Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Fear of What?!
you may recall from the last hatepost that interviewee lisa noble concluded her questioning by noting that she'd written an essay on fears (of which she has many). we've received a copy of this essay and present it here, unedited, for your consideration:
Fear of What?!
For a good part of my youth there were often nights when I would imagine myself rising from bed still asleep, and unintentionally hostile. I’d walk out of my room, creep downstairs, and find my way into the kitchen where there would be a knife or some other sharp utensil I could manage to grab depending on the position my somnambulism has placed me. I’d then walk through the main hallway of the house, all the way into the master bedroom where I would proceed to stab and kill my mother or my father or both, in a blind and bloody sleep-filled rage. Sometimes instead I would stumble down to the basement where my brother sleeps and I’d murder him. Other times I would be too disoriented to make it past the kitchen, and my subconscious would settle for killing myself. These were the nights I would need two Extra StrengthTylenol and sharp swig of Nyquil to calm my nerves get into a nice motionless sleep. Otherwise I’d be awake nursing a mild panic attack all night, fearing against all odds that such an improbable accident might ever occur.
I have never been a sleepwalker. The only instance of sleepwalking that has ever taken place according to my knowledge was once, when I was about four, my mother found me downstairs in the living room, helpless, crying, and evidently unarmed. Yet, after many years of replaying this unfounded but highly morbid vision and all its variations, I will not go to bed entirely comfortable until I have shoved the scissors to the back of my desk drawer and suggested to my roommate that she invest in the proper bedside armor.
It’s not always sleepwalking that triggers such, shall I say, paranoia. I’ve actually gotten over my potentially threatening subconscious for the most part by convincing myself that most people tend to wake up when someone is standing over their bed with a knife. I can only hope that I would wake up in time as well, if anything to save myself the embarrassment of accidentally slaughtering a loved one. These days, my fears are a little less drawn out in length and detail, and play out more like fleeting thoughts of probability. I experience what I can only describe as a two to three second flash of an images having to do with my present situation and what might come of its risks . And as low as the chances may be, the effect of consideration is paralyzing. For instance, I often wonder how many minutes exactly it takes standing in front of the microwave before the radiation gives me brain cancer, or skin cancer, or colon cancer or whatever. In the midst of a blink I’ll picture myself rubbing a tumor the size of my fist. However, this is a possibility that I cringe over briefly in the last few seconds it takes for some mozzarella sticks to finish cooking. I might scratch a fresh mosquito bite and the thought passes through my head that this pest has taken great pains to make his way transcontinentally all the way from Africa to my arm and now I’m sharing blood with a diseased child from Somalia. The bump starts to redden and selfish thoughts of malaria are overpowered by a minor irritation of the skin. As laziness would have it, in both of these cases the convenience of inaction overrides the need for resistance of what are already short-lived fears. This is how I came to make the distinction that these considerations are indeed fears, and nothing more extreme as would a phobia imply.
A phobia, I found out, is more than a fear; it is an attempt to avoid your fear at all costs. A phobia would cause me to not only not use a microwave but dodge its line of vision when inactive and burn the instruction manual, just to be safe. And while fears can be just as irrational and just as distressing as phobias, fears do not significantly compromise ones way of living (i.e. agoraphobia: fear of leaving one’s home, or kathisophobia: fear of sitting down). So my question is then, what do they compromise?
If my chronic fears ever did turn into chronic phobias I would never walk up stairs for fear of falling back down and breaking every bone in my body. I would stand a good 50ft distance from street curbs either to deny villainous pedestrians the satisfaction of pushing me into oncoming traffic, or any buses likely to tip over in an attempt to turn the corner, squashing me like the reckless bug I am for not taking better caution. I would be an expert on exotic spiders, knowing in detail the features of one whose bite might shock me into a state of paralysis (this is not to say that I don’t avoid spiders when I can. But the occasional spider bite won’t really need medical attention until it’s mutated the fibers of my DNA and I’m climbing up walls like a tormented comic book hero). If I were prone to phobias, I’d constantly be in search of the best possible maneuver to surgically attach a carbon monoxide detector to my nervous system. But the last time I skimmed the aisles of CVS and found these things were running for $25 each, I decided to wait hold out for the coupons. And as of now, I don’t even have one for my apartment.
I don’t even know why these anxieties are so specific in the first place. In all logic, it doesn’t really make sense to be scared of one thing and not of another. Heights, terrorist attacks, roller coasters, and drawing pints of blood from my veins don’t faze me. Yet I lose sleep over just thinking about the chance of a lighter getting to close to my face. There’s just so much randomness out there; so many chances for a lost limb or a punctured retina that we just don’t see coming. Sure there are plenty of means for fears to be induced. The media is constantly telling us we’re likely to be shot, bombed, or asphyxiated at any given moment. Rumor could be what makes us wince in the dentist’s chair, anticipating the moment that decides whether or not that dental hook will end up lodged in your esophagus. Maybe even some of these anxieties spring from a traumatic childhood experience. My parents’ house has several very large mirrors which were not installed securely enough by the previous owners. The mirror in my parents’ bathroom fell off of the wall, smashing and scattering into what seemed like a billion pieces one night. My mother avoided this incident that likely would have killed her, by about fifteen minutes as she was finishing up her favorite TV show in the other room. We had all of the mirrors replaced after that, but until then, I was always a little hesitant to check my own reflection for too long. And it can’t be that all fears work this way, ingrained by some existing form of experience. Like I highly doubt that 80% of adults who are now afraid of clowns were possibly abused by one as a child.
For me personally, I need those little panics periodically. Fearing something irrational somehow makes me feel as if it’s prevention in itself of having to come face to face with it; that letting the uncontrollable know that you’re keeping your eye on it, makes it back off, turn the other corner and focus its attention on someone who’s not going to expect it. It seems safer to expect the unexpected, because there are things that you just can’t control by force, avoidance, or even rationality. It may be that it’s the irrational that serves as your only means of defense. Furthermore, it makes me feel all the more accomplished, getting through each day, knowing all there is out there to survive.
lisa noble is a coffee production manager who hails from georgia