Recently, I decided to take a break from my life and go home for a month, to get both personal and professional help for extreme anxiety, a constant stream that built up in me and took the place of emotion. It was what I felt instead of anger, instead of love, instead of desire: fear. It’s weird to share that with everyone on the internet, the proverbial viewers at home, but if I can’t be honest about this, I can’t be honest about anything. If I didn’t write this piece, I couldn’t call myself a writer.
This is a list article. I know a lot of people hate list articles because they think that list articles are lazy and uninspired and that the person writing them is bad writer or isn’t pushing themselves. I know some people who think that lists are ruining the internet, our obsession with bulleting and numbering our thoughts into what is easily digestible for a mass audience. I don’t mean to be lazy or to ruin your internet. It’s just that if I don’t get this down, I don’t know if it will ever get written and I’ll forget I ever felt these things. I don’t want to look at my life twenty years from now and wonder if I ever felt anything that was real or could feel at all. I just want to write what’s real. This feels real to me, right now. This feels. I feel.
1. I’m afraid of ants. They aren’t particularly scary animals, but I just don’t like them. When I was a kid, my grandmother’s house had a horrible ant infestation problem, and it got so bad that one summer, ants were falling from the ceiling and you had to look at whatever you ate before you ate it. Just in case. Every time I see an ant, I think that I know what that ant tastes like and how I don’t want to know that.
2. I’m afraid of oncoming trains and that feeling right before a train approaches and the wind is blowing all around you, when you have no choice but to submit to the surge. Every once in a while, when I close my eyes, I think it’s going to hit me, I just know it’s going to hit me. And who would take care of my mom or hold my best friend when a boy breaks his heart? So, I never get too close to the edge of the platform because I don’t want to find out.
3. I’m afraid of death, but not like normal death. I often dream about dying in the apocalypse, and I’ve envisioned hundreds of different ways the world will end. It’s ended in a whimper, a bang, a whimperbang and, once after a little too much reefer, it ended with aliens who look like Bette Midler taking over the planet. Another time my friend and I were drinking beer on my porch and joking about the end of the world and then the sun hit the earth and burned all my skin off. And then I died in the dream and floated above myself as an amorphous gas. It was strange and terrifying, like all beauty is.
4. I’m afraid of heights but not rollercoasters. When you’re on a rollercoaster, you’re constantly in motion, so you feel like you’re flying and in control. You look down from your strapped-in seat and feel like the world is yours, everything the light touches. When you go to the Sears Tower and you’re held aloft by steel as you pace back and forth, you are forced to see just how big everything is around you and how little it all has to do with you. And you feel like it all could come crashing down at any moment.
5. I’m afraid of babies. Babies aren’t scary in themselves, and they look like tiny, confused aliens. When you catch one learning something and you can see its eyes taking in one of the world’s daily wonders for the first time, you remember that at one time everything was new, even a sock was new and an astounding creation. It’s the most beautiful moment in the world. But then you remember how fragile life is, especially this tiny creature and its soft, practically osmotic head that can be hurt by so many things. Whenever I’m around a baby, I just want to put it in a plastic bubble and run far away, in case I end up being that hurt.
6. I’m afraid of people in animal costumes. However, not the full on costume. I’m afraid of when people in normal clothes wear animal masks, especially a person in a suit wearing an animal mask. It’s a very specific fear, but I find the juxtaposition of suit and head surreally horrifying.
7. I’m afraid of clowns, but I think everyone is afraid of clowns. I think that the rational thing is to be afraid of clowns, and I don’t trust people who say they aren’t. WHO ARE YOU THAT LIVES WITH SUCH ABANDON?
8. I’m afraid of my bank account, looking directly into it or even acknowledging it exists. Usually I just avoid it altogether, so I almost never know how much (or, rather, how little) money I have. I just don’t want to know.
9. I’m afraid I’ve wasted too much of my life stressing about things that wouldn’t matter a week later, pining over people who didn’t deserve my romantic longing and getting depressed over someone who probably wasn’t even thinking about me at all. I’m afraid that I can only give love to people I know will hurt me and that I know it won’t work out with so I won’t have to do the work of really loving someone up-close or know what’s it’s truly like to be loved back. If the right kind of love came into my life, the kind I deserve and have been waiting for, I wonder if I’d be able to accept it.
10. I’m afraid that if I told that someone that I love them, they would think it was stupid — like the Valentines’ card you give to a girl in third grade that you know just gets thrown away. I don’t want to be thrown away. If they said it back, I’m afraid that it’s been so long since I’ve loved somebody the real way that I don’t remember how.
