Live Through This

My Years of Fears

A chronological encyclopedia of terror.

05 hurt feetHaving alien objects lodged in my feet, 1998–present.
My physical reaction to fear is often a sharp discomfort in the soles of my feet. It doesn’t feel like your average stinging or aching or bruising—it’s a scratchy, dull sensation of having too much there, like something unnatural has intruded upon and disrupted the makeup of my body. I sometimes get this sensation in my mouth, and it makes me bite the insides of my cheeks and become viscerally aware of my teeth. The foot sensation accompanies every flare of fear, and I think it originated with a spectacularly awful splinter I got at the beach when I was seven.

I was with my mom walking on a wooden pathway to the shore when I got it lodged all up in my unsuspecting foot. Imagine a splinter thick and wide like a Scrabble tile, but double the length and sharp on the edges, and you might understand why I didn’t stop screaming for the entire hour it took the First Aid tent to remove the errant wood chip from outta my zone. The nurse, like me, had never seen one that big before, and since his tweezers were hopeless against its horrible girth, he had to carve out some of my surrounding foot-skin with a blade in order to get it gone. Things I do not recommend: Being seven and having a sizable chunk of flesh removed from your sole with a sterilized knife when you expected to be swimming or collecting clamshells.

The next time this fear was realized was also courtesy of the ocean, that most beautiful of total feet-scarring monsters. I had gone a whole twelve years successfully avoiding podiatric invasion, but then I had to go and accidentally kick a sea urchin. My family had just arrived in St. Croix on a vacation to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, and after tossing our suitcases on the floor, we dunked our persons into the gorgeous, sequined ocean with relish. I had been in the water for five perfect minutes, but then the business end of my foot met its pointy little match. 12 spiky needles shot into my heel at once. Screaming underwater produces a terrifying and frustrating nothing of a sound, so it felt like ages before my Uncle Jimmy saw me thrashing around and rescued my incapacitated ass. I had to wear crutches, on the beach, for the whole rest of the week because the really fun parts of urchin-related injuries are that a) you can’t remove the needles, which I found out after waiting in a doctor’s office for three hours to no avail, and b) putting pressure on them in a way like, oh, say, walking, is excruciating. But the disappointment of the ruined vacation was fish feces compared to having to wince through life with something else’s biological matter in my feet alongside just my own. UGH IT WAS SO TERRIBLE. Although I hated sushi at the time, when I got home I immediately sought out some uni, or globs of gooey urchin innards, and ate it in grim revenge. Take that, ya idiot Koosh balls of the sea! In short, stay the hell out of my feet, EVERYTHING.

06 drivingDriving, 2001–present.
I learned to drive in my dad’s white Ford Explorer SUV over the course of a few afternoons when I was about 12, which is how I also learned that I absolutely could not do it. My body seemed disconnected from the simple instructions it was given; despite being told ad infinitum not to do so, I drove with two feet on each pedal—one for gas, one for brake. My hands, instead of indicating a calm, controlled ten minutes until two o’clock on the watch face that my dad instructed me to mentally layer on top of the steering wheel, both hovered tentatively at six, except whenever I had to turn, when I would jerk the bottom of the wheel a whole 90 degrees to one side. I swerved, braked so abruptly that the whole rig seemed to buck like an obdurate horse, and disregarded the speedometer entirely. I understood that these things were very wrong, but I couldn’t stop doing them, and the inability to command what I perceived as a giant, fast-moving death machine was terrifying to me. After just a few minutes, I got out of the car, vowing that I’d be an eternal passenger from then on out.

There are plenty of factors to consider when I try to parse my immense fear of driving. The maybe-unrelated-but-almost-definitely-relevant-because-how-could it-not-be one, the one that the aspiring psychologists among you might have the most fun with, is that both of my parents were car dealers for a very long time, and my dad actually still is nowadays. He’s always been astonishingly successful at this because he’s a preternaturally talented salesman. He genuinely seems to need people to be happy, no, elated, about the cars they’re driving, and he’s always sure of exactly how to make that happen. Because of this passion, they rightfully trust him to show them what’s best for them. Although I tried my hardest to do the same, to follow his confident, knowledgeable lead in the afternoons where he, a very capable driver, tried to show me what the right way of doing things was, I couldn’t make it happen, no matter how much I wanted to. To this I say: What the FUCK, brain? Cars are like a part of my family’s genetic makeup; there’s practically motor oil intermingled with our blood. So why do I loathe driving so much?

