I’m afraid of listening to new podcasts, even when they come highly recommended. Sometimes I’m even afraid of listening to new episodes of podcasts I love, and so I listen to old ones instead. I’m afraid of the pieces of paper on my desk, and I’m afraid of sorting or organizing them because I might lose one and thus forget the book I’m supposed to order for someone or the phone call I’m supposed to make. Sometimes the piles just sit there for months and months, and then I’m afraid of them because they’ve been there so long and everyone will think I’m crazy if I bring them up now. Of course I am crazy. I have a hospital record to prove it.
I’m afraid during thunderstorms and wish someone would hold me, but I’m not afraid of tornadoes. I’m often terrified to drive but I’m not afraid of flying. I’m not afraid of public speaking but I’m afraid to call my friends.
I’m afraid of making plans for my son because he so often doesn’t like them, and how do I explain to another parent that my kid refuses to play with their kid all of a sudden when they played together so well last week? I’m also afraid of being alone with my child because I don’t know what to do to keep him occupied. I am 41 years old and my brain doesn’t occupy the space of a five year old’s mind very well.
Most of these fears are a daily presence. They form the basis of my self talk and shape my waking hours. When I take enough medication, I’m still afraid but the fears don’t bother me as much, sort of the way they say morphine doesn’t ease the pain; it just makes you not care about it.
It’s hard, because I am, for instance, afraid of feeding my child because there are so few foods he eats and they aren’t consistent, and it’s not feasible to take him out for a stripey grilled cheese sandwich at Panera for every meal. Once I made him a grilled cheese sandwich at home and he rejected it because it didn’t have stripes. Then I found a grill so I could make a striped grilled cheese sandwich and he rejected it because it was only supposed to have stripes on one side. Today he said he’d eat one with no stripes and he did and I nearly died of shock.
I would give almost anything not to be so afraid. My right foot? Maybe. I could limp along on crutches if I weren’t so afraid. But trades don’t work like that. I can’t give up a body part to be rid of part of my mind.
What worries me most is that my son has inherited this trait from me. At night we lie in bed and he asks me questions about all of his fears. He walks in behind me when we go places so he can hide behind my back. He is anxious, but he can’t tell me that, so he throws things and screams and hits. I do my best to help him with early interventions, but I worry he will end up just like me, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
When I was in graduate school my friend said if she could just get migraines like Joan Didion’s migraines then she’d be okay. She could write essays about them. I used to read The White Album and Slouching Toward Bethlehem again and again so I could read about how she’d call her husband to ask for the time because she never remembered to pack a watch, about how afraid she was to ask the assistant district attorney anything and thus relied on observations to tell her stories. If I could have fears like Joan Didion’s fears, I could make them into art.
But in my experience ailments are not art; they are impediments to it. Mental illness may have an association with creativity, but it’s hell to live through for the sake of creativity.
I write about my fears from a position of privilege. I won’t lose my job as a result, and if I lose friends, well, I am not sure they were my friends to begin with. I am likewise lucky in my family, who have not disinherited me yet, for all that I sometimes write about things they might wish I wouldn’t.
The wind is blowing outside my house right now and it’s cold and wet outside, and I’m afraid of another long day indoors tomorrow. I’m afraid that I won’t remember ever what it’s like to be happy or remember any of the things I used to like to do. Right now I’m afraid of even the simplest of matters: I’m afraid to cook an egg because it seems too complicated. I bought peach yogurt in addition to my usual raspberry and lemon and I’m afraid to try it. I’m afraid when I look at the books on my shelves because I know I read most of them at one time but I can’t remember when I had the energy and attention to do such things.
I am afraid, in other words, of living, but life still goes on.