Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fear Finds a Fertile Field

Perfect love casts out fear.  1 John 4:18

     This blog is the story of how, despite my best bungling efforts, I was finally able to give away my fears after more than sixty years. This is neither a self-help blog, nor one in which the author purports to know all the answers. All I know is what I experienced, what perceptions I formed from those experiences, what mistakes I made throughout the years, what valuable cues and attempted assistance I totally missed until hindsight provided me with answers, and what finally worked for me. I am not a psychologist or medical person. By profession I'm an accountant, manager, and teacher, for heaven's sake, so don't expect me to know a lot of psychological jargon. I read a lot and am good at research, so I have developed a certain amount of knowledge about fear, depression, and related topics, which I will be sharing with you along with the story of relevant parts of my life. I hope that this will be of help to you, and I strongly encourage you to make this blog a discussion through your comments, questions, and observations.

     A severe birth defect that kept me in the hospital for most of the first year of my life and left me with a significant social stigma and constant anxiety; a father who did not marry my mother and (I learned later in life) never saw me and referred to me only as "the child" when he gave up his rights to me; a narcissistic, passive-aggressive, manipulative, uncommunicative, and completely self-absorbed mother; and early and later experiences of betrayal provided an environment that fostered my fears that I was unlovable, that I was a "bad" person, that I could not count on anyone except myself, that I was somehow invisible to other people, and that I was in constant danger of being abandoned. What it really came down to was that from a very early age I never felt safe anywhere.

     My fears led, beginning in my childhood, to severe depression. As the years went on I also became paranoid, had signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior, and even disassociated from myself to the extent that I would watch myself from a distance up near the ceiling but was helpless to help myself. The stress of constant fear also either led to or was instrumental in the fibromyalgia, autoimmune thyroid disease, and other physical ills I developed in later life.

     What is really strange to me is that I was so used to being afraid from early childhood on, that I didn't know I was afraid. I just thought this was how life was, and that it was the same for everyone.

     The following terrifying nightmare, which I had often, starting at a very early age, highlights what was going on inside my head unbeknownst to me.

      As usual, I was peering fearfully out a crack in the big sliding barn door into the darkness. It was completely silent outside, but behind me I could hear the soft sighing of the Holsteins as they settled down for the night after being milked. Grandpa had gone back to the house, but for some reason I was still in the barn by myself. The scent of the cows, hay, and silage were comforting to me. Even the smell of manure was not offensive, as it was part of my love of the farm. I was perhaps three years old or so.

   I knew I had been told to go to the house, and I always did exactly as I had been ordered to do, but in order to do so I had to pass the immense old elm that stood between the barn and  the house. Behind the tree lurked either a ferocious wolf or bear with huge, clawed paws and red eyes. Whichever one it was this time, I knew that it knew I would have to pass by and would be alone and defenseless. It would leap out at me and try to tear me apart before I could reach the safety of the house.

     In the dream I was always able to run fast enough to get to the breezeway screen door, wrench it open, fall through, and slam it behind me in time to stop the beast from getting me. I knew that one of these times, however, I would not make it.

     Once I had latched the flimsy breezeway door, I always ran up the two steps into the house proper, bolted the house door behind me, and then ran down the steps into the basement. I would then stop, panting to catch my breath, finally feeling safe. I would then look up at one of the basement windows and find a vast vicious paw stealthily reaching through.

     At this point I always woke up in a sweat, trembling and apparently sometimes crying out.

     Unusually, one time the dream changed and became even more terrifying. I was still peering fearfully out a crack in the big sliding bar door into the darkness. Grandpa was still not there to protect me. When I finally gathered my courage and ran through the blackness to the house, the ferocious animal still ran after me, and I still made it to and through the breezeway door. This time, however, instead of running into the basement after I bolted the house door and ran up the two steps, I raced up the additional four steps into the kitchen itself, through the kitchen, through the dining room, and down the hall to the back bedroom. This time the animal (it was the bear this time) was able to get through the house door and was unhurriedly lumbering after me. I made it to the back bedroom and closed the door, trying to be very quiet so the bear would not know where I had gone. I grasped the big old-fashioned metal key in the door lock and turned it. It made only the slightest sound as it secured me against the bear. I ran to the two windows and pulled down the shades.

     I then turned back to the door, listening. The bear was silent, apparently unable to find me, but I could hear it breathing on the other side of the door. I was just breathing a sigh of relief when an adult woman's long-fingered white hand appeared, took firm hold of the key, and, CLICK, unlocked the door.

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