The year I was 10 I was convinced I was going to die by murder.
I was a very serious, obsessive little creature and for no reason at all I developed this fear, out of thin air. Or maybe out of all those horror movies I was crazy about watching.
But the terror was very real. Every night the sun would start to go down and I would feel the doom begin to seep in. I would start to plan for the the night ahead. Put to bed at 8.30pm I would lie awake, stiff as a board, in tune to every creak in the walls, every crunch of the gravel outside my window. My bedroom was located at the back of the house and I was fanatical about getting up 10, 15 times a night to check that the back door, was in fact, locked.
I couldn’t tell my folks about this fear as the fear was undoubtedly completely unreasonable. For one thing, I lived in a quaint little township of less than 2,000 people. The milk was still delivered to the letterbox and everybody knew everybody elses name. The extent of crime in the area was limited to 12 year olds roof rocking their friends’ houses. Further, my parents were fairly no nonsense people who did not rise easily to the neurotics of children (Once, for example, I fell out of the top bunk bed and scared the shit out of myself. Winded and waddling into my parents bedroom to share my woes, my mother, without opening her eyes, responded ‘Well you walked in here alright didn’t you? Go back to bed).
Clearly, they were not going to be any help.
Miraculously, after a year or so of this personal nightmare the fear did abate and I have spent the majority of my adulthood in nonchalance about night, locked doors and being alone. I began to congratulate myself on the conquer – how I could stay alone in a dark, unlockable hut in Laos, or on a roadless mountain without power or water, or just simply housesit alone for anyone, anytime, any place. Thank god I wasn’t that scared little girl any longer.
But then I realised that wasn’t necessarily true.
The real truth was that I was just as scared as ever before, I just feared other things.
I fear failure, I fear commitment, I fear making mistakes, I fear aging, I fear love, I fear missing out.
I began to wonder about the fear of my 10 year old self and the fear I experience in adulthood. I wondered what the difference was or whether they originated from something similar.
I decided that in the end, I could narrow it down to one, simple thing.
It’s all fear of pain isn’t it? All these different types of fear? In childhood, pain is mostly limited to the physical – I feared how much it would hurt to have some wacko axe wielder do me in. But as an adult the fear of pain is more emotional. I fear I will not be able to handle the hurt of another heart broken, an ego shattered, a dream destroyed. It’s a fear of the pain that stops me from doing the things I want to do, of being the person I want to be. It hurts too much to fail – therefore protect yourself by not trying.
I have found that by identifying this, by simplifying it down to one thing, makes it all far easier to manage. I don’t have to think about the separate fears all so complicated that it becomes too hard to comprehend conquering them all. I just have to remember that it is just the one fear, manifesting itself in different ways. And then I can cultivate the knowledge that pain will not actually kill me. Pain is a natural and normal part of life’s cycle. Pain is the labour you go through before the birth of something more true.
So I’m going to take a leaf out of the book of my 10 year old self. Because if she can conquer a fear of pain, then I can give it a crack too.