Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Fear. We all experience it. Bogeymen hiding under the bed, planes dropping out of the sky, bombs exploding during national holidays ““ these are all things I regularly envision happening in my life. Some people might say I’m an anxious person, though I prefer the term “realistic.” But there are times when even I understand my fears are completely irrational.

It is hard to draw a line between rational and irrational fears. Since September 11, 2001, I have been expecting a terrorist attack in The Netherlands, at one of those times when lots of people are out and about, such as FIFA World Cup matches or Queen’s Day. This fear has (so far) not come true, but that didn’t stop a man from attempting to attack the Royal Family at the 2009 Queen’s Day parade in Apeldoorn, killing seven bystanders when he drove his car through the crowd at high speed. His motives were never explained. Though perhaps not terrorism, these big events to attract bad things.

Planes crash. Despite the fact that air travel is safer than many other modes of travel, my fear of a plane exploding in mid-air is not completely unfounded and, thus, not irrational.

There may be no such thing as a bogeyman, and I may watch entirely too much Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for my frail state of mind, but people are attacked across the world, on a daily basis, inside and outside their homes. So even though the chances of a burglar or other criminal person breaking into my home and hiding under my bed are slim to none, they do exist. So this fear, too, does not feel completely irrational.

Many of my fears can be validated this way. I may get hit by a car while crossing the street, the train I’m on might derail, perhaps one day I will actually go to class wearing my slippers. Chances of them coming true the way I envision them aren’t very high, but they exist nonetheless.

Earlier this week, however, I had to face a fear that is quite inexplicable. I was staying at my sister’s house, minding her cats while she was on vacation. In the morning I’d used the oven, left it open to cool, then mindlessly kicked it shut while on my way out the door to class. Every time I have left the oven open during cat sitting ventures, I have been afraid of one of the cats crawling into the oven and me shutting the door without noticing they are in there. Why? I really can’t explain it. But this time, the fear went even further. See, my sister’s cats don’t really get along. They take swipes at each other, the ginger cat steals the black cat’s food, and in return the black cat chases the ginger off the bed when he wants to snuggle. My fear promoted from “irrational” to “completely out there” when I started envisioning scenarios in which one cat realized the other was stuck in the oven and (get this) turned the oven on as payback for past slights. There was no reason for me to fear this. Cats are not sentient in this way (yet! But if it ever happens, the  millions of cat owners who have forced their pets into undignified situations or items of clothing best beware!) and I know this. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it all day and breathing a sigh of relief when both cats were lounging on the couch when I returned home.

My fears, rational or irrational, generally don’t keep me from doing anything (other than, you know, jumping off a bridge while dangling from an elastic cord, but the way I see it, that’s not a big loss) and in that way I am lucky. I don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder and that allows me to reflect on the (ir)rationality of my fears and sometimes chuckle at my own  silliness. Are you the same? Do you have odd fears you might be a little afraid (no pun intended) to admit? Do these fears, founded or not, impact your day-to-day life in any way?


By Nanna Freeman

Anglo-America-loving Dutchie with a grad student twist and a mad dash of self-mockery.

Sometimes I also write things here:

9 replies on “Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself”

Holy shit get out of my head. I have the exact same issue. Metro blowing up (thanks to Osama’s vow to attack Paris), airplanes falling out of the sky (while I am in them or otherwise), gunman rampaging, evil men hiding behind dumpsters, ghosts. Oh Jebus, don’t even get me started on ghosts.

True story: I’m going on an all expense paid trip to St. Maartin in less than a month. For two weeks. Private villa. It’s pretty fucking swank. But I am terrified of the flight. So right now I’m actually sort of dreading it.

I once spent an entire summer convinced that there was a vampire living in my dad’s bathroom. It made showering very tense.

These days the two that come up most often are the fear that I will blow up my house and late-night hypochondria. (I work with a propane/oxygen torch in my house and my propane supply is in the garage. I take all the safety precautions, but some days I’m afraid it’s all going to blow when I light her up.)

This is somewhat common, but I’m terrified of spiders. I know exactly what caused it, too. I was eleven or twelve and I was sitting on our front porch reading when I saw one of those little potato bugs (the gray ones that roll up in a ball) crawling across the sidewalk. I didn’t want it to get stepped on so I picked it up and tried to scoot it off to the side of the porch, but it fell into the landscaping. I leaned over and pulled the leaves of the ground covering apart, trying to find it, and I uncovered a spider web. The bug had fallen in the web and this enormous brown spider was crawling towards it.

Ah, gah, just remembering that and typing it has me all jittery and flaily. Anyway, I screamed and ran inside – I was shaking and could hardly breathe, and I felt so awful that I’d sent this poor bug to a horrible death, and from then on, spiders have made me panic. I know that almost none of them could actually hurt me in any way, but – ugh, for real, I’m sitting here rubbing my arms and legs and looking around to make sure there aren’t any on me or near me. It doesn’t affect my everyday life unless I see one and it gets away before I can get someone to kill it; then I can’t sleep. (And a recurring nightmare of mine is that someone I love has me trapped and is trying to put a spider on me.)

My mother in law got her own social security number wrong on her college applications, and still has to double and triple compare against the original card when filling out forms; however, she did still get to go to the college of her choice, if that makes you feel any better?

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