Sophocles once said, “To him who is in fear, everything rustles.” The truth behind that statement simultaneously intrigues and frightens me.
Although I wholeheartedly respect the memory of my grandparents, think of them fondly, and often refer to the lessons their beautiful lives taught me, they did possess some minor flaws. For my grandmother, that flaw was a mixture of fear and anxiety. Most times, those two go hand in hand. My grandmother rarely left the town where she lived for 60 years and raised children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She didn’t show it, but she was often frazzled by change. Unfortunately, whether these qualities are genetic or not, I see many of my grandmother’s anxieties when I look myself in the mirror.
I suppose it started when I realized not all people are good. When I realized not all situations turn out like you hope they will, or like you think they should. When I realized not all people get what they deserve, and some people get what they don’t deserve. When I realized adults make mistakes. When I realized I make mistakes. When I realized disappointment is probably one of the most harmful, painful and detrimental feelings a person can experience.
It started in 2004. I was readying myself to graduate high school and my mind teemed with ideas and dreams that at the time, I believed were entirely possible. Though good stress surrounded me in the sense that I was up to my ears in scholarships, I had the world at my fingertips, and my parents and boyfriend (at the time… he would eventually be my husband) supported my every move, I began to fear. At 17 years of age, I had my first panic attack. I remember not being able to get a deep breath, and asking the school nurse if this was normal. I was scared to choose a college. I was scared I would have to declare a major. I was scared of moving away from home, but also of staying home. It was a thrilling but overwhelming time in my life. Fortunately, I pushed aside the fear and worry. I embraced the newness that was adulthood. Shoulders back, head held high, I graduated from high school and moved away to college…
Southeastern University was not what I expected, and soon after settling in I realized I didn’t fit in there. I wasn’t a pastor’s kid. I wasn’t a missionary’s kid. I had always attended public schools. I wasn’t majoring in ministry. Why was I there? But again, I rolled with it. I smiled. I aced all my classes. I came home on the weekends to visit my family and boyfriend (again, at the time…)
So truthfully, it started in 2005. I was on top of the world. And in the summer, while I served overseas on my fifth and what would be my last mission trip, my world came crashing down. I won’t go into detail. All that matters is that after those two weeks–which seemed to me like an eternity–my fear and anxiety skyrocketed. And remain high as the sky to this day.
I’ve always been afraid of spiders. During my teen years, if I saw a spider crawling in the house or in a web outdoors, I typically cried, hyperventilated, yelled for someone to kill it. But I figured most everyone had that one irrational fear. Soon, however, I began fearing other things. The events of 2005 caused me to develop a fear of people, and of relationships with them. Because they hurt. I had always been a people pleaser, a girl who would get straight A’s just to hear her parents say how good she was, or just to compare herself to her peers. But now, I had more of a fear of failure, and more of a fear about what people would say to me and about me if they knew me when I wasn’t at my best. I also developed a fear of flying, and even hindered my parents from getting on the airplane to go to my paternal grandfather’s funeral because I couldn’t move my feet in the terminal. After a few years of being (seemingly) surrounded by death, I began to fear death… not mine, mind you, but the death of those I love dearly. I still text my husband every morning to make sure he got to work on time, because before I hear from him, I’m constantly listening to the car accident reports on the radio, and feeling myself forgetting to breathe.
Now I have a son. Motherhood brings along a slew of new fears and anxieties. But really, none of the specific fears and anxieties matter. What matters it that Sophocles’ quote is correct… One fear seems to breed. It not only takes over, but it lays eggs and takes root and causes more fears and anxieties to creep up. What matters it that fear and anxiety are stopping me from living. And I fear, may stop my husband and son from living. That makes me increasingly sad.
The problem is that as I write this, I don’t have the answer. I’d like to believe that recognition and admission is the first step to recovery. I know that’s part of the process for like alcoholics and stuff. I don’t deny the problem. I don’t deny that I want everything to stop rustling. But I will deny any knowledge of how to fix it.