Last week was rough. It was rough for different people in different ways. There were members of the APW community way to close to the horror in Boston on Monday. There were lots of you locked down in Boston on Friday. There were those of you close to, or with loved ones in and near West, Texas. There were people, like me, who had lived through different kinds of terror and were finding their PTSD triggers all being hit at once. Then there were the many glued to the news, afraid and/or sad. As I’ve gotten older, and built my own family, I’ve found that bad news hits me in a different way. The fear of losing a child or a partner can quickly wrap it’s icy cold fingers around my heart. News cycles like last week shake me up in a whole new way. Today’s post by Rachel Wilkerson explores the fear that pops up after national tragedies, and the everyday fear that keeps us up at night worrying about our loved ones.
If you’d asked me three years ago to list the things I am afraid of, this would have been my list:
2. Having someone break into my apartment to rape and kill me.
That was it. I don’t know if it’s really all that rational or not, but it’s a pretty short list, and I never felt like it was affecting my quality of life.
Now? Now I need a damn outline.
I. Fears about kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder
A. I’m the victim and a stranger is the perpetrator.
B. I’m the victim and MY HUSBAND IS THE PERPETRATOR.
C. I’m the victim and nobody cares because I’m not a pretty white woman.
D. Someone I care about is the victim.
II. Fears about my future children
A. They will be bullied.
B. They will bully someone else.
C. They will be kidnapped, assaulted, raped, and murdered.
D. They will kidnap, assault, rape, or murder someone.
E. Wait, am I even going to be able to have children?!?!
III. Fears about diseases
A. I will get a disease.
i. Every time I have a stomachache or a headache, I’m clearly dying.
ii. I’m worried that this chicken isn’t cooked all the way through and also, even though I wore latex gloves when I was touching that chicken and washed my hands (and nails too, duh), I’m still afraid to touch anything in the kitchen for the rest of the night.
iii. I’m really stressed that I’m not getting to the gym enough to lower my stress, which will keep me from dying from being stressed because STRESS KILLS.
ii. YOU FORGOT TO WEAR SUNSCREEN GOLFING?! ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE ME A WIDOW AT THIRTY?!?!
C. Don’t forget about that recent flesh-eating bacteria case.
IV. Fears that the Mayans were right, we just had the date wrong
A. Natural disasters.
B. The War on Women.
C. Economic collapse.
D. The Hunger Games really happens.
For a long time, I managed to avoid most of these irrational fears by simply not watching the evening news. But then I moved in with Eric. Suddenly I had this additional person who I was now terrified of losing, and said person typically has the TV on. His go-to shows include Law & Order: SVU, Dan Rather Reports, and the endless stream of war, aliens, and apocalypse programming on H2. It got into my head, big time. It basically turned me into my mother, who, on any given night can be found in the kitchen close to midnight, eating milk and cookies as a serious-sounding voiceover says, “…Linda had always told her friends and family that she feared one day Frank would kill her.” These shows were the only explanation I could come up with for the fact that she became seriously worried if I didn’t update my blog or Facebook status for a couple of days. I found her fear ridiculous…and yet two years later, when I wasn’t able to get ahold of Eric for several hours, the following thoughts went through my head in a twenty-minute period:
- He had lost his phone.
- His phone had been stolen.
- His car had been broken into.
- He had gotten a DUI after leaving his poker game and didn’t know my number by heart so I couldn’t be his one phone call. (I briefly imagined him asking the police if they had a computer where he could just Facebook me.)
- His apartment had been broken into and he had been there and so the intruder shot him—and without a phone, he couldn’t call for help.
- He had died of natural causes in his apartment.
- He was breaking up with me.
- He had been kidnapped.
- He had been mugged.
- There had been an attempted mugging but then they just went ahead and kidnapped him.
- He had been in a car accident.
- He had a gambling addiction so he had bet his phone in the poker game and then lost it.
- The poker game had gotten heated and someone had pulled a gun.
- His office had been taken hostage by a former employee who was going postal.
That last one was when I realized I had turned into my mother, so I did what my mom would do: I got online at four in the morning to look for car accidents, break-ins, and hostage situations in Houston. Nothing. I tossed and turned until morning. When my alarm went off, I called him again. At this point, I was worried that the murderer was going to answer. Then I started to freak out that there might be semi-scandalous pictures of me on that phone, which the murderer now had access to. What if they texted me back pretending to be Eric to lure me into a situation where they could try to get a piece of that? When, at 7:58, I finally got a text from him saying that he had left his phone at a job site much earlier the day before, I nearly burst into tears…and realized exactly what love can do to a person. The only thing to fear is fear itself? You got that right. I was afraid of how terrified I was of losing him.
In an effort to avoid moments like those, I cut myself off from the majority of the fear-mongering programming I was taking in. Unfortunately, I can’t cut myself off from what’s happening in the world around me every day. Every time a tragedy has the country glued to the news (an event that feels like it’s been happening far too often lately), I want to get everyone I love in one place and not let them out of my sight. Ever. I’m afraid if I do, someone will take one of them away from me.
I thought getting older would make me less afraid, but it’s made me more afraid. Now I know what I have to lose and I know what can, and does, happen. I had so many thoughts of, What if this is it? What if I never get to talk to you again? last week.
And the week before that.
And the week before that.
For a while, those thoughts were followed by the question, How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me? Because at some point, I got the message from the media and those around me that good people do what they are told (wear SPF, bleach the kitchen countertops, always keep your keys in your hand when walking to your car) and bad things happen to people who don’t. The troubling extension of this—the idea that if someone is a victim, it’s because he or she didn’t just try hard enough not be—was constantly reinforced. Every TV show and news story left me feeling like I had an assignment: never get put in the trunk of someone’s car, and if you do get put in the trunk of someone’s car, you better not die. On some level, every new fear gave me a new opportunity for self-improvement.
But I’ve since realized that no matter what I do, it’s never going to be good enough—after all, there will always be something to be afraid of. Being prepared is fine, being afraid of sharks is fine, but needing a bodyguard just to go to Target because I’m worried about the flesh-eating shark that was attacking women for trying to get birth control prescriptions filled at a Target in another state is not fine. So I cut myself off from the behaviors and purchases that, while done in the name of empowerment, were actually making me feel powerless.
The only thing that makes me feel powerful now is to just love harder. I don’t just say, “I love you”…I live in a way that leaves no room for doubt. I have stopped waiting to go after the things I want because I don’t know if I have time to wait. I make peace with my life every day and am grateful for what I have every night. I live and love the hell out of my life because that is empowering in a way that buying loads of anti-bacterial hand soap is not. I feel a little pang of fear every time Eric and I say good-bye to each other, but I’m comforted by the fact that we’ve said and lived our “I love yous.” We say good-bye because there’s nothing else we need to say; we both know and appreciate exactly what we have. We may go to bed angry sometimes, but we try not to leave the house that way. As Maddie has written, we are laughing in the face of danger every day. The best I can do is be sure we’re laughing.
Photo by APW Sponsor Kara Schultz