Live Through This

My Years of Fears

A chronological encyclopedia of terror.

I’m both outgrowing old fears and developing fresh ones all the time. I decided to draw up a list of some phenomena that I’ve been afraid of over the course of my life, and in doing so, I thought it would help give a clearer idea of why I totally wimped out over them if I also offered a timeline of the exact years when I allowed them to keep me up at night. Looking at my fears chronologically like this, I’m noticing that they have changed over time: When I was a little kid I was scared of simple, quotidian things such as centipedes; now that I’m older they revolve around murkier, more life-centric stuff like professional aspirations, social insecurities, and my status as a woman in a world that isn’t always awesome to women. Enjoy, and please excuse me while I go hide under my bed.

01 balloonsBalloons, 1992–1998.
As a young birthday party dissident, I refused any and all balloons because they don’t hang around long, and I’ve never really been one for abrupt goodbyes. If a well-meaning adult tried to force an inflatable on baby-me, I would totally plotz—it was like they WANTED me to have to grieve for it later when it invariably popped, deflated, or flew away. I would look at other kids at our town street fair and think, Why the hell would you clamor to hold on to something that’s just going to leave you heartbroken? What are you, some kind of masochist? Well, maybe I didn’t actually know the word masochist just yet, but I did know that I wasn’t going to become one myself by getting in line with the other chumps futilely tying ribbons to their wrists as if that would make their balloons stick around for good. I knew that if I ever had one myself, I would lose it, and it would be entirely my fault for being in some way irresponsible (even though the nature of balloons is that they’re ephemeral).

I’ve always felt intense guilt over many frivolous and dumb things. I think this is related to my terror at the thought of being left behind, even by a disposable Mylar circle. In some of my earliest memories, my parents, who were going through some shit at the time, were not always the best at picking me up from places when they said they would, and I was often the kid standing with a strange, kind adult outside of various buildings, waiting for my mom to come collect me. Yes, I sublimated my fear of abandonment into balloons. This fear, like its object, gradually deflated into nothing—I got older and all the helium just leaked out of it, I guess. I can be normal around balloons now, you guys. I promise! Please don’t disinvite me from your birthday parties.

04Sleepovers, 1996–2001.

While my parents were definitely not stellar at picking me up from school or soccer practice, they knew to be at the ready in re: scooping me up and taking me home whenever I decided I wanted to sleep at someone else’s house during my grade school years. Like many children, I loved having friends and wanted to be around them a lot, so I repeatedly miscalculated my ability to handle sleepovers. Here’s a little reproduction of the thought progressions that led me to shakily dial my home phone number from somebody’s kitchen cordless sometime near midnight on each failed attempt:

  • Fear of being the only awake person in a house full of sleeping peers and having to be alone in your weird head while everyone else is dreaming in their Beauty and the Beast sleeping bags, and they’re probably even together not only here but also in the dream, just high-fiving on a ring of Saturn or something amazing and just getting it—how to have fun, how to be effortlessly and appropriately part of a friendship pack and also just of life in general. Why aren’t you able to access this mass heavy-breathed peacefulness that they’re all sharing with one another instead of staring at the ceiling, which is invariably one of those horrible textured ones that looks like peaks of cream cheese, or maybe little craters on your own lonely-ass non-Saturn planet which is actually just this ominous, dark, foreign house? Furthermore, why didn’t you have the good taste to bring a sleeping bag with a rad movie thing on it instead of uncritically accepting this old green one from your parents? You are very strange and very stupid and this is not your place, and maybe nowhere is, because you are so bad at these simple, simple parts of being a person who knows how to exist with other people.

  • Fear of going to the bathroom and, with your absence, tacitly inviting everyone else in the room, which is basically half of everyone you know at that point (no boys, in my personal experience, but all your girl friends from school or wherever) to insult your lack of anything resembling style (see: green bedroll), your rabid and enthusiastic insistence on discussing your favorite animal, the zebra, and your overall inability to be among the rest of them, the real friends. At the time, you do not yet realize that everyone has this same fear, albeit in varying sizes and intensities. (You were sharing an experience with them after all!, you will realize as you write these words in the next decade, and then you immediately become very sad).
  • Fear of are you ever going to see your parents again? If yes, will it be three hours after the appointed pickup time for everyone, when the hostess and her family aren’t really sure how to proceed in trying to make you feel not-terrible because it’s been so long and it’s obvious your reluctant babysitters have other plans, or at least they did before your lesser-than upbringing, which is now clear to them, totally bulldozed their day? What are you willing to let people know about you and your life? About all your fear?

