The Plural for Fear

By Melanie Martin

I now know that I have always been afraid. When you are so used to fear being present in your life, it’s hard to feel it and recognize it for what it is. The circumstances of my life spell out that pattern: mother left when I was three weeks old; went to grandparents with my father; grandfather died; sick grandmother suffering from depression, very hard, very unforgiving, very much unable to show love; father abuses me sexually and emotionally. It started so early that I cannot even remember when it started, it was just always there.

It took all of my 39 years to write this down like that as my life history. 39 years of being afraid. What I know about fear is that once you tackle one bit of it, it morphs and transforms into new fears. I feel that fear should always be used in the plural – “fears” – as it’s rarely just one thing that makes us afraid.

I was afraid of my father. I was scared that my grandmother would die. I was worried about being sent away. I was full of fear that I would never be able to leave. I was scared of how long this could and would go on. I was scared that he would kill me. I was scared that I would kill myself. I was scared of someone finding out. I was fearful of my own shame. I was terrified of the nights. I dreaded my grandmother’s hospital stays, because they became my nightmares. I was dreaming of rescue, and it never came. I was terrified that there was no help, that the only person who could help me was me – and who was I?

I have faced fears all my life. I have overcome so much, and I am still overcoming so much. People label me as a “strong” person without knowing my story. I don’t feel strong, I just survive. I scrape at the doors of happiness and sometimes I feel utterly happy and content, and then the fears sneak in again.

The other day I faced the truth that, no matter how hard I try, I will never be “whole” or “normal,” whatever this means, because I honestly have no idea what it would feel like to be “whole” or “normal.” There is no changing the past; forgiveness is a mere illusion, and I am not strong. The only person who knows the full extent of my story is my husband, and I feel bad that he has to carry this burden along with me.

Every day, me and my fears get up together and tackle the day. Then we go to bed and tackle the dreams.

You would think that, in the face of my past, fear of failure in my career or new projects would be small fry and that I would laugh it in the face. I’ve leapt so many times, leaping surely should be second nature. I’ll tell you the only thing I know: any new little fear entering my life makes itself cosy and friendly with all the other fears, and they have a little fear party and I am there with the broom stick, hitting the ceiling and telling them to keep it the fuck down, please.

In astonishment, I look at my present and wonder how I got here, how I have what I have, do what I do, have a relationship, have a child, cope every day and get up and do stuff. I can be funny, I can be helpful, I can be kind. Nature versus nurture…Well, I had the worst hand dealt in both aspects. Yet I’m here to tell the tale about fear, while looking normal to everyone else. An achievement of sorts.

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Image by Flickr user Gabriela Camerotti, used under a Creative Commons license.

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