October 18, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: March 27, 2013 | 3:47 pm)
My favorite holiday is almost eerily upon us. As an occasion, Halloween just speaks my language – at least it does now. I’m enamored with its form and function: the frights, the freaky fun and the costumes. If you know me, you know that my regular clothes can occasionally border on costume, especially on the weekend. But it’s more than that. I’ve had a hate/hate/love relationship with fear my whole life: controlling it, being devastated by it, embracing it.
I was a painfully nervous, anxious, fearful child. Escaping a war zone with my family to relocate to a foreign country (the U.S.) at a young age did a real number on me. Between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and kindergarten, my young mind was heavily weighed upon – not to mention that, by nature and nurture, I’m super sensitive, a worrier, and not so thick-skinned.
As my formative years went by, I would find circumstances to cling to and be terrified of. Living in Missouri from age 5-10, I became unhealthily obsessed with tornadoes and weather overall after hunkering down during an all-too-close incident that resulted in a panic attack. I spent those years studying weather systems, cloud formations, and the like. I wouldn’t leave the house without a tantrum if I saw clouds, even in the distant horizon. (Ironically, two weeks after we moved away, a tornado came and took our house – not even kidding.)
Once the weather obsession ran its course, I moved on to a multitude of paralyzing fears that came and went. But when I became a teenager, I revolted against having been so controlled by my own fear. I tried to live as though I wasn’t afraid of anything and adopted somewhat of a “live free, die young” mentality, which can be a slippery slope. That conviction can easily camouflage not valuing one’s self as rebellion. I think a lot of teens walk that tightrope, particularly those struggling with the identities, sexual and otherwise.
Nonetheless, I was still afraid: afraid of rejection, afraid of who I was … afraid of fear itself. I hated that, and I eventually actively knew I needed to find a way to get a grip on it. So I started with the obvious.
If you knew me not too long ago, you probably know that I used to be really terrified of scary movies – a relatable and reasonable fear, I understand – but I wanted to conquer it. Even around Halloween as a kid, when the teacher would read age-appropriate ghost stories, I’d be haunted and shaken for months. A “Friday the 13th” commercial – I’d lose sleep for weeks. It was more a manifestation of not wanting to deal with the fear and darkness in my life: enough was enough.
About seven years ago, I began to study the art of quality horror movies: the purpose, the metaphor. I watched them alone at night. I faced them consciously in my mind when I woke in the middle of the night instead of trying to push the thoughts into the corners. Might sound a little extreme, but it was actually a cathartic and powerful practice in facing myself, my brain and my fears, and understanding why I have so often engaged in tug-of-wars between my thrill-seeking side and my anxious side.
Wow, how things have changed: I now find the rush and thrill humans naturally get from scary movies (and the like) useful, invigorating and downright fun while reinforcing my inner connection to my strength. I’m a much more courageous person for it – more equipped to not lose my nerve.
One of my lifelong personal heroes, Helen Keller, put it most accurately: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” Talk about perspective.