I am afraid


In grad school and for a few years afterwards, I was afraid of opening e-mails (and other messages). It sounds like hyperbole to call it an actual fear, but I still have dozens of unopened e-mails from that era, even ones I know for certain contain nothing negative - it’s not really about negative e-mail vibes, though that must be what sent this problem into overdrive, as the total number of negative or even mildly not-nice messages I’ve ever received is exceedingly small.

I stopped reading reddit because I frequently felt compelled to post replies but was taking extreme measures to avoid seeing what people replied to me (probably hundreds of unread replies there).

boingboing was always my sanctuary, but for a long time I didn’t look if someone replied to me, and eventually greatly withdrew from here too. I do now make it a point to read any replies I get here when I occasionally do post something.

I’m a very reserved person in real life, but used to be really rather open and talkative on the internet - a classic tale. Except now I’m totally withdrawn from the internet too.

Conclusion: don’t go to grad school…?

That does get me in an adrenaline-fueled fear state occasionally, but usually it’s a milder mental block type thing.

What does always give me that physical fear is that creepy feeling when an area is obscured - either by darkness, or e.g. a dense forest (or a dense forest in darkness…) - and while you know 99.9999% of the time there’s nothing there, there could be something there. I can’t turn my back to something like that without an intense instinctual urge to run away, which I occasionally have done even though I know that just makes it worse.


I have these impulses too, although my horrible acts are a little different - they do change over time for me too. Throwing things, pets, etc. that I love into a raging fire is a fairly constant one. I don’t have this one much anymore, but when looking at eyes (particularly in pets) I used to be unable to avoid thinking about the complex billiards-esque way a shot BB pellet could travel around a room and then pass through the eye - not directly in, but in-and-out across the face.

I do think it is a symptom of “overactive” imagination, which is not a surprise exactly :wink:

I think it’s different from the urge to jump off of things - in fact while I do sometimes experience that, usually I don’t.

edit: I realized that actually my horrible acts are maybe much more within the imagination than yours - the raging fire isn’t real, it’s imagined. I do get “real” impulses like you describe too, but maybe not as much.


Look at you. You wouldn’t be severely traumatized by hanging out on your rooftop on a nice clear night with a good telescope.


Maybe i could do it. But I would be at extreme stress levels all day… And night.


One of my favorite memories is from when I worked at a summer camp in Canada (which I also attended as a kid). The camp is on an island, and the focus is canoeing. I would go out in a canoe by myself at night and look at the stars. I had a star chart and decent binoculars but it was mostly just such a pleasure to lay down in the canoe and stare up - almost no light pollution, and occasional northern lights.

Had to be careful not to drift close to shore - being laid down in a canoe in pitch darkness and unexpectedly bumping up against the shore would ignite my fear of the unknown like crazy. Being way out on the water felt really safe, even though it clearly was far less safe in real terms since I could capsize.

This was sunrise rather than the middle of the night, but it gets the point across:

(I do have a middle of the night northern-lights-from-canoe photo somewhere, but I just happened to have this one handy)


I’ve canoed places like that. I hold a lot of affection for those experiences. Beautiful pristine wilderness places.


When I was a young kid I had this constant fear of falling through the floor or ground, of earth and weight burying me. I think as a result, I’ve always been relaxed by heights. When I do visualization meditation, I often imagine being on a high mountain lookout or floating in the clouds. I haven’t gone in a while, but when I had more time and fundage, I would go skydiving in New Mexico. For a lot of people it’s a rush and they have to refrain from prematurely opening their 'chute. For me it was always the most liberated I’ve ever felt, and my instructor and later I had to remind myself not to wait too long.

I still occasionally have some mild anxiety about falling into the floor or a ceiling falling onto me. But as a kid I had a dream where I was in a sort of pseudo-auditorium where the colossal red and brown sliding walls were on a floor that somehow curved in and the whole place sort of closed in over and around me as I sunk into the floor. But strangely, it made me feel not frightened but a kind of numb comfort, the sort you get when you’re too physically and emotionally exhausted to feel anything more. Ever since then, my fear of being buried hasn’t been nearly as bad.