The answer to those last two questions was “nothing” for many years during this period and long afterward still, so I always made an excuse about stomach pain before rushing into the car of one of my parents, chanting the same apologies I reprised roughly biweekly at around 11:30 on weekend nights for years, sick with the shame of knowing how, just hours earlier, I had begged and insisted and bitched about how I wasn’t going to do it this time. I always did it that time. I didn’t start feeling comfortable sleeping at people’s houses until I started doing it drunk, which made it remarkably easier, if less memorable. In the interim period, I mostly took a break from sleeping on the floors of finished basements for a while.

Chalk, 1996–present.
I can’t touch chalk. The thought of having to, even as I write this, is making my fingernails itch and my teeth clamp together. Why would anyone be OK with a writing utensil that leaves such an excruciatingly unpleasant residue on their hands? How can anyone stand to scrape and grind a stick of it against the sidewalk, or, god forbid, a chalkboard,aka the world’s foremost sensory torture device? My muscles are clenched in fear after typing that sentence. Everything about chalk is wrong. It’s a tactile nightmare. I’m so glad I went to school in a time where marker boards were more common, because doing math problems at the board was horrible enough without my having to get my fingers all dusty in that singularly revolting way that felt like it would never wash off. Absolutely fuck chalk, you guys. It’s the world’s worst.

People thinking I’m stupid, 1998–present.
I like it when other people mispronounce words because I’m just squirming for the chance to tell others what LINGUISTICALLY-INHIBITED DUMMY-PEOPLE they are at every turn. Just kidding, that’s not why at all, but oh my god, can you imagine? Instead, I’m a fan of chainsawed-to-pieces pronunciations because they call this really endearing image to mind, of a person reading a new word in a book and then tentatively testing it out for the first time out loud EVEN THOUGH they weren’t sure if they were saying it right since they had never actually heard it said by a human voice before. I like that kind of tenacity! Save for, of course, in myself. I know it’s atomic-level dumb to be so vain about something so trivial, but yo! Your girl here is a total narcissist, and that’s how we tend to wiggle through life when we’re not busy in front of reflective surfaces.

While I think it’s cute when other people bungle the syllables of crepuscular or harpsichord, I remember how mortified I was when my high school boyfriend pointed out that the word facetious wasn’t actually pronounced “fuh-KETTY-us.” Ever since grade school I’ve felt this pachyderm-size (the “ch” there sounds like a “k,” by the by, which I also learned the hard way) pressure to demonstrate intelligence as much as possible as often as possible. Being around people I find interesting or smart feels like the biggest privilege to me, and sometimes I worry that I’m three seconds away from slipping up and revealing my true self—the LINGUISTICALLY-INHIBITED DUMMY PERSON I really am—when I’m in impressive company. And I can’t even TALK about the times when I accidentally misuse words and then I realize it a minute later, when it’s too late to correct myself without calling more attention to my mistake. Mispronouncing words in front of people I like is probably worse than just straight-up wetting myself would be, and I’m not being fuh-ketty-us in the slightest: I would actually prefer to misfire my urine than my words.

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42 Comments

  • alienbabe August 29th, 2013 3:05 PM

    all of these with the exception of chalk and some others totally freak me the hell out.

  • streaked lights August 29th, 2013 3:30 PM

    I can relate to so many of these, especially the novel one.
    I’ll also add fear of facing-away-from-a-mirror, ceiling fans and standardized tests.

    anooshadraws.blogspot.ch

  • soviet_kitsch August 29th, 2013 3:41 PM

    i want to get “absolutely fuck chalk” tattooed on my person

    • Abby August 29th, 2013 5:11 PM

      RIGHT THOUGH??? Chalk is literally the worst thing ever.

      • MR August 30th, 2013 12:04 AM

        Chalk is definitely horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • all-art-is-quite-useless August 31st, 2013 8:34 PM

      I couldn’t do that because it would remind me of chalk everytime I saw it and my teeth would hurt… I didn’t have a terror of chalk until one day about a year ago when I had crazy bad stomach cramps my mum gave me this pill that you have to chew and it had the same texture as chalk, so it made my teeth and muscles itch (they are itching rn) and as soon as i swallowed it I puked out my whole stomach :(((

  • malvadaMujer August 29th, 2013 3:46 PM

    I could relate to most of these fears and I couldn’t finish reading about chalk – that’s how much it freaks me out!

    emmeliepaul.tumblr.com

  • Amal August 29th, 2013 3:55 PM

    This is so hilarious!

  • thedresscollector August 29th, 2013 3:58 PM

    it’s not just me who hates chalk THANK GOD.

