Writing About Fear Is Not Easy

For me, writing about fear is not easy not because I’m revealing things that show I’m vulnerable, but because I have been afraid of how my vulnerabilities will be received. And in the past, they weren’t always received very well. In fact, I’d say most of the time they were minimized, deflected, or rejected outright.

I’ve always thought I was being too hard on people who minimize, deflect, and reject another person’s feelings or experiences but now I realize I’m not being hard on them. I’m speaking my own truth and am also trying very hard not to minimize, deflect, or reject other people’s feelings. But there is a boundary to this and that is not tolerating expressions of hatred, cruelty, or unkindness. It’s not wrong to say to someone their words hurt you because words do hurt. Words are where thoughts and ideas begin, and that beginning can lead to something good or something bad.

What I’ve come to realize is that I am not responsible for another person’s feelings. Each person is responsible for their own thoughts and feelings and how they deal with them. Now I’m sure some wise-ass will say people shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around someone worried they’re going to hurt someone’s precious or fragile feelings. Trust me, those of us who have been hurt by words aren’t fragile. And our feelings do matter. The goal here is to realize that we all have a choice as to what we say and how we say it.

One of the things I’ve been working on over the last few years with my writing is to try to be as clear as possible in what I’m writing about. I’m a very hard critic and editor on my own work but writing is a never-ending work-in-progress. My goal is to make this about me because this is my story to tell.

Writing about fear has made me realize I’m nowhere near as vulnerable as I was before I started this odyssey of the last few years. I used to tell myself I could take whatever was said to me but it’s taken me a long time to realize that I truly can now. I truly believe myself when I say that I’ve pretty much heard it all before and yet I’m still standing.

Because one of the biggest things I had to work through was thinking I didn’t have it in me to write about things I am now. Fear, politics, and anything deemed ‘provocative were things I ran like hell from, and I ran because I didn’t think I was good enough to write about those things. In reality, it was people who wanted me to be silent and that wasn’t just because they sensed I might not agree with them, but because they felt they knew best for me. Good intentions are just as harmful, if not more harmful sometimes than words of anger and cruelty.

I’m also following in a legacy of women who have come before me in sharing their stories of their fears and overcoming them. From women like Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Shonda Rimes, and women from the generations younger than me like Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato. I have so much admiration for their honesty and courage because I have a strong feeling they’ve felt fear like I have when they were getting ready to share their stories with the world.

For the longest time, I thought I had to always turn a negative into a positive in some way. That’s bullshit like the saying  I’ve committed to my mind: someone else’s comfort is not more important than someone’s pain. I’ve learned I don’t have to write off the negative with a positive and it’s okay to feel both ways because that’s life, good and bad.

In the end, it’s not easy for me to write about my fears even after I’ve done a lot of work to get through them. So far, no one has reached out to me with wringing hands or harsh words though I do expect that to happen someday. I’m ready for either one with a head tilt to the side followed by one word, “Really?” What I tell myself is people like that are in the minority and that I have to keep myself from giving power to them over me that isn’t theirs to have, nor do they deserve.

There is a quote from the author Anne Rice I read many years ago in a biography about her that has guided me in this journey over the last few years:

“Sometimes you have to go to the places you fear the most.”

You can go to those places and come out of them alive and well. And if you chose to, you can write about them. I write not only for myself, but for anyone reading these words. Not just to help myself and help people, but to shine a light on truths that have been hidden in darkness and silence. I write to give words to fear in order to loosen the hold fear has had on me. Some people think if you talk about fear you’ll give it power but that’s not true. I used to think that but not anymore.

Writing about fear is not easy yes, but once you give words to it, you break the silence surrounding it, and yourself.

My Third Fear of Following Through: Attention

In order to have a chance of being successful at my goal of being a self-supporting writer and creative content producer, I will need to market and promote my work and by extension, myself. And the thought of this scares me because I’ve always said I’m not comfortable with attention on me. Why? Well, that one goes back even further than the first two fears.

Some of my earliest memories are as a young child in school being teased and bullied because I stood up in front of the class and maybe wasn’t totally perfect, or I raised my hand too many times. Or worse, got called a ‘teacher’s pet’, which was never a good thing. Worst of all was when I fell on my ass in gym class and kids laughed and no adult came over to check on me to see if I was alright and help me up. So I learned pretty damn fast if I did my best to stay quiet and not fall on my ass then maybe people wouldn’t laugh at me or bully the shit out of me.

Luckily, my life did get better to some degree by high school because I met people who weren’t assholes. I had classes with people who weren’t all jerks and who were actually kind and supportive. Now in the working world, that sometimes was a different story. There it started back up with dirty looks and comments behind my back. But two incidents really did a number on me and it’s shocked a lot of people when I tell the stories.

