"Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn't frighten me at all
Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn't frighten me at all
Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don't frighten me at all
Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn't frighten me at all."
The thing I remember the most isn't all the manure that covered me from head to toe. It wasn't the smell of rotting garbage that permeated from me. The toads in my pants even tickled a little. The most horrific event from my childhood was a result of falling into the compost pile my maternal Grandfather kept out in the field, just feet from where my family eventually built their home. The following year was a testament to this event as seemingly endless warts and cold sores covered my head and body. Up until the time at the age of 12 when that steam radiator fell on me, this was my greatest aversion. Falling into the mound, however, was not the lingering horror from that day. When I sprang from the mud of that festering cesspool, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of spiders in every shape and form crawled all over me like I was a food source tossed into their mound for feeding. The terror even stopped me dead in my tracks. For awhile, I was frozen. I just could not move. It took forever to get me to stop screaming.
Having immeasurable spiders crawl all over you is bad enough, but when they slink into your orifices, you are literally invaded. They were in my ears, my nose and I choked on the ones that were swallowed during my scream fest. I was covered and it took some time to get everything off me. It was like a living nightmare, one I have tried not to remember. One can only imagine the psychological after-effects of such a horrific encounter. Not even 10 years old, I did not know the sheer misery Mother Nature had to offer. As I sat in the bathtub, rubbed clean but rather raw by my Grandmother, I noticed several little tiny mite-like arachnids swimming in my stew. I left that water as if it was boiling. Methodically, I watched them go down the drain, crushing the last one, which clung to the porcelain, just for good measure.
My descent and resurrection defined fear for me. I do not enjoy our eight-legged friends. I do not watch them in movies. I do not appreciate their natural beauty. They have the right to exist, that is until they cross my path. I go out of my way to crush them all. Each one is a demon, a mini-monster, and my mission is their destruction. I wouldn't have the slightest problem eradicating every one of them, regardless of the effect this may have on the planet. Ask me, I am the guy who is glad to squish the spider for you. They may be tiny, they may be useful, they may even be necessary, but I will stop at nothing to keep them away. Not even Spiderman could change my thinking. I do not dream of them. I don't even think of them until one ugly, crawly eight-legged freak comes across my path. It's a good thing I'm not a Buddhist. I don't hunt them out, but I will kill them all dead before I let them get back on me.
A few years before my Mother's death, I was sent out in the backyard to kill a spider for her. She always had a way of making each visit a special event. On occasion, I had tortured wolf spiders in the sandy soil of the back hill, sometimes burning rather than merely killing them. I was a vengeful teenager. I half expected, from her overzealous description, to find one about that size clinging to life in the flower bed to which she had directed me. It hung like a bat would and it was about that size. My Father had told me, on a previous occasion, of the Orb spider that bit him on the arm, leaving a huge welt and swollen appendage. This may not have been the exact same creature, but it was most certainly a relative. I shuddered a little, like when you take a pee. I almost panicked, but I refused to let my fear take control of me. I was in charge of my dread, not this thing. I turned around, went back into the garage and grabbed a couple of old encyclopedias. I walked straight into the garden, held them both out to each side, and I slapped them together in one loud thud. The guts of that vile beast shot out the sides of volumes A and L, like a Jell-O pudding cup in a microwave oven. I left the cleanup for someone else.
"I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won't cry
So they fly
I just smile
They go wild
Life doesn't frighten me at all."
It is strange to me that great heights seem to be of no bother, at least not after the initial vertigo has passed and I have grown accustomed to the view. For almost five years, I have lived sixteen stories above the ground below. I have mastered the CN Tower in
Every time I approach one, my stomach meets my throat. The closer I get, the more I begin to shake with fear. This is not something I have been able to control. Sidewalk metal grates, especially the ones over clearly visible underground areas, paralyze me. Most times I see what's coming and avoid them altogether. It must look so silly to have a grown man frozen at the edge of some dug out testament to urban sprawl. I do not know what it is about them that affects me so. The only thing I do know is how crippling they can be to me. The average depth, I would assume, is only 8-10 feet down, but they might as well be an endless pit like Gandalf fell into at the beginning of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. If I do meet the challenge and walk over one, the vertigo is overwhelming. My heart races, my pulse speeds up and I am hopelessly lost in the physical chaos that this experience brings. I do not even have to look down, the mere idea is enough to send me into shock and holy terror. I often feel like I might pee my pants.
I can remember sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon in
back in the early 1990s. It took me awhile
to adjust to the setting. The vertigo faded as the sun rose to greet the day. I
took in the steep as I climbed about cliffs and hillsides along the Big Sur
shoreline in Arizona .
It only took a few minutes for me to adjust.
It was nothing like crossing my metal foes. On my balcony, I can open a window and peer
out over the city unencumbered by smears on the glass. Looking down has no
power over me, although if I stay sticking out for too long, I begin to imagine
how my first partner felt and what he experienced as he plummeted from a height
only a few metres less. Still, I am not overcome. I am not sure if any lack of
response is due to the security the window well grants me. It doesn't matter
much anyhow, it is one hell of a long way down.