  • dreamygirl August 29th, 2013 4:06 PM

    Loving you so much right now, Amy Rose darling.

  • MabelEnchanted August 29th, 2013 4:41 PM

    I’m terrified of people thinking I’m stupid, but it doesn’t help that, for some reason, I always come across as dumb at first. When I first meet someone I become timid and like a stupid little girl. I hate it. It’s not who I am but for some reason it won’t go away. After a while I do begin to realise that I am clever. I do have a personality that doesn’t need to be faked. I have got something interesting to say. It’s just hard to get past that initial stage of ‘where am I in this new relationship?’

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • ganglyteeth August 29th, 2013 5:10 PM

    I totally feel you on the terrified of driving thing. I learned to drive from my dad who is a perfect driver, but my grandmother and my mom were both HORRIBLE drivers and both got into terrible wreaks and no longer drive anymore Im just afraid its going to happen to me. Im a so afraid one time my dad was getting me to help him out of the mud at the bottom of our drive way, I was going to accelerate and he was going to push and I couldn’t do it. the moment i sat in the front seat iIstarted to panic i felt like I was going to throw up. I was like “oh god what if I press the wrong pedal, is it the left or right pedal that is the acceleration?!?” He ended up just getting my 13 year old brother to help him.

  • Abby August 29th, 2013 5:15 PM

    Guys I really loved this article, but I really also need to talk about this to someone and I don’t know where else to go.

    My older sister called me today to tell me that my little sister (16) is getting bullied in her engineering class for being a girl. Boys from her class broke in to her locker, messed with her stuff, and left notes making fun of her for being a girl in engineering. The teacher says he can’t do anything because he doesn’t know who the boys are. It’s one thing to be bullied, but it’s entirely another to be exposed to such blatant and disgusting sexism in high school. I’m so effing angry about this I can barely think, and I don’t know what to tell my little sister.

    • Anaheed August 29th, 2013 6:07 PM

      Does your sister (either of them) know who the boys are?

      • Abby August 29th, 2013 9:12 PM

        Nope :/. Thanks for replying, Anaheed!!

        • Amy Rose September 2nd, 2013 10:54 AM

          Abby, if your teacher won’t help, your sisters have to go to someone that will, like a principal or guidance counselor, and stress that the teacher won’t help. The higher up you go to as many people as you can, the more likely they are to take it seriously. I’m so sorry that they have to do this in the first place. Mad love to you and your smart-ass kin, who are lucky to have someone as caring as you as a sibling.

    • ladyjenna August 29th, 2013 11:57 PM

      The teacher definitely can do something if he wanted to! Get your parents to talk to administration, and meanwhile get your sister a better lock and tell her to beat those guys, gradewise, in engineering.

      • MR August 30th, 2013 12:08 AM

        Ugh, those guys suck! I’m sorry your sister is going through that right now. I had some guys give me a hard time when I was the only girl in shop class (they threw away my supplies repeatedly and said lots of crass stuff). I was a total wuss about it, and just spent most of the class cowering in fear. I was scared that if I told on them, they’d make it worse. Now, looking back on it, I wish I would’ve gotten them in trouble – like, told the principal or something. When I think that maybe they never learned their lesson and are being jerks to this day, it makes me mad at myself for not standing up to them. I hope your sister can get some help from someone “higher up” in the school. I would definitely go to the principal or superintendent or something. Sexist bullies need to be stopped!!

  • Sophie ❤ August 29th, 2013 5:22 PM

    I completely feel you. Wow.

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • Marjainez August 29th, 2013 6:13 PM

    love!!

  • maxrey August 29th, 2013 7:12 PM

    If it makes you feel any better, Summer Crossing wasn’t actually published until 2005. Capote just wrote it when he was 19. He didn’t *really* publish his first novel until he was a few years older. ;)

  • maxrey August 29th, 2013 7:22 PM

    Also after reading this I guess I’ll try and sleep with the lights off tonight.

    PS: I’m 23 and still sleep with the lights on because I’m scared of the dark.

  • Aoife August 29th, 2013 9:14 PM

    Amy Rose, this is the greatest. And your writing makes me feel exactly as you described- you’re my favourite Rookie contributer and reading your writing makes me feel as though you are like me and we could totally be friends!

    • Amy Rose September 2nd, 2013 10:54 AM

      But we ARE friends, Aoife. Thank you, honey.

