“What does the voice of Fear whisper to you?”
The lady on the podcast asked the question, a seemingly straightforward question that wasn’t straightforward at all when you get down to it. What was I scared of? Spiders? Not really. Heights? Kinda. But it was implied that she was asking about visceral fear. Not the anxious fear of being late for work, the fear of creepy bugs, or the offsetting disgust that you have when you see someone with rotting teeth but the Fear that lives deep within you. The Fear that you’re not even aware of carrying around, the Fear that only manifests on sleepless nights or during mental breakdowns.
“Fear speaks to you in logic and reason.”
She said these statements with a loving smooth and reassuring voice, a voice that was made to be reassuring on podcasts. A friend had recommended this podcast, a certain Liturgist episode. I was on my way to work and figured I’d give it a shot. There was nothing else to do on the way to work. On a singular, straight road for the next ten miles until I hit the river. Corn on both sides. As flat as can be. The clouds above me so far in the distance that they barely seemed to move. I was both flying down the road at 60 m.p.h. and not moving at all. Corn, clouds, soybeans, farm homes and grain silos. The dank smell of cow and pig shit wafting into my car via the heater. Soon I’d be on dissociation highway; it was Friday after all.
The fear of death?
The scariest thing people usually imagine is death. Death is as inevitable as anything else in the world, the most inevitable thing that anyone could have happen to them. As the church near my house states, “One out of one people will die.” This naturally makes it scary. Someone scared of spiders doesn’t live with the dread of an inevitable giant spider appearing eventually in their lives. Hell, if they’re lucky they could live the rest of their life without seeing another spider ever again. Death is inevitable. It is the final and unavoidable end. The Actual End.
Is death my Fear? No. I’m not terrified by it unless I think about it too much at night. I envision my car hitting a patch of rain water on an oil slick, spinning out of control, and flipping over killing me in the process. Am I scared of this? No. It’d be so fast where I wouldn’t even be aware of it. Only feeling the helplessness of it and going along for the ride.
I’ve felt this way before. The small amount of times you actually face possible death give you a glimpse into what the impending doom is like. The human mind is a screwy thing and I vividly recall one time where I was riding my bike to work for the first time last year. I had ridden up a hill and was deathly tired and exhausted to the point my brain stopped working. Physical exhaustion begets mental exhaustion, the higher parts of my brain weren’t processing like they usually did. And while crossing a busy intersection I somehow thought of only looking one way for traffic; my brain blanked out and I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that vehicles drive both ways along the road. Before I knew what was happening I was in the street being greeted by a very loud, threatening, piercing horn from a truck. A large truck. I knew this because of the horn; a deep, loud horn that you hear from semi-trucks, garbage trucks, and trains. Not the meep, meep of a compact car horn. Primitive brain felt utter terror while conscious brain had the vivid thought of something like this: I’ve made a terrible mistake. This is it.
I looked left and the garbage truck was hauling full speed at me doing at least 45 m.p.h. I couldn’t even think. The world kinda slowed down and I fully accepted how this one tiny mistake and all the other tiny choices in my life led me to this singular moment of being killed by a garbage truck. Just one key mistake, one minor oversight in my exhausted mind meant my death.
And I wasn’t scared. I accepted it. I didn’t even have time to accept it, it just was in that moment. It was a cold fact that I wasn’t scared of: this is how it feels to die. I know it’ll be quick and painless. A quick flip of a light switch. On and then off. Light and then dark. Instantly falling asleep.
I’m not scared of death. Not scared in a way that causes me too much anxiety and dread; I know when the moment comes it’ll just be there and it’ll happen and I won’t be scared. So what is my Fear?
“It assumes the language of Love itself.”
Love itself. I repeated it in my head over and over trying to make sense of it. The idea that Fear masquerades around under the guise of Love. What was love? A self-love? Me trying to protect myself, backing myself into a corner, out of Fear acting as love. Self-preservation. Security. From a paralyzing lifelong insecurity given to me from childhood?
“Fear says, ‘Give me symbols…give me something I can rely on.’”
My mind dances and wanders to places that are dark against my will. Loneliness: why doesn’t anyone see me as a friend like I see them as a friend? Do they? And if they do, why can’t I understand it? Why, despite all conscious thought, effort, and exercise, do I think everyone fundamentally hates me? How can people make friends so easily while it takes me literal years to open up? Another conscious thought that’s defied by my emotions. I can’t shut them off. Depression: why is life so unfulfilling? Why is it that when I do find something fulfilling it always wanes? Anxiety: why am I always on edge? Why is my fight or flight response constantly engaged? Why do I feel I’m waging a constant war against everything I seem to be? Why do I think so much? Why do I analyze so much? What can’t I let things be the way they will be and be happy with everything?