I was in a training class for yet another call-center job and our instructor was reading out loud from the workbook and she said if anyone had a question to raise their hand. Well, I had a question so I raised my hand and as soon as the instructor told me to ask it and I started to speak, all of my classmates then decided to talk at once and drown me out. Now, were they told what they did was wrong and to apologize to me? This bitch-instructor told them they were wrong and threatened to send us all home for the day but in no way did she stand up and defend me. And like the wimp I was at the time, I didn’t say anything. I sat there looking down at my desk trying not to fall apart and burst into tears. I was afraid if I said anything or even looked up from my desk that bitch-instructor would have thrown me out of class. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in that place for very long because I knew they didn’t have my back and never would.

Then in another call-center job at a place I’d worked at before and returned to, the instructor took me aside for a one-on-one talk and basically told me to keep my mouth shut and not say anything at all in class or help people out. She said there was no need for me to share my knowledge or experience with anyone and that I was basically interfering with her job (which I wasn’t though she was a pretty shitty instructor). After that, I kept my head down and tried not to draw her attention on me. One of my classmates did ask why I wasn’t speaking up or helping and I told him I wasn’t allowed to.

At my last call-center job, I told both of these stories to my first instructor when she asked why I was so quiet in class and her jaw hit the floor both times. She said she would never tolerate the first and for the second she did admit she was a bit weary of me because of all my experience and potential ego. But then she asked me if I could help her out with the class and we became good working colleagues. And later when she became my supervisor I was out for a week with gallstones, she excused all my absences even though I later found out she took some flack for that (this place had the shittiest attendance policies I’d ever worked under).

The reason I am sharing these stories here is this: I’ve heard so much shit about myself in my forty-six years on this planet and I’m still alive. I know now that whatever shit someone says to hurt me, degrade me, humiliate me, or is an attempt to silence me won’t work anymore. Because I know that people who have shit on me forgot it as soon as they walked away from me. But when you’ve been hurt like this you internalize it because at times it can seem relentless. For me, I buried it in silence and that’s what breaking my silence means now.

It’s been very hard for me these past few days to write about these three fears as a lot of emotional crap has roared up to the surface with me. These are pretty intense emotions even years later but I know that with time that intensity might ease off. I

don’t write about this for myself. I write in the hope that anyone who is reading this and has thought and felt like I have will find strength or empathy in my words.

It’s been a real struggle for me over the years not to become angry and bitter though I’ve had years where I felt like that more often than not. What I’ve had to learn is that attention on me won’t always be positive but as my father used to say, don’t let the few assholes in this world ruin things for you.

My Second Fear of Following Through: Life

What I call ‘life’ are things like jobs, money problems, weather, and health. These things fuel the anxiety engine that lives inside of me well-oiled and always ready to come up to speed and drain my energy. These types of problems can make me overthink so many things and in turn create huge amounts of fear and anxiety around problems that shouldn’t be there. Also, this fear and anxiety has made me feel shame and guilt when I turn away from ‘life’ problems and pursue something I want to like my writing.

The roots of this fear date back to the same time in my life as fear number one in that I felt like I had to devote my energy to ‘life’ even if I’d done everything I could and had time to myself. But this one actually got worse in my thirties when I went out on my own because I thought I had to pursue my job as a career and not just as a way to earn money. I honestly thought I could put equal amounts of energy into my job and my writing but that turned out to be a load of bullshit. Then ‘life’ kicked all that out from under me when my dad had a stroke and I damn near lost that job because I was in and out of work taking care of him and trying to get him back on his feet as best as I could.

Now because this fear creates a lot of anxiety it sometimes sends my mind into a train of thought that’s not entirely delusional. The thought is that there are people who want to see me suffer and will come down on me if I don’t suffer enough to satisfy them. There is an origin to this in that I have been told to wipe the smile off my face since things are so bad in life, and also I’ve been asked in anger what I had to smile about. Yes, this was during my twenties and back then I honestly thought it meant that I was a terrible person to have moments where I wasn’t thinking about my own misery.

Yes, a positive can be turned into a negative. And it’s just as bad as people forcing you to turn a negative into a positive, especially when they try to do that by saying things aren’t so bad (when in reality they were). I recently read that someone’s comfort does not give them the right to deny someone’s reality. I sure as hell had mine denied, denigrated, and shit all over. In the past, it was turned into fear and in the present I’m through with that.

This fear also causes me to severely doubt myself and my abilities. It causes me to fear that I will forget something, or that I’ll miss something I shouldn’t have. My dad used to say it was like constantly listening for the elephant to come running up behind you to stomp you into the ground.

This fear coalesced into me thinking that everyone in the world had their shit together and had all the answers and I didn’t and therefore I was a dumb-ass piece of shit person whenever I did mess up. That’s not true of course even from people who claim to have their shit together twenty-four-seven and have all the answers, too. I used to let people like this tear me down inside every time they got the opportunity to call out my mistakes. It took one big snap in my mind almost six years ago to get me to see the bullshit behind that.

