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The Dizziness of Freedom

Feb 8 '14


I have been scared my whole life. 

It started with Jurassic Park and dinosaurs, a time when I spent most nights sleeping on my parents’ bedroom floor. I couldn’t be alone - not with T-Rexs running the show out in the world.

And then it was tornadoes. The wind would keep me up at night, rattling my windows and inspiring nightmares in which I’d grab the family dog and hide in a closet while everything collapsed around me. We didn’t have a basement, and so I spent many waking hours deciding which closet or door frame would be strong enough to keep us safe. And what stuff I’d grab first. 

I dreamed about moving places where there weren’t tornadoes. But then there were new fears: California, earthquakes; Alaska, dark for six months; Asia, monsoons; Southern US, hurricanes. There were no safe places. And I looked for them, trust me. Were it up me at 16 years old, a bunker would’ve been where I lived.

Never mind the nights I’d wake up in cold sweats, swallowing my vomit, afraid of nothing in particular. I was just afraid. And it has impacted every part of my life.

I stopped taking NyQuil when I was 12 because it made my nightmares worse - I’d rather suffer through the flu than have those dreams. And I have. I would leave school early, and in college, leave class early, because my stomach hurt, because I wanted to throw up, because I couldn’t stop shaking or shivering, or feeling like something wasn’t right. There weren’t names for these things, I never saw a doctor about my constant urge to vomit (or my paralyzing fear of doing so). 

And so this behavior has become totally normal. I can’t sleep without the TV and a fan on (to block out the noise and turn my brain off). I wash my hands constantly (because germs, no, gross). I obsessively check the weather all summer looking for wind warnings. I’m afraid to travel to any part of tornado alley (not a huge loss, is there much *in* Oklahoma)? 

I break out into sweats when anything is out of the ordinary. When my train stops underground, when the clouds are a weird shape, when there’s a red spot on my skin, when my head hurts longer than normal, when the cat makes a weird noise, when anyone around me shows any signs of being sick whatsoever. I can’t even watch House because I immediately assume that I, too, have a worm in my brain because my finger twitched earlier.

I panic and I can’t help it. 

I learned, at 23, that my brain is wired this way. It’s not like everybody else’s brain, but there are a lot of people like me, too. People who are obsessively scared of things they can’t control, people who are ashamed to be so scared of so much. Wildly successful, wonderful, creative, beautiful people who don’t sleep at night because they’re afraid the house will burn down or a wild animal will break in and trap them. They, too, are afraid of throwing up, of weird spots on their skin, of weather they can’t control. 

But it’s part of who we are. It’s what makes us so good at the things we do - we’re also afraid of failure, of screwing up, of being the thing the wrecks everything. Some drink to quiet the constant rush of what ifs, some do drugs, some disappear into a quiet life of lonely desperation (which is, I might add, my biggest fear of all). 

And so I don’t turn it off. I don’t numb it with drugs or booze or even God. I’ve tried very hard to shut it down, to quiet it, to muffle it at least. And I can’t win. It comes roaring back, stronger than ever. Lately it’s shouting, screaming, raving like the lunatic that it is, “If you ignore me, you will become the thing you fear the most.”

I will not be bested by tornadoes or dinosaurs or zombies (as an adult I am both fascinated by and terrified of Zombies). I will go out into the world with only one enemy: empathy. 

Fear is part of my fire - it’s part of what makes me fun and strange and wonderful. And if it should die, I would die with it, a lonely and miserable failure. A would-be writer with so many dreams and so many other fears, buried under her books and her pets and her fear of failure. And that’s simply not acceptable.

I’d prefer to go out as a girl who tried everything and faced her fears, and did so knowing she was scared out of her goddamned mind. 

Being scared is okay. Being bored is not.

It’s a work in progress. Not every day will be a good day. Some days will be terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Some days will be wonderful. 

I’m ready.