11. I’m afraid I wasn’t good enough for him, and that’s why he didn’t love me anymore. Years of him telling me that wasn’t the case haven’t put to rest this nagging idea. I’m still afraid that no one could love me if they knew the real me, the one that laughs too loud, loves too hard, kisses too much and stinks up the bathroom. I think I fart too much. I know I fart too much.
12. I’m afraid of owning things, and other than clothes, there’s almost nothing in my apartment that’s really mine. I can’t stand the thought of holding onto things too long — because, in my experience, the things you let into your life break or break you. I don’t know how to fix things, other than patching up a hole, and I’m still learning how to live with the things that are broken.
13. I used to be afraid that when I got sexually assaulted, I deserved it. I’m not afraid of that anymore.
14. I’m afraid I attach too much self-worth to what other people think of me, how many Facebook likes I get or whether he calls. I always overanalyze what it means when he doesn’t call, even though I know I shouldn’t. I hate that I always expect him not to call and am surprised when he does, that I naturally just expect the worst.
15. I’m afraid I’ve been trained to only see the worst in people or that I expect too much out of them and it drives them away. I know this is a metaphor for expecting too much of myself, and I hate that I’m not more complex than a Psych 101 class.
16. I’m afraid that my father and I will never be able to have a normal conversation without it devolving into a tortured metaphor for our relationship — like when I went to see Life of Pi and he said I should go to see a “man’s movie,” like Red Dawn and that if I liked a movie, it was likely that he wouldn’t. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where being around him doesn’t make me want to cry both for no reason and for every reason.
17. I’m afraid I can’t stop secretly wanting his approval, no matter how much he hurts me.
18. I’m afraid this is a cliché.
19. I’m afraid that everything inside of me is unoriginal and not worthy of saying out loud, and when I’m at a party around a bunch of people I don’t know, I usually don’t speak because I’m worried they won’t understand. Sometimes I don’t open my mouth because I’m worried about what will come out if I do.
20. I’m afraid that I’m not close enough with my friends and that they’re all closer to each other than they are to me — because I’m not around as much. I’m always working, always writing and always trying to be something, even if I don’t know what yet. When I’m not around so much of the time, I think they think I don’t care or that my love is less valid because they can’t see it. I want to be the person who goes to everyone’s birthday party and shows up with the most perfect present, one that shows I know exactly what they want, that I know who they are. I wish I saw that surprised joy in people’s faces more often.
21. I’m afraid that I spend so much time trying to do something that I’ll feel proud of when I’m older that I forget to be happy right now, in the moment. I’m always trying to do so much and so keep moving that I don’t think I know who I am when I sit still, and I don’t have something to do. I’m terrified that I’m so focused on who I want to be that I don’t know who I am.
22. I’m afraid that now that I’ve grown up that this isn’t the person I wanted to be — even though I technically got a lot of the things that I wanted, and I’m so lucky. I’m afraid that means I don’t deserve my luck.
23. I’m afraid that my worries and concerns are boring and not worthy of sharing with other people, so when people ask me how I am, I say “fine” and I ask them how they are instead. They ask me if something’s wrong, and I tell them nothing. I’m terrified about what would happen if I told them what was wrong, that they wouldn’t care, that they would only pretend to care or that they would just tell me not to worry and everything’s going to be okay. I’m just being emo. I afraid I wouldn’t be able to tell them what’s wrong if they were ready to listen. I don’t think I know.
24. I’m afraid that when people read this they’ll think I’m another whiny, spoiled, self-conscious twenty-something that just needs to lighten up and relax and that all of those things are true. I worry that I haven’t even earned the right to be anxious, to be depressed or to suffer, because what do I even know about suffering? I think of the babies in Africa that my mother told me I had to eat for, because they didn’t have food and I had food. I have food, and I have parents who are good, flawed, fucked-up people — who are human just like I am — and love me the best way they know how, and this doesn’t help. Sometimes this makes me want to cry, but I don’t think I remember how. This makes me want to hug them and apologize for everything that’s ever happened.
25. I’m afraid you didn’t read this or finish it, you only saw grammatical errors or that it got lost in the shuffle of the billions of things that are posted on the internet every day, and that I gave away a part of myself for nothing. All writers are afraid of this, and I know that’s not special. I’m also afraid that you’ll know exactly how I feel, too, because you feel these same things every day and just don’t share them with people, and you’re scared of what you see when you look into a mirror or what someone else sees when they look at you. I’m afraid that I’m not alone, but that fear gives me hope.
I don’t have a bottle to put this list in to float this away from some secret stranger to find, so this will have to do. By writing this down, I want to finally give some of my secrets away, and in naming my fears, I want to slowly work on them, even the ones I don’t think I’ll ever overcome. All I can do is try; all I can do is hope it will get easier, knowing someone found my message and is keeping it safe. I don’t know if they have a message of their own, but I hope to find it someday find it. We become less afraid, together.