Yet the fear still lives in me but now that I’ve really worked through its origins and reminded myself with strength that no one has all the answers, I’m letting it go now. I don’t need to overthink things nor think that I’m going to be ‘bothering’ somebody if I ask for something. I tell myself now if someone has a problem with something I’ve said or did then they can put on their grown-up clothes and come talk to me about it.

Another thing that pisses me off about his fear is me thinking that I’m an immature brat who can’t figure things out for herself. I’ve been on my own for close to twenty years. Yes, I’ve managed to lose an apartment and a car due to the fact that I got stuck in a hole and couldn’t dig myself out. But I’m not the only person in the world to do that and therefore I’m not going to let anyone rake me over the coals because of it. I tell myself I do know how to survive and most of all, I’ve learned how to ask for help and believe in the goodness of people. Someday I hope that I will be in a position to help others who are struggling and show them the good in this world and give them faith in themselves and in people.

It’s hard to write about stuff like this but I do it not just for myself, but for anyone reading this who might thinking and feeling I do, or have been through things like I have. I want people to know they’re not alone, and that it’s okay to think and feel the way they do. And if someone doesn’t like that, remember you’re not responsible for someone else’s comfort or feelings. Don’t forget that because if you do, it’ll turn to fear.

My First Fear of Following Through: People

When I asked myself the question of why I had never followed through on anything, I got one answer: fear. Fear of what, I asked myself. Well, three big fears came to my mind and this is the first one, one that has been let go by me but with some echoes that I can still hear from time to time.

Fear of what people would think, and worse, what they might do to me if I followed through on something I really wanted to do with my life. The root of this fear took hold of me at a time in my life when it shouldn’t have.

When I graduated from high school, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life other than write. My parents were okay with this as long as I pulled my weight around the house, which I gladly did. Within a couple of years, I began to make a plan for my life. I wanted to get a full-time job, save up all the money I could, then head out to Hollywood and try to make it as a screenwriter and maybe even a director someday. I told no one of this back then and didn’t plan to until I was ready to put into motion. But life took a different turn instead, and I put that plan to bed with no regrets.

In August of 1995, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and on a hot August afternoon around our tiny dining room table, me, my mom and dad sat talking and I knew that my mom wasn’t going to survive the cancer. It was a moment of certainty that I wish on no one. My father said he felt the same thing that day and we talked about it years later. On that day, I made a new plan and again, told no one about it. I made a commitment to do whatever I could to help take care of my mother and to be there for her in every way I could. I have no regrets about this decision and I’m glad I did it. The problem was, I paid one hell of a price for that I shouldn’t have had to.

The price I paid was silence and guilt for pursuing my writing despite the decision I’d made to be a full-time caregiver. My parents supported my writing when I began to turn to novels, romance novels specifically. They paid my dues to my local and national writing organization chapters along with contest fees, and conference and workshop fees, too. My dad also used to take me to meetings when we were down to one car. In turn, I never talked about my writing with anyone past a certain point. I wrote after I was done with everything I had to do during the day and again, tried my dead-level best not to draw any attention to that. But I failed because my parents were getting shit from people for their decision to support me in my creative endeavors and also when I began to work full-time and also continue to write while doing that.

What happened was that this turned into an enormous fear that I’ve only given voice to inside my head just in the last year or so. I lived in fear while my parents were alive that one day they would sit me down and tell me I was the worst person in the world and that my entire life was a terrible lie and I was a terrible person. I lived in fear that they would kick me out of the house and cut me off because of that. And I wouldn’t have fought them either. I would have believed every word of that. All because I wasn’t at everyone’s beck-and-call all the time, or that I was doing something they didn’t want me to. Worst of all, I never pursued any kind of social life because I feared that would be used against me, too.

I gave people power over me that they didn’t deserve and never really knew they had. I gave people power to hurt me by telling me I had no right to talk about my thoughts and feelings about what was going on and what I was living through. I felt like it was best if I just kept my mouth shut and just took shit because if I spoke out things could truly go to Hell for me. The only way I have forgiven is to remove those razor-sharp talons out of my soul, clean and stitch up my wounds, and put bandages over them. Most of all, I’ve put up shields and defenses around myself.

This fear is largely gone now with me. In fact, I think if someone was dumb enough to try and come at me I’d give a single warning to turn tail and run before I’d barbeque their asses. I’ve got a lot of pent-up pain and anger over those decades when I was silent and living in fear, and I don’t want to unleash it. I just want to let that anger and pain subside enough to just a dull ache.

So when it comes to my follow-through it’s all mine, no one else’s. This fear is gone so now I’m moving on to the next two.