“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”
I am safe. Safe. From Fear. This paralyzing Fear. But the fear is so internalized, a part of myself and how can you be safe when it’s you and your mind that you fear? The main enemy in the world, the main antagonist in your own quest is yourself and all of your insecurities and problems. How are you ever safe from that? Ever? How do you feel safe from yourself?
I am safe: perfect in my own little way despite being unaware of it. An awesome person to everyone else except myself. Conscious thoughts that can’t force their way into the subconscious. A tiny little unique gift of the universe to the universe and all the beings in it. Logically accepting the fact but unable to retain it into your soul. Skin crawling with your own self-hatred and inability to love yourself. I don’t want to accept myself because there is nothing worthy of acceptance. A human pile of flaws that everyone else is too blind to see even though you show them every single day. A certainty that you’re both not accepted by people because you’re a terribly flawed person and being upset that people aren’t accepting you because of your flaws. Please accept me even though I don’t accept myself. Come rescue me from myself if you would.
How do you feel safe from the worst thing in the world, the number one threat to your sanity and existence: yourself? Does she know this? It seems she does; there’s a tone to her voice that seems to know my deepest and darkest secrets. The soothing and reassuring voice that implores me to discover that everything is really fine despite any outward appearance. That the Universe itself is constantly embracing me. That she’s aware that the demon I’m fighting is really myself, and despite feeling safe in the world in general and from others, the thing I’m really scared of is the shit that constantly plays in my head. It’s the opposite of her voice: a cold, harsh, terrifyingly truthful voice saying you are not enough, you are flawed, you will never be happy, you will never find yourself, you will never get anywhere.
“Give me only this moment.”
And so I speed down the road beginning to lose myself. Dissociation comes early today, still miles away from the road that slithers along the river. Feeling like a puppet, a dream, a disconnect with existence itself. Too many thoughts in my head here and there, not enough ways to shut them off. No alcohol because I’m going to work. No calling in because then people will know my problems and ask questions. I’ll never be missed but what if I am missed? More anxious thought fueled by Love and Fear. The overthinking. The questioning. What if those people who don’t care about me will somehow realize my problems and notice me in just the perfect way to think I’m strange? To think I’m insane. To know I’m not all there up in my head. To think I’m not a sane, happy, and regular person. And then I’ll lose them with my own unexplainable actions, once again being the primary threat to myself. Constantly self-sabotage. Constantly fucking things up.
“Love says, ‘Open your arms and fly with me.’”
My hands start to shake and I start to cry. I don’t even know what I’m crying about. Nothing makes sense. Not even the not making sense makes sense. Why can’t anything just fucking make sense? I can’t do this, I can’t go to work. But what else can I do? Sit on the side of the road for the next few hours breaking down? Go to a park and isolate myself? What good will that do? I’ll feel even worse: lost, forgotten, and lonely. As much as I’m positive everyone hates me, I still need to be around them. Curse this social creature that I am. I want to be cold and dead and lifeless, showing up to work like a robot going through the motions. But I can’t. I pull the car over to think. To think about something even though there is nothing to think about.
“Truth has the power to transform Fear.”
Fuck, I want to get out of my head. I need to get out of my head. Just for a moment. Please? Let me the fuck out of my head for just an instant; I don’t want to feel this way. I want my brain to stop. Why won’t the thoughts stop? Where is this safety at? Where is my safe spot? Where can you run to escape yourself?
“You were going that way anyway.”
In the end there is no resolution, no grand realization, no clear way forward. This story doesn’t have an ending. Crying on the side of the road and feeling terrified of yourself eventually passes with time. It turns from sharp self-hatred into mild self-loathing and finally into an empty acceptance. A hollow sort of pain. An empty black hole where your heart pitifully and dutifully beats because what else is it supposed to do? It’s in this wreckage that you find your way forward. The path isn’t clear — in fact it’s hidden — but it’s there. I have no choice. This is my life. I can’t escape myself. I’m temporarily safe from the demon that shares my name. I put the car in gear and set off once again for work. Just another day. Another crisis averted for however long until the next one. And I’m tired and exhausted. I don’t want another crisis. I just want to be safe. And despite the incessant imploring over the car’s stereo I don’t feel safe at all. The next hour, day, week, or month the monster lurks around the corner to attack: Myself.
“Love says, ‘You Are Safe.’”