There’s several different ways to look at fear, the kind that breaks people, shakes people, cracks the walls around their brain, shatters bonds and paralyzes the heart. There’s also different ways to analyze the steps taken to ignite that fear or calm it. Comparisons to be made: a staircase continuing up, or a rug unwinding to thread. A beanstalk shooting past rainclouds, or a hissing wildfire across a dry field.
Prey hunting the predator.
It starts with a ladder. Small, short. A safe distance from the ground, not very high, maybe four feet. She looks around, but no one comes to claim the ladder. Grass around it shimmers prettily.
She shrugs and reaches forward to grasp the first rung, because why not? It’s perfectly harmless. WORRY, it reads.
A bell goes off in her brain as she begins her climb up WORRY. WORRY occupies her mind day and night. She wonders after tomorrow. Will she be okay? Will people still like her? What if it’s awful? Middle school’s awful already, what if it’s worse? Her brain paces the floor in a steel cage.
I’ll be okay, she thinks, but now there’s WORRY in her mind because she let it, damp and sticky. She considers meditation, but she’s too tired. And now, lying in bed, she grasps the next rung to NERVOUSNESS.
NERVOUSNESS takes over in the morning, during her school ritual, during her goodbyes. NERVOUSNESS is with her at the bus stop beside her brother. Casual conversation doesn’t destroy it.
ANXIOUS, now. She’s on the bus, watching its chatty world unfold around her. ANXIOUS doesn’t like it. ANXIOUS growls, worriedly.
And then the last stop of the bus, and she calls to her friends, anything to starve that tiger in her mind, the tiger she can feel preparing to devour her. One friend laughs and stares at his phone. He brags about gifts, and shouted insults to anyone who says something annoying. “LOSER! Ha ha haaa.”
The next step of the ladder, right into DREAD and PANIC. He’s not different, she thinks. It’s worse than I remembered. A jolt. Everything else will be like this.
Just like that it’s the next rung. She sways at the top and looks down. She’s miles above the safe, happy earth. Clouds drift around her, pretty and paste-white. She squints at the words but can’t make them out. She grabs at one. Ski trip, it reads. California, says another. Death. Karma. Like this forever. Alone. Look at you!
It’s all unconscious, but it’s there. The thoughts aren’t real but the fear exists.
STRESS, reads the next rung. She’s off the bus, staring into the building. There’s a funny, faint buzzing in her limbs that she barely notices. It’s all right, she thinks. I just need to get in there and I’ll be okay. She swallows and waits.
Up in the air, the wind whistles around her. She looks around in silence. Look how high she’s gotten. Look how far the ladder takes her. She wonders how she’ll get down. Is it possible? There’s no other escape that’s opened up. Occasionally something whispers in the air- a calming thought to grab ahold of. But they vanish quicker than they appear. She shrugs and takes the next rung of the ladder. Up is the only way.
FEAR is here. FEAR is in the brain. FEAR immediately reaches out long, poisonous tentacles and wraps it around everything.
FEAR isn’t so big. It’s really quite small. Barely there, in this scenario, but it doesn’t matter. She’s lit the spark.
She quickly walks to somewhere in the building, to drown the fire, because she doesn’t know how or she feels like she can’t. And when she’s crying, FEAR is triumphant. FEAR looks down at her and says, Ha ha, now you’ll never know how small I am. You’re too afraid to see my real size. He smirks and begins building his nest in her mind out of icicles and tattered shreds of hope.
She cries and cries and cries, but it won’t put the fire of FEAR out.
FEAR cannot be destroyed, never. He always comes back even for the smallest moments. Tests, taxes, marriage. Anything.
If you want to get back down the ladder, you need to find another way. You can’t go down the rungs. By now you’re too high up and drowning in a fire a million miles away. But you can get down.
It requires grounding yourself. Force calm into your vocabulary. Stop imagining the demons running wild, naked black tongues flashing, and eyes yellow with cold joy.
Instead imagine the ocean waves sent to destroy them. Imagine the saltwater flushing out your system, your mind. Take deep breaths along with the current, because the water can’t do it on its own. It needs you, to channel the flow in the right direction with your steady breaths and strong heartbeat.
When she’s on the ladder, picture the ocean rising along and swooping it away into iron-gray waves. Picture the wood under her feet disappearing, and picture her joyful laugh as she jumps down into the infinite blue waters. The ladder is gone, for now, and she no longer has to breathe the thin air of the atmosphere.
Such relief to be had. Such joy the ocean brings.
As long as you channel your mind, her mind, his mind, along the right ladder, why not have the same joy for yourself? Just try.