Monday, May 24, 2010

Fraidy cat

Have I mentioned before that I’m a fearful person? I’ve been that way for most of my life, although it’s been in remission at times. And recent studies show that some babies are born with thin skin when it comes to anxiety and fear. But I’m able to trace a few sources of my angst.

I was about 7 when I first experienced Frankenstein. My father took me to the movies to see “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” You’re probably wondering what this wacky comedy has to do with fear. Remember, I was only 7. The jokes and slapstick shtick went over my head, but at first sight of that ugly, towering monster, I put my head down in my father’s lap, taking only occasional peeks at the screen. I insisted on having the hall light on outside my bedroom that night and for many nights after. Even today, I’m uncomfortable in the dark.

In my late teens, I went to see “Psycho” with a date. I had heard that it was terrifying, and I’ll never forget the scene when you find out what Norman Bates' mother really looks like. But the scene that stayed with me was the Janet Leigh character's brutal murder in the shower. Even today, when I’m alone in the house and take a shower, I lock the bathroom door and keep a phone handy.

As a little girl—little enough to be carried by my father—I was terrified when the tree near my grandparents’ apartment began to shed large caterpillar-like, creepy things all over the sidewalk. During that period, my dad had to carry me. I refused to walk for fear of stepping on those scary “creatures.” Fortunately, this one didn’t carry over to my adulthood. As long as I know they’re not alive, I’m OK with walking around them and even stepping on tree droppings. It’s the live stuff that makes me cringe: grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies…and the bulgy-eyed cicadas that invaded a couple of years ago.

But not all my fears have links to early trauma. Or, if they do, I’ve repressed the incidents. I can’t consciously come up with reasons I fear small, enclosed spaces like elevators or MRIs; driving on snow; deep water; tongue depressors, and a few other things I’m too afraid to admit.

Roosevelt had it right. Fear itself is my worst enemy—along with the nightly news, daily papers, and radio reports. It’s like these media are taunting me:“You think you’ve got troubles? Wait’ll you hear what happened today!”