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Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

October 14, 2011

Fear. We all experience it. Bogeymen hiding under the bed, planes dropping out of the sky, bombs exploding during national holidays – these are all things I regularly envision happening in my life. Some people might say I’m an anxious person, though I prefer the term “realistic.” But there are times when even I understand my fears are completely irrational.

It is hard to draw a line between rational and irrational fears. Since September 11, 2001, I have been expecting a terrorist attack in The Netherlands, at one of those times when lots of people are out and about, such as FIFA World Cup matches or Queen’s Day. This fear has (so far) not come true, but that didn’t stop a man from attempting to attack the Royal Family at the 2009 Queen’s Day parade in Apeldoorn, killing seven bystanders when he drove his car through the crowd at high speed. His motives were never explained. Though perhaps not terrorism, these big events to attract bad things.

Planes crash. Despite the fact that air travel is safer than many other modes of travel, my fear of a plane exploding in mid-air is not completely unfounded and, thus, not irrational.

There may be no such thing as a bogeyman, and I may watch entirely too much Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for my frail state of mind, but people are attacked across the world, on a daily basis, inside and outside their homes. So even though the chances of a burglar or other criminal person breaking into my home and hiding under my bed are slim to none, they do exist. So this fear, too, does not feel completely irrational.

Many of my fears can be validated this way. I may get hit by a car while crossing the street, the train I’m on might derail, perhaps one day I will actually go to class wearing my slippers. Chances of them coming true the way I envision them aren’t very high, but they exist nonetheless.

Earlier this week, however, I had to face a fear that is quite inexplicable. I was staying at my sister’s house, minding her cats while she was on vacation. In the morning I’d used the oven, left it open to cool, then mindlessly kicked it shut while on my way out the door to class. Every time I have left the oven open during cat sitting ventures, I have been afraid of one of the cats crawling into the oven and me shutting the door without noticing they are in there. Why? I really can’t explain it. But this time, the fear went even further. See, my sister’s cats don’t really get along. They take swipes at each other, the ginger cat steals the black cat’s food, and in return the black cat chases the ginger off the bed when he wants to snuggle. My fear promoted from “irrational” to “completely out there” when I started envisioning scenarios in which one cat realized the other was stuck in the oven and (get this) turned the oven on as payback for past slights. There was no reason for me to fear this. Cats are not sentient in this way (yet! But if it ever happens, the  millions of cat owners who have forced their pets into undignified situations or items of clothing best beware!) and I know this. But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it all day and breathing a sigh of relief when both cats were lounging on the couch when I returned home.

My fears, rational or irrational, generally don’t keep me from doing anything (other than, you know, jumping off a bridge while dangling from an elastic cord, but the way I see it, that’s not a big loss) and in that way I am lucky. I don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder and that allows me to reflect on the (ir)rationality of my fears and sometimes chuckle at my own  silliness. Are you the same? Do you have odd fears you might be a little afraid (no pun intended) to admit? Do these fears, founded or not, impact your day-to-day life in any way?

This post originally appeared in Persephone Magazine.

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