When I was a kid, I was traumatized by a story in the Weekly Reader, of all things, about a kid who was kidnapped and knocked out, and when he woke up, he was buried alive in a barrel, underground. Maybe I’m misremembering the Weekl Reader part, but I didn’t sleep well for weeks after that.

I was also traumatized after watching The Poseidon Adventure and couldn’t sleep for weeks after that one, either. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of the tidal wave, and the chances of being on a cruise ship was zero. I think it was all just a little too intense.

(My parent’s solution to the anxiety it caused was to bring me to see a horror movie with them. It didn’t work.)


There. Fixed it for you. Also I’m afraid I’d been away from this thread for too long.


I met one once on a fire road in the hills above UC Santa Cruz. He was a big tawny california cougar. Spoiler, he did not eat me. But I did stand there looking at his feet, trying not to appear threatening, for at least 5 minutes.

He was majestic and wonderful, and I guess he thought making me a snack was not worth the hassle. I’m very grateful for that.



Now someone tells me!

But seriously, that sounds like it sucks and I totally feel your pain. I’m sorry. Do you have any idea what in your graduate school experience that caused this fear? Was it just fears for receiving critical emails or something else more specific?


You see, that is just a touching, kind, beautiful thing to share. And it came from discussing what we fear and what is ugly about us.

Your strength and compassion shine through. Your fears and anxieties help make you who you are, but it is obvious that you are an amazing person.


Anytime I wake up to the cat unblinkingly staring at me I think the same thing.


When I think that I will never again have my cat, Charlemagne, perched on my chest staring unblinkingly, I feel afraid. It breaks my heart that I have the capacity to leave someone I love so much, and I know it isn’t going to be the last time.


Aww, the king looks precious!


I am scared of not finishing my final project by Wednesday. This has not stopped me from procrastinating, of course.


“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”

–English translation from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I had hoped that would be some comfort, but now I’m afraid of how it’s made me feel.


Ah, yes. I know this one well. I’ve heard it called “intrusive thoughts.”

When it comes to intrusive thoughts, most of mine happen when I’m holding sharp knives, or looking down from heights. Just an image in my head of, “What would happen if I…” The sharper the knife, or the higher the drop/closer to the edge, the more vivid the experience. This is why I can’t, cannot, ride a chairlift down a hill. When I ride it up a hill, I see the hill in front of me, which makes it look like a short drop. Even if I look down, it’s not so bad; it hits hard, but I can deal with it. But when the chairlift is pointing downhill… I’ve done it twice, and it was utterly terrifying. The ground just looks so much farther below.

Other than heights and sharp knives, what have I got…

  • Asking a woman out on a date. I find it literally paralysing. Why? Probably because I’m afraid of screwing up and…
  • Dying alone. It has always, as far back as I can remember, been my dream to be a good father. In all of my visions of the future, I have kids around me, having fun. Whenever I learn a life lesson, one of my first thoughts is, “How will I impart that lesson to my kids?” And every year that ticks onto the clock makes it feel less and less likely that I’ll ever have kids. I still have plenty of time left now, but Time keeps passing.
  • Getting drunk. I keep myself in control, almost rigidly in control, because I feel that underneath the kindly exterior I try to maintain, there is someone truly horrible. All of the worst instincts (see above), all of the racism and sexism and violence and general humanity that I’m trying to suppress under centuries and layers of social expectations.
    And while I’m aware that whatever I do might be excused by people who would say, “Oh, well, he was drunk”… That does not hold water for me. If I did what I did because I chose to get drunk, then that’s still on me. If “good me” is a layer over “bad me,” and “good me” chooses to get drunk and thereby remove itself from supervision of “bad me,” then “good me” is directly and explicitly responsible for anything “bad me” does.

That’ll do for now. I’m sure there are other things I can dig up in my psyche.


It was one of those rare moments. We saw each other, instantly bonded, and I took him home. He is a polydactyl with six toes, can’t jump to save his life, loves dogs, hates humans, and is so gentle it could melt your face. We were instant besties, till I took him for granted. As I always do.

And I lost him, as I lose everyone. That’s the carp I am afraid of that keeps me up at night.