up in the hospital a few times for various reasons, and I started to realize that needles were often a source of pain-killing drugs. I got used to getting an IV put in my arm. The spot they usually put it at the inside of your elbow doesn't hurt all that much, I realized. One time, I had the misfortune of getting a nurse who thought it would be a good idea to insert the IV needle into my wrist. I can safely say that is the most painful place a needle has ever been stuck on my body. A needle in the arm on the inside of the elbow is just a minor sting for a moment at the point of entry. With the wrist, an intense jolt of pain shoots up your entire arm. You can feel your tendons spasm in your forearm and your muscles tense in time with the waves of pain flying up the arm and into the brain.

It's alright, though, because I realized after that experience that I no longer had any fear of needles, nor did I have any sense of dread at the thought of losing blood. Every injection I ever got from a doctor after that day was a walk in the park. On one occasion, I accidentally cut my thumb with a bread knife, causing it to bleed all over. After the initial shock of pain from the cut, I was astounded at just how much I genuinely didn't care that blood was gushing out of my thumb. Naturally, I rinsed and bandaged the cut right away, but even as I did so I was surprised by how cool and calm I was about what I thought should have been a terrifying experience.

When I was young, less than five years old if I remember correctly, I slipped and fell head-first into the family swimming pool. I didn't know how to swim yet, and I sank like a stone. I can still remember feeling this terrible dread as I looked up from the bottom of the pool, thinking for a few seconds that no one had seen me go in. Thankfully, my mom got me out of there pretty quickly, but I still had a lingering fear of drowning for a long time afterward. I was usually afraid to swim except in the shallow parts of pools where I could touch the bottom.

As I got older, I spent more time in the pool over the years, and gradually got better at swimming. I'm still no Olympic champion swimmer, not even close. But I can pretty well keep myself from drowning. I also seemed to naturally outgrow my fear as my body naturally became more buoyant. At one time, while in the swimming pool at summer camp, I was actually unable to swim underwater because I couldn't physically stay under without floating back up to the surface. This was especially true of my head; keeping my head under was like trying to drown a beach ball filled with air. It just wouldn't stay under no mater what I did. Anyway, as this continued, I went gradually from being afraid to swim the deep end to merely being very inept at it. I still barely know how to swim, but I can keep myself afloat in a body of water at least.

The realization I'm coming to lately is that the worst fear I can experience is one fueled by my own sense of dread at the unknown. I stopped fearing needles after a bad experience with one. It was because I'd seen the worst of it and lived through it that I stopped fearing it. Once I'd experienced what I feared, there was no longer any reason to fear it, because I finally knew what it was really like. With the fear of drowning, I gradually got over my fear after years of swimming without incident. Fear gave way to the knowledge that water isn't dangerous all the time.

Have you ever seen a monster movie, where they don't show you the monster until late in the second half of the movie? They do that for a reason. It's meant to build up your sense of dread and suspense. The scariest monster of all is the one you see in your own mind. Once you see the bad special effects of the movie monster, that sense of dread at the unknown is lost. That's because the real thing can never be as terrifying as what we imagine in our own minds. This was always true for me: I was the one who scared me all the time, not the darkness or movies or needles or whatever. It was my own fear of what I imagined that was the worst. Once I had a real understanding of what I was really dealing with, I had that light-bulb moment where I realized that there was nothing hiding in the darkness that wasn't there when the light was on. Anything I perceived in the dark, I put it there myself, and I didn't have to. It was a huge step forward for me, allowing me conquer many of my childhood fears in one fell swoop.

I still have some fears, but I'm better able to deal with them now. That awareness that fear is based on the unknown has helped me a great deal, and will continue to help me in the future. My imagination always conjures up more fearsome things that what really exist. That's why I think I'm dying of meningitis whenever I get a cold, and it's why I write it off as me being crazy instead of writing farewell notes to my family and friends. There's no way I'm ever doing that again. At least, I hope so. Flu season's coming up. There are always a few cases of a new virus killing people. You never know...

Well, okay, sometimes you do.

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