Keeping it real

One thing that always seems to surprise people, even the ones who are closest to me, is how easily scared I am.

Especially by things that aren’t real.

© Jenny Reiswig

© Jenny Reiswig | Flickr.com

I’ve been struggling with this a lot recently. It’s like those childish fears, of things that go bump in the night, never left me. And it’s not a momentary shiver either, or something that I can rationalise and then not worry about anymore. I am often utterly convinced that if I were to look out the window at that particular moment, I’d see several zombies or White Walkers pressed against the glass.

And it scares the crap out of me.

I know that I’m not the only one who is frightened of things like this, because otherwise we wouldn’t have scary movies. It’s a fear that speaks to a lot of people. Where I seem to be different from most people is that my fear is so disabling. I’ve never managed to get past the water cup scene in Jurassic Park. I had my best friend in stitches because I “watched” Arachnophobia from behind her sofa. Shaun of the Dead, even though it’s hilariously funny, had me scared out of my mind for weeks. Not helped in the least by my then-boyfriend, who thought that pretending to be a zombie whenever we were in the bedroom together would help me get over it. Or just to give himself a good laugh, I don’t know.

I didn’t think it was funny. I was unable to see that him pretending to be a zombie wasn’t real.

I have the same problem with dreams. I tend to have very vivid dreams, and the times that I’ve been truly upset with someone because of something they said or did to me in a dream are too many to count. Rationally, I know it was a dream. But it doesn’t feel that way. It feels just as real as zombies outside my window and bloodsucking spiders underneath my bed.

In a way, it’s probably related to perserveration. I can’t let the thought go. It takes hold of me, takes on a life of its own.

Again, it’s not that irrational fears are something abnormal. It’s how crippling they are. I want to be able to watch TV shows without turning off the sound, without covering my eyes, and without nightmares afterwards. I want to be able to climb up the stairs without fearfully looking over my shoulder and feeling my heart beat in my throat. I want to be able to get into bed without suddenly thinking that my feet will get bitten off if I don’t pull them up.

Swiss Family Robinson – a Japanese cartoon that had the family being chased by wolves in the dark in one episode, leading to me being afraid to get out of bed at night for months.

Even though it all sounds so childish, the fear feels real. Far too real.

I have been laughed at and made fun of, even by my nearest and dearest, for being so afraid of things that are fiction. At best, I get empty reassurances that it’s not actually real and there’s no need for me to be scared. But neither of those are any help. They weren’t helpful when I was a child, and they aren’t helpful now that I’m an adult.

Maybe I should just keep a poker next to my bed. Screw what anyone else thinks.

 But monsters were easy, at least. She’d learned how to deal with monsters. She picked up the poker from the nursery fender and went down the back stairs, with Twyla following her.
 ‘Susan? Er… what are you doing?’
 Susan looked at the poker and then back at the woman. ‘Twyla says she’s afraid of a monster in the cellar, Mrs Gaiter.’
 ‘Actually, that’s a very clever idea,’ said someone else. ‘Little gel gets it into her head there’s a monster in the cellar, you go in with the poker and make a few bashing noises while the child listens, and then everything’s all right. Good thinkin’, that girl. Ver’ sensible. Ver’ modern.’
 Susan sighed and went down the cellar stairs, while Twyla sat demurely at the top, hugging her knees.
 A door opened and shut.
 There was a short period of silence and then a terrifying scream.
 Susan pushed open the door. The poker was bent at right angles. There was nervous applause.
 The party went back up the hall. The last thing Susan heard before the door shut was ‘Dashed convincin’, the way she bent the poker like that…’
 She waited.
 ‘Have they all gone, Twyla?’
 ‘Yes, Susan.’
 ‘Good.’ Susan went back into the cellar and emerged towing something large and hairy with eight legs.

– Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

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Autistics Speaking Day 2013: Fear

I want to speak to you about fear.

I am autistic. And I am afraid.

Fear of not being seen as fully human when I lose my words. Fear of losing my words because I have so much to say. Fear of not being listened to.

Afraid of getting my experiences discounted, of being told that I can’t understand something because I’m autistic. Afraid of being told I have no empathy.

Fear of losing my job. Losing it again and again. Fear of losing my house. Fear of seeing my safety destroyed.

Afraid of big crowds. Bright lights. Afraid of loud noises. Afraid of tiny noises that are impossible to identify. Afraid of clothes that seem fine one moment and unbearably itchy the next.

Fear. Of you looking at me and seeing a loser. Fear of you telling me that I should stop feeling sorry for myself. That I should try harder. When I’ve been trying so hard all my damn life. Fear of becoming too tired to continue.

Afraid of getting judged for not being able to keep my house clean. Myself clean. Myself fed. Afraid of getting judged for not doing the things that normal people do.

Fear of being told I have no feelings.

Afraid that nobody will understand and I will end up alone. Forgotten. Discounted. Ignored.

Fear that people will only see my defects. Not my strengths.

I am speaking of fear.

And you?

You who tell me to look you in the eye. You who tell me to stop fidgeting. You who tell me I’m smart enough to figure it out. You who tell me to use my words when you mean your words, because that’s the only ones you’ll listen to. You who tell me I’m cold and distant because I don’t show my emotions in a way that you recognise. You who tell me lying is bad and then punish me for speaking the truth. You who tell me every person is unique and then tell me I’m too different.

Will you also tell me I have no right to feel afraid of you?