After my first set of doomed lessons, the next, and last, time I drove a car was when my parents tried to goad me into getting my permit, although I really only had to drive for about a few minutes of the first session. After botching several K-turns and nearly student-driving the training car right off the road, I turned to my youngish instructor and said, “Look, I can’t actually do this. I’m terrified of driving, and since it doesn’t affect you either way if I learn or not, can you just drive around until this is over?” I didn’t really think that my plea would fall on receptive ears, but instead of laughing it off, he said, “Sure. Let’s switch seats. Want to hear my demo tape?” We parked, swapped, he popped in the very Hoobastank- and Incubus-cover-centric home recording, and we patronized the drive-thru of a Wendy’s in lieu of continuing our useless lesson. I spent the next few sessions this way, eating burgers and pretending to like the dude’s shitty music so I didn’t have to drive, until the last session, when he tried to touch my boob and I made him bring me home immediately. If I was willing to endure brokenly-strummed acoustic Hoobastank covers on repeat with my arms locked over my chest in order to stay out of the pilot’s seat, you know I must REALLY be afraid of operating automotive machinery. Needless to say, I still can’t do it. In fact, part of why I live in New York City is so I’ll never, ever have to. God bless the MTA.

The apocalypse, 2003–present.
Have you seen the movie 28 Days Later, starring ultimate sex hottie Cillian Murphy? It portrays a lawless, dystopian world in which you can’t turn your head without getting chomped by a diseased ex-human zomboid. IT IS SO SCARY, AAAH, MY GOD. I watched it at my first girlfriend’s house, and when by the time the credits started to roll I was immobile with horror. I couldn’t turn off the DVD, even after the menu screen popped up. I spent the rest of the night trying not to stare at the words “Scene Selection” as the background looped a hackles-raising progression of hands clawing at stormy windowpanes, thinking about what our chances of survival would be if those windows were the ones near my girlfriend’s bed. I also thought about my inability to hurt other living things (even if the situation called for it) or to run for about two seconds without wheezing. As my girlfriend slept, I realized that I would never be able to save her if society collapsed, and I felt a real, palpable guilt about that scenario.

The only time I was afraid of death was when I pictured fighting for my life in a brutish, anarchic world where everyone around me was vying to hold on to theirs, too, and where, despite our desperate efforts, only a few of us had even the remotest chance of survival. Religious-type doomsday scenes were too unrealistic to scare me, but I couldn’t read about global warming or the imminent collapse of capitalism without wanting to immediately board up my apartment.

Not publishing my first novel at the age of 19 like Truman Capote, 2005–2010.
I have always hoped that someday I could become a published writer, so I am constantly trying to push my words into the world and to have other people consume them in as many formats as possible. I want to do this forever, and I used to want the official part of forever to have started three years ago.

Let me explain: When I was 14, my greatest goal was to have my professional and creative timeline match up with the career of my then icon, Truman Capote, who published his beautiful debut novel, Summer Crossing, when he was 19, and I knew that if I worked hard enough I could have my own novel available at a bookstore near you by the time I turned 19, too. Except I didn’t.

Now that I’ve been writing for a little longer, I’m able to see the flaws in this plan. I know that every writer and every career is different, and comparing my own progress with others’ will almost always disappoint me and snarl up my priorities, the first of which should be allotting myself the time necessary to make my writing great—or at least honest. But for a little less than a quarter of my life, this deadline dominated my life, and I tortured myself relentlessly. Everything I wrote had to be perfect, so I never actually completed a piece of writing (except for some seething, self-destructive journal entries about what a brainless pupa I was for not being able to write like I thought I could). When I finally turned 19, bookless and raw from anxiety, my fear of being anything less than a Capote-esque prodigy had overtaken all of the joy that I used to find in writing fiction. Looking back on this period, I’m so happy that the deadline has long since passed, and that I can just write without worrying that I’m over the hill at the still-green age of 22. R.I.P., this fear, I hope you rot in hell.

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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.