This past week, I realized something about myself. It’s one of those things I’ve always known, but that I never gave much thought. Something that was so much “just me” that I never questioned it nor considered the implications. But this week, we had winter weather. Ice, snow, sleet. Extreme cold…even set a new record for a low temperature. And I hate winter weather. Because it’s so dangerous. You have to risk your life to get to work so you can make a little bit of money to be able to afford utilities, gas, food, shelter. It seems so unfair to have to take that kind of a risk for money. I’m terrified of driving on the icy roads. Afraid my skills aren’t good enough to keep me out of the ditch or away from someone’s bumper. Pretty sure the other guy’s skills aren’t adequate in most cases. The stress from being so fearful and worried makes me crazy. I despise being put in such a precarious position. It makes me angry to have to choose to compromise my safety or look like a wimp at work and be ridiculed – or even disciplined – if I don’t make it in. These thoughts were winding through my head, tying me in to knots and basically driving me crazy. And then I had my realization.
I am afraid of almost everything.
I don’t know if I was “born this way” or if it’s something I learned. But this fearfulness has been with me for a very, very long time. Since I was a small child. It’s something that has always been, as far as I can remember.
When I was small, I was afraid of my parents. They were scary people. They fought a lot; explosive fights that left the house torn apart and both parents would leave my brother and I alone for hours afterwards. My father would storm off in his car. My mother would take off on foot. I would try to comfort my little brother and clean up the mess. I didn’t know whether to hope they would never come back or that they wouldn’t leave us alone for very long.
My father’s explosive temper didn’t only rear its head with my mother. Though I don’t recall him ever hitting my brother, he hit me fairly frequently. Seems I was always disappointing him or getting on his nerves. My mother was very unstable and incapable of handling any challenge, regardless of how minor that challenge might be. She never drove, rarely cooked or cleaned, did little parenting and viewed everything that required her attention as a crisis. She, too, had a temper. Instead of hitting, she slapped. And she would grab a handful of my hair to drag me around as she screamed at me, telling me how worthless and disappointing I was.
I had some valid reasons to fear them. But I didn’t fear only my parents. I feared all adults. To me, they were unpredictable and more likely to hurt me as be nice to me. That fear of adults grew to become a fear of all people. Especially after I experienced major rejection and ridicule from others. As a result, I became very shy and withdrawn. Something that was later mistaken for being a feeling of superiority because of my reluctance to interact. I didn’t even know I was a person, but others thought I was “stuck up!” I had to work hard to learn how to talk to people; to swallow my fear and act the way others acted socially. I’m still not very good at it. I’m awkward. The fear is still there.
I also had horrible fears and nightmares about things like tornadoes, fire, the dark, spirits, people breaking in to our house, wrecks and other types of catastrophes. I would lay awake at night, listening to all the sounds. If the wood popped as it settled, I thought the house was on fire. If there was much wind or if a storm was raging, I just knew a tornado was going to hit our house and destroy everything, whisking away what little security I had in the world. I wouldn’t even allow my fingers to hang over the edge of the bed at night because I believed they would be eaten off if I did. I don’t know what I thought would eat them, but the fear was overwhelming. I couldn’t even make it to the bathroom in the dark, so great was my terror of the night.
I was afraid of not having enough money to take care of my needs. That started young too. Growing up, my father would tell us almost every month that we weren’t going to make it. That there wasn’t enough money. He would threaten to sell his guns. Sometimes he would sell one. He was a teacher and he only got paid once a month. And most of the time, miraculously, he would come home on the first telling us that we made it, somehow. And he would have a new, even better gun than the one he sold.
When I got out on my own, I worked extremely hard to move up. I didn’t figure I would ever be rich, but I wanted to make enough money to have a reasonably nice, safe place to live. I wanted to have some fun clothes, a reliable vehicle, be able to take a vacation once a year. I barely got to that place before losing it all. I worked diligently and gave the job everything I had to create some security. But in the end, nothing was secure. My whole life and everything I had worked for was blown away.
When I was a young adult, I longed to connect with people. Longed for companionship. The closeness. But as time passed, I began to fear connecting as much or more than I wanted it. I had been wounded too many times too deeply and I could no longer take the chance of losing another piece of myself. Of my heart.
I feared being alone and unloved. I feared being without. I feared rejection. I feared being unwanted. I feared having nothing. I feared losing. I feared being a failure. I feared never mattering. I feared slick roads. I feared risks. I feared being late. I feared being out at night. I feared losing my dogs. I feared not being able to afford medical and dental care. I feared my car not starting. I feared…everything. Everything. Absolutely everything. And I still do. And almost everything I have feared has come to pass.
Fear took me an inch or a foot or a mile at a time. Until everything I did or didn’t do was motivated by trying to protect myself.
Now that I’m older, I have added items to the list of things I’m afraid of instead of subtracting anything.
While I am not as afraid of being dead, the process of dying terrifies me. Will it be prolonged and painful? Will I suffer greatly? Being incapacitated also frightens me. Growing older in general strikes terror in my heart. And being alone when you’re older and frailer takes one to a whole new level of fear. Everything is harder. Even getting out of the car, carrying groceries, and going to work (if one is lucky enough to have a job) becomes a major task. And going to work every day when your body doesn’t want to cooperate is overwhelming.
About work. Age discrimination is alive and well. Money is no longer easy to come by because jobs are scarce, young people willing to fill those that are available are plentiful, and old people are not nearly as desirable. Retirement looms, but most of us are ill-prepared. I know there will come a point when I can no longer provide for myself, even if I’m employed. And how long can I work? How long will my body hold up? What happens if it doesn’t?
Homelessness is a very real possibility.
I tried to prepare for old age, but I’m not at all equipped. I’ve lived a fear-filled life and that fear has held me back in many ways. I haven’t stepped out when others might have. I haven’t taken the chances many people take without giving it a second thought because I was frightened of failure and rejection. I have never been recognized as having worth or value and that may partly be because I never valued myself. It was too risky to believe I mattered because then the pain would be crushing. I couldn’t chance that. Even though it might have been the best thing I could have done.
Fear has walked with me every step of the way. Accompanying me through every day. It was present during every decision I ever made, even as a child. it was the only thing I have ever known. The only constant in my life. Panic has sent me scurrying. Anxiety has bound me. Fear has very nearly destroyed me. It has owned me and dictated every move I have made on the chessboard of life. Until there were no more moves left.
This, above all things, strikes total terror in my heart.
No more moves. Checkmate.