Friday, July 1, 2011

facing the fear

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the nature of fear.

I have two recurring nightmares. They visit me every once in awhile, depending on my stress level and/or if there is something penciled into my calendar that I’ve been dreading and/or if I’m scared of something. Sometimes, the nightmares appear for consecutive nights; sometimes, I don’t encounter them for months.

Nightmare number one, I am trying to force my contacts into my eyes. My contacts suddenly expand into the size of pancakes. I stuff the pancake-sized contacts onto my corneas, anyway. My eyes sting like hell. Nightmare number two, I am shopping in a mall. There is a sea of clothing. I have no idea what I’m doing. My head is spinning. (Note: I've mentioned the shopping nightmare before: and

If you asked me which nightmare was worse, I’d have to point to the shopping one. Both are laced with panic but the shopping one screams of indecision. At least with the contacts one, I have an end goal in mind, however deranged. I am trying to accomplish something. The shopping one, on the other hand, feels lost.

My grandma, the one that I’m sorta mad at right now, has two recurring nightmares, too. Nightmare number one, she’s trying to find the right classroom on her first day of school. Her students are expecting her to teach. She can feel them waiting. Nightmare number two, she lost one of her children. She is running around like a chicken without a head. She is so, so scared.

My grandma’s nightmares are grounded in reality. Nightmare one, she was a history teacher and is a stickler about time. Nightmare two, she packed up her children and ran away from the Communists by dressing in men’s clothing and hiding in the countryside. (Tangent: once, she told me a story I had never heard before, which is rare: she needed to cross a torrential river and the water level was too high. She couldn’t turn back so she clutched a son in each arm and her foot sought out each slippery rock. One misstep and the three of them would have been washed away.)

Compared to my grandma, my nightmares are laughable. Compared to my grandma, I am living a good and easy life. I do not dispute these facts.

I don’t usually think about fear; however, once in awhile, in a particularly panicky and vulnerable moment, I will bemoan my fate, quietly. I will resist the urge to slap myself silly. The inner monologue will sound something like this:

whywhywhy do I do this to myself (insert a multitude of exclamation points and question marks); whywhywhy do I continue to place myself in uncomfortable situations; whywhywhy do I feel the need to prove that I am a capable human being; and on and on, ad nauseam.

It’s almost as if I feel like my life is too easy so I must construct and install obstacles for myself. If it weren’t for this constant stupid urge/need to prove that I’m stronger/braver than I really am, I’d never have tried 99% of the things I’ve done.

For me, the trick is to face the fear and do it, anyway. The trick is to endure. The trick is to keep it cool on the outside so that no one knows about the bundle of nerves on the inside. These little personal fears are comparable to my contacts nightmare. You conquer the fears by facing them, over and over, even when every molecule in your body protests. Even when you’re scared.

It’s an altogether different story for the Real Fears. The Real Fears are the ones that used to plague me when I’d wake up on painful Sunday mornings. The Real Fears are the bigger, vastly more important ones. The Real Fears feel like my shopping nightmare. They are fears which you have no real control over, fears which do not produce results, fears which tap into what it means to be human and alive and here. They’re not like my personal, middling fears that I tackle by doing and confronting. And when the Real Fears strike, which they inevitably do from time to time, the only solace I can find is in other people, in my friends and family and acquaintances who also feel the fear, not myself.

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