  • Mako August 29th, 2013 9:21 PM

    Sounds like you are and HSP–Highly Sensitive Person, there is a self-test on the pioneer of this subject’s website: http://hsperson.com/pages/test.htm
    This is something I recently stumbled upon thru Susan Cain’s book Quiet. I suspect a lot of Rookie contributors (eg Tavi) and readers are HSP too. Too bad I’m not an expert though.

  • Ozma August 29th, 2013 9:46 PM

    Oh my god! I totally had the exact same splinter situation happen to me on the boardwalk a couple of years ago! I’m totally traumatized from them cutting it out.
    Also, Amy Rose, I love your writing so much! It (and you) are fantastic.

  • elliecp August 30th, 2013 3:45 AM

    I’ve always hated balloons too! I learnt at a young age they just upset you as they will inevitably pop/float away, so to save myself the sadness every time (I get very attached to things) I decided to avoid them as much as possible. I’m still not a big fan.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Isobelley August 30th, 2013 5:28 AM

    I’m still scared of sleep overs, I always have been. When I was younger we would always just say mean things about whoever wasn’t in the room, so I was scared to leave the room. When I was a bit older I was scared that someone would cut my hair or eyebrows in my sleep, and now I terrified that I’ll fart in my sleep (cos people might find out that I’m human haha).

  • pizzaface August 30th, 2013 6:06 AM

    i can so relate so the sleepover one…

    • sissiLOL August 30th, 2013 11:41 AM

      Me too. I have the most fear of karaoke-singing on sleepovers or plays in which you must do crazy things, say which boy you find hot… I hate that!!!!

  • rahima August 30th, 2013 9:09 AM

    so comforting to read a funny article about phobias. it makes me less fearful of the things that scare me and kinda makes me want to face them. i used to be scared of being the only person awake but not anymore. it seems ridiculous now that i think about it. i know this isn’t twitter but #rookierocks \m/

  • marie-fantomette August 30th, 2013 11:20 AM

    Amy Rose, you are my favorite Rookie writer and this peace moved me to tears. I soooo relate. Global warming, right? The closest thing to my own worst case scenario is Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” — not an awesome book in my opinion, but a very good illustration of what my fears are like (including ‘omg would I have it in me to stay alive and protect the ones I love’).

    I also dread mice, and I think I would die if confronted with a rat. Oh, and cars!! And parents. And … failing at life in the simplest sense. So scary.

    • marie-fantomette August 30th, 2013 11:21 AM

      sorry, I meant to say “this PIECE moved me to tears.” That’s a funny typo to make while commenting on an article about angst, of all things.

    • Amy Rose September 2nd, 2013 10:51 AM

      I think a really good horror movie could just be called CARS ‘N’ PARENTS. Thank you for your kind words, marie-fantomette!!!

  • die_mad August 30th, 2013 4:19 PM

    I totally relate to the sleepover thing, in that I have a fear of not going to sleep at night. Like I feel like I MUST GET SLEEP or something bad will happen even though I know thats false.
    Also. The house centipede thing finally gave a name to the bug that has haunted me for MY WHOLE LIFE LITERALLY MY FEAR IS INDESCRIBABLE

  • Holly August 30th, 2013 8:31 PM

    When I was a little kid I was terrifed of Ronald McDonald, because I had a dream that he kidnapped me and threw me in a garbage can…

    • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake September 3rd, 2013 3:33 AM

      Ronald McDonald is fucking scary.
      That creepy grin…

      *hides under bed*

  • Holly August 30th, 2013 8:50 PM

    And also, can we just take a moment to recognize how AWFUL spiders are?! Hate them.

  • Pocket Cow September 3rd, 2013 11:31 AM

    I am also scared of driving! I’ve done it, once, and managed to drive around an empty neighbourhood and then to the Dairy Queen for a conciliatory sundae. Unfortunately, I need to drive for work now, so I have to learn. Bah.

    And also. 28 Days Later. Ruined. My life. Because of that scene where his candlelight attracts zombies, I have to hide under the covers whenever I check my phone at night, lest anything outside sees the light. And I am still scared of walking home at night…. It doesn’t help that it’s my boyfriend’s favorite movie of all time….

  • fomalhautb September 3rd, 2013 9:04 PM

    hey amy thanks so much for this article i feel like ive connected with you on a spiritual level and what not and its also made me feel a lot more hopeful about facing my own fears so thanks <4

  • gentleman honey farmer September 4th, 2013 11:49 AM

    Amy Rose -
    You are a divine presence, and I have always always, even before this piece, felt like we could be friends. You make me feel less alone, and like the world is not such an unfriendly place, and give me hope that there are people out there who are good and honest. Thank you so much for writing this and for being yourself.