As a child, I was not afflicted with this phobia. Going higher was all part of the fun. As an adult, each time it happens, I feel silly and melodramatic. I must admit I am tired of being laughed at because of my limitation. It is one thing to be mocked for screaming like a girl when I see a spider, but it is an entirely different matter to have something so inanimate take so much control of me. I absolutely hate that I am a victim to this irrational behaviour. Throughout the last year, I have been consciously trying to free myself of this obstacle. As I approach each grate, I stop and close my eyes. As calmly as possible, eyes shut tight, I venture out onto my doom. Each try, I always attempt to open my eyes and look down. Lately, I don't need to close them much at all. I have been conditioning myself against this condition.
I often wonder if these episodes have more to do with gravitational pull than they do with anything acrophobic (the fear of heights). I have come to the conclusion that I am not afraid of heights, but rather I have a morbid "fear of falling" (FOF). I keep forgetting to ask my Dad if anyone dropped me on my head when I was a baby. This would explain a lot. Perhaps my journey, at age 12, down 22 stairs with a stream radiator, has something to do with it? I have even considered that an incident involving my brother-in-law may hold the key to understanding why. None of these patterns began to develop until after the day I fell 5 feet down into a frozen trout pond. Breaking through the ice was one very cold experience and until now I have not revealed how truly frightened I was. Had my Father and Uncle Claire not reached down and grabbed my hands, who knows what might have happened. I can recall falling, then sliding and suddenly breaking through the ice. The water bit me, over and over, with sharp stings and a bitter crush. When I was pulled out of the small but dangerous pond, all I could yell was what I felt most of all. In front of children, my parents, even a few strangers, I cried out, "My dick is frozen!" I assure you that it most certainly was.
"Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn't frighten me at all.
Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don't frighten me at all.
That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls with their hair in curls)
They don't frighten me at all."
I am a pretty tough cookie. Little can make me crumble. I do not have issues with anything phobic but these two adversaries. It has been suggested, during therapy, the root causes of these fears. The incident with the spiders speaks for itself. Considering this horror movie moment, it is no wonder I hold such a harsh place for these creatures. Learning to adapt to the fear allowed me to survive it. Rather than curling up into a ball and crying, I have compensated for the experience with murder and revenge. Killing each "bug" was the only way my psyche was able to cope. I have spent a lifetime (40 years) trying to vanquish them off me. I do not dream of them because each one is a living testament to this nightmare. It has also been suggested to me that I will never rid the world of them and squishing each and every one is simply a cruel measure.
All the incidents involving a minor fall (compared to jumping from 200 feet), have manifested as an irrational fear of gravity. Barophobia, versus acrophobia, is the fear of falling because of the gravitational pull involved, which is separate from the fear of heights. The fear of falling (FOF) "is a natural fear and is typical of most humans and mammals, in varying degrees of extremity." My encounters with dangerous falls only managed to heighten the anxieties I have when approaching a possible danger. I physically react to the change in gravitational pull and any physiological response to it has been conditioned from years of this process. It never made sense to me that I could overcome vertigo when at a great height, yet flounder whenever I crossed a measly iron grate. I always assumed I suffered from some form of acrophobia, versus barophobia, but I have come to understand "the two fears are closely related and sometimes indistinguishable."
"Don't show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I'm afraid at all
It's only in my dreams.
I've got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe."
I believe that our fears are as important to our makeup as any other experiences from our life might be. These too can shape us. Fear does not have to be an unproductive response. Sometimes fear is a very good thing. It protects us, warns us of our impending doom. It can help you grow stronger and have more resolve than you might have had if not for the physiological response. Fear can toughen you up. As with all things, it is the lesson they may offer that validates their manifestation. We can be held hostage by these fears, living our lives under their control, or we can strive to rise above them and find some purpose in our exposure. After all, you only get one short trip to try and fix yourself so it might be a good idea to start dealing with them before you actually die.
Sometimes, I find a spider crawling around the balcony, or hiding in the en suite bath. I am no longer compelled to crush and smash. I take a Kleenex, wrap it around the critter, then toss it out the window. How it survives the 16-story drop is not my problem. Of course, should one weave its way down from the ceiling onto me, or crawl up my leg, all bets are off. Even consideration has its limitations. While I am not making friends with them, they no longer constitute a call for mass genocide.
I live about a block away from the heart of downtown
. City Hall is my next door
neighbour. Running from Kitchener Duke Street to King Street, there are endless iron grates along its
parameters. You cannot walk that way without having to face a bloody drop zone.
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid them. I have learned to shuffle over these
little horrors. Sometimes when I have nowhere to go and no place to be, I cross
one, back and forth, over and over, consciously willing the worst of them away.
I have grown accustomed to this act of defiance. I may still freeze up as I
approach. Quite often, the vertigo comes just as it has before. It is
irrational to me now to give such a thing so great a power. Given time, I
imagine I shall most certainly be free.
There are very few horrors that warrant our fear. They are stories that we tell to ourselves. More often than not, our fear is irrational. That is not to say there aren't things which we should fear, but that's another tale for another time. Fear makes us aware. It reveals our limitations and our humanity. If we apply ourselves, it can build us strong. Understanding it can breed character. Instead of running away from it, or trying to suppress it, we can learn from it. Conquering one fear can lead us to place where we do not need to escape another. Rather than allowing fear to stifle our thoughts, and control our actions, it can teach us how to trust. It can teach us how to risk. It can build our confidence. All tools we can use to survive.
"Life doesn't frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.
Life doesn't frighten me at all."
(Life Doesn't Frighten Me, Maya Angelou 1993)