Let's Talk About Fear

I’m going to die. Eventually. It terrifies me.

I pulled my monster out from under the bed yesterday. There was a lot of kicking and screaming involved. This was the raw, emotional side of myself I have been avoiding for over 20 years.

See, I am an almost entirely cerebral creature. I think it was both inherited and by choice, but I have beaten my emotional self back so far and so often that it hurts to even consider what I feel. When my therapist asks me how I feel about something, I automatically start talking about what I think. I don’t know what I feel.

It was a defense mechanism at first. I needed it. Boy, did I need it. When I was young, I felt that if I let myself feel anything, I would collapse, consumed by having to deal with my life. When I got older, it was so big I didn’t – don’t – know how to let it go.

Those of you who read this blog know that I realized my mortality early. I was not quite six when I was the only one in my city to survive spinal meningitis. That was hard, and it made me angry. I wanted to fight. Which was good, because I needed to fight in order to recover.

Then I started losing people. My grandmother to lung cancer when I was 10, a family friend and surrogate grandfather the same year. He had a heart attack. At the hospital they told us he would get better, but he had a second heart attack and died. Then it was a peer, a friend, Paul, who died over Christmas break when a drunk driver jumped a highway median. He was 12.

I got angrier and angrier with each one. It wasn’t fair. It felt like I was always waiting for the next shoe to drop. And shoe after shoe after shoe did drop. I was in a constant state of braced for the worst. But I wasn’t afraid. Not yet.

It took diabetes to make me afraid, or rather, a gaggle of well-intentioned providers – doctors, nurses, nutritionists – to teach me that. To be fair, that was the prevailing wisdom in 1991. They would harass, harangue, and threaten. “You will die of a stroke before you’re 19 if you don’t follow the rules.” I am sure I am one of thousands who has had to unlearn how I was socialized to my own disease.

I did try to follow their rules. It didn’t work out so well. And instead of helping me find the right path, they kept trying to force me down a path I didn’t want to follow. My fear compounded when I was finally scared straight by the development of serious complications. Compounded, but never addressed.

By then, I had college to keep me occupied, at least for a couple of years. But before I could even finish that, my mother was diagnosed with pancreas cancer – a death sentence. I was sad and scared and desperate to hang on for as long as I could to the one who kept pulling me out of these things I got myself into.

That was the big one. My fear grew until all my other emotions had to hide behind it. I didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral. I would set my chin and clench my teeth and if I had to cry, I would wait until 2 in the morning, when I was sure no one could hear me, even when I was by myself in my apartment. I clamped down so hard on my subconscious that I actually didn’t dream for over 15 years. And no, it wasn’t just that I didn’t remember. I didn’t dream. I got REM sleep, but I did not allow my subconscious to participate.

I couldn’t afford to let any emotion touch me. If the floodgates opened, I would lose my self. (Not myself, but my self.) I still feel that way.

Ironically, the solution is to step away from my self, and to observe it for as long as I can, to recognize and understand whatever bubbles up. My therapist told me that in psychology, there is the rational mind (me) and the emotional mind (not me) and the best place to be is in the space where they overlap, the wise mind.


I've been running away from this for a long time. I'm not sure I even want to be in the wise mind. Rationality is easy, comfortable. It takes no energy, no change. But just because you decide you don't want to feel doesn't mean that you don't. I think that if I keep on as I have been, I will explode, which means my emotions will come out either way. I can either do it with some thought and control or wait until I have none. I'd rather it not come to the latter. So, I'll try. I make no guarantees, but I will try.