Back hugs, showers, cars and the dark

Coming to terms with the various fears I’ve developed over the years.

Used under Creative Commons License

Used under Creative Commons License

Amber Milesi, Staff Writer

What is it that you fear the most? Don’t lie. Be honest. 

I’ve asked my friends this question before. The worst possible fear they could imagine. Their answers almost always revolve around the singular fear of failure. Failing finals, not getting into college, not taking enough AP classes and exams. But that wasn’t something I could relate to. 

For me, a fear of failure would be a wonderful replacement for the list of fears that follow me day after day.

The fears I have resulted from numerous anxieties I developed over the years because of the personal traumatic experiences that came with each of them. Maybe the fears that keep me up at night are nothing more than my imagination running wild. And for some, it’s nothing more than the manifestations of their imaginations that create fears. But I can’t help it if it’s not the ghosts from the latest horror movie that get to me, but rather the ghosts of my past instead.

I’m talking about the fear of back hugs, of cars, shower drains, the dark, bones, tight spaces and plenty more. There are not even real names for some of my fears, ones that don’t fall under the broad umbrella terms that sum up most fears. And why wouldn’t they? How am I supposed to explain the fear of twisting my arm left or right because I can feel the bone underneath my skin and it reminds of the time I broke three bones in my wrist. Some fears are too specific and tailored just to me, the unfortunate host of them all.

Amber Milesi

A lot of the fears I carry are definitely not something I’m proud of. Who could be proud to carry the weight of an insanely abnormal amount of fears racked up from a damaging number of events that scarred my childhood?

What do I mean by damaging events? Take my fear of the dark. Something about trying to sleep in a room filled with pure darkness sets me on edge. But I have a good excuse: I once locked myself in a garage when I was five years old and I was too small to reach the light switch. I had to sit in the dark for hours in which I was convinced every worst nightmare I ever had was going to try to eat me. And even once I was rescued and safe, every time I went to bed and the lights were out, I felt like the pressing darkness was suffocating me and I couldn’t sleep for the whole night. I’ve since requested two orange lamps to be placed near my bed and dealt with constant insomnia as a result.

Or, the fear of standing near drains, it sounds as pathetic as it is and the benefits of a fear like this are few and far between. Something about that grimy opening that just sucks down water scares the hell out of me. Walking barefoot in a locker room with the hair and mold covered drains is a no go for me. I honestly don’t know where I picked up this fear but ever since I was young and swimming in pools, I never liked the look of the giant drains underneath the water. I can only link it to a form of germaphobia, something about the uncleanliness and emptiness of the drains that I can’t take. 

Sometimes I’ve noticed certain fears I have work as a perfect conversation starter because of the stories that caused them. My fear of cars is enough to make my vision blur and my heart race, and I can barely breathe when cars stream by, especially on busy streets. Even without the entire story, it sounds interesting, right? Why cars? What happened? What’s the story?

I can indulge in retelling the scary encounter of the harrowing car crash I survived. Biking home on a cold rainy night from school one day, I paused at a crosswalk and there were no cars coming so I took off down the slippery crosswalk and a few moments later a sleek black Sudan came speeding down and smashed into my side. I remember vaguely being thrown into the air before colliding painfully into the ground and for a moment I could see or hear anything except a dull ringing and searing pain in the leg that had been caught between the car and my bike. When the ambulance and my family showed up, I had to be taken to the hospital soon after. The scars I carried for weeks after that encounter were a dangerous concussion and injured spine and a fear of walking or biking on busy streets. But, as I said before, good for conversation.

In the worst case scenarios a specific fear brings up a depressing moment from the past that makes people look at me with sympathetic eyes and ask if I need help. That would be the root cause of a fear of back hugs for me, which stemmed from a bad moment in my past when a student grabbed me from behind, groped me and wouldn’t let me go no matter how hard I struggled. It left me permanently hating being approached from behind ever since. See? Didn’t the mood darken tenfold just now? I also avoid delving too deep into that history as well because some things are just better left in the past.

Fears come from so many different sources, emotional or physical, with so many potential ways to resolve them.  For some, it takes sitting through therapy with a trustworthy support system to move on. Or maybe it just takes growing older and letting maturity replace the youthful, wild imagination.

I’ve asked doctors, parents, best friends and random students how they’ve overcome their fears but I was always recommended therapy or given a sarcastic reply along the lines of “Get over it.” 

It wasn’t until a very wise member of my family, my mom, told me that I don’t have to overcome any said fear. Instead, I can take advantage of them. 

Amber Milesi

And she was right. I can gain from a few of my fears. A fear of cars will do great to keep me safely aware on the roads rather than having my eyes on a screen and listening to music. Being scared of the dark will make sure I get home nice and early so I’m not wandering around alone at midnight. I guess it’s just my mindset that needs a bit of improving to be able to see it that way. 

And there’s gotta be something in that. There’s gotta be something in acceptance. Acceptance in the sense that my fears aren’t going anywhere anytime soon so I can learn to coexist with them. I want to acknowledge my fears but not let them define me. But it’s not something that can happen overnight. For every individual, the way to recovery and closure is always unique. But if I can incorporate my fears into my life wherever they present themselves to create a balance between what I fear and my reality, that seems like a success for me.

But for now, with the thought of another sleepless night with the lights on to keep the dark at bay, I can’t help but wonder, why couldn’t it have been that simple fear of failure after all?