Light bulbs dim, houses creak and youth fades. The truth blurs the longer we look at it, love weakens the harder we hold it and Ms. and Mr. Right look wrong every morning after.
Remember how it felt before we realized most of these things? When our fears of life, of possibilities, of danger were but blades of grass and we lorded over them with dancing feet? Or when life was a promise and our only monster was the one we thought was under our bed?
As odd as it may seem, that monster does not get enough credit for who we've become. He represents what was probably the first, truly powerful negative emotion we ever had to deal with on our own. Sure, we were hungry before, we cried quarts from boredom and we complained, complained and complained when we didn't get our way, but there was always someone around that we knew was capable of fixing those problems. For this villain, there was no such hero.
Our parents could leave the lights on, open the door or read us a story, but that was like putting a band-aid over a bullet hole. That monster under our bed was an open wound only we could face. And, ever since he taught us how to fear and how to feel alone, we've hit the ground running.
Its easy to conclude that he wasn't real, but, from a psychological perspective, I'd say he was. He may not have had only two teeth, a red clown nose and look like our uncle Artie from Lancaster, but, in our minds, he was there. You know why? Because we put him there. We've been feeding and nurturing him ever since we were five years old. Sure, we don't have to face him - at least as frequently - when the lights go out anymore, but that's because we let the fear he represents get too big to fit under our beds.
Now, we know him as stress - as the fear of failure, loneliness, and grief; problems that, as we age, we find ourselves alone in. Seasons pass and these fears snowball until we realize that our lives didn't turn into the best selling novel we thought they would be. Then the true reality sets in; our lives are only a sentence and we've spent it paralyzed by fear that someone was about to turn the page.
Why does fear cripple us this way? Its a reality that we can't seem to come to terms with, but we can simplify it.
Since the beginning, people have been inherently driven by two things: to amass as many positive, self-indulgent feelings as possible - to acquire happiness - and to avoid as many negative, self-deprecating feelings as possible - to avoid pain. We sit in between the two in fear that the first won't happen and that the latter will. But, its even simpler than that; we're so afraid of feeling pain that we've convinced ourselves that, if we avoid it, we'll acquire happiness. That could not be farther from the truth.
So look at it in this light; 90% of all fears are not fears of reality or events, they're fears of emotion. Its not necessarily that we want to find a spouse right now - its that we fear feeling lonely. Its not so much that we want to be accepted - its that we fear feeling left out. Its not that we don't want X to occur - its that we're afraid of the emotions it leaves us with.
What do all of these issues have in common? They're all based on fickle emotions. Unfortunately, these emotions often feel more real than the mind that conjured them.
The whole world can relate, and, if we're blessed, our close group of friends, generally, will sympathize. But have you ever noticed how, after a couple of weeks go by of you feeling a particular negative emotion, even the most loyal, sympathetic friends tell you to get over it?
That's because your inner reality of loneliness/depression/anxiety and the oppressive fear it represents, doesn't make it true to them. It makes it true to you. So what do we do?
Late author Christian Nestell Bovee said, "We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them." Well, certainly we know our fear of loneliness and we know our fear of depression all too well. But what we don't know is how to deal with them. Loneliness is inevitable, thus, why its so damn frightening and why the opposite looks like happiness. If it weren't inevitable, then we would have figured out a way to deal with it. On a rudimentary level, we know nothing about loneliness - how to treat it, how to deal with it or how to overcome it other than 'only in time.' We have no patience or control over time.
But can you really stand up and deal with fear such as that of loneliness?
I say yes, by accepting that its part of the ocean of life; a rising and falling tide of emotions. The trouble is, if you spend your life running in fear of all the bad emotions, you'll find yourself sailing in circles. In order to find true happiness, one must pull up his anchor and wade into the waters of fear.
Easier said than done, yet, still, we're told this around every corner; “Face your fears.” Well, that's a noble concept, but a daunting task when you phrase it as such. "Face your fears" is the equivalent of saying, "Get on that plane whose wing is wrapped in duct tape." The equivalent of saying, "Hey, that Santa Claus whose been eyeing you down since you walked in... yeah, go sit on his lap." Well who could blame anyone for not facing either of those fears? I look at it a different way.
That monster under our bed was never meant to scare us. In fact, if we had peeled the covers down, crept our matted head over the mattress and peered into the dark chasm below, I don't believe we would have seen him as a monster at all. I believe we would have seen a mirror. A mirror that showed us ourselves and all the things we thought we were going to be, but didn't pan out, all the relationships we thought we needed to last, but ended, all the times we thought we'd just be happy, but couldn't find the way. We would have begun to come to terms with our fears, dealt with the situations life brings instead of hiding from the fear it presents. We would have started a pattern of standing up to the bad hands life deals us instead of walking away from the table while saying, "I don't know why I was dealt those cards and I don't know how to deal with it."
We should face our fears, but, first, we should realize what they are before we turn off the lights, close our eyes and the house creaks - nothing but a fickle state of mind. A mind that has created a world full of scary nothings.