Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash
Anxiety,  Mental Health

Scared of the dark

I don’t like the dark.  I might even go as far as saying that I am scared of it.  Each night I leave the kitchen light on in our house as we all climb into bed and fall asleep.  Before I was married, I used to like to sleep with my bedside lamp on.  Since being married, there is an increased sense of security, having another person to ward off anything scary from the darkness.  Yet, there remains an acute awareness and my senses are heightened to the sounds from spaces that I cannot see.

It surprises me that my 18 month old daughter can fight the darkness and fall asleep and still I cannot.  In fact I’m scared of a lot of things.  Cities, maps and the ocean, to name a few.  The things that I am scared of all have a commonality.  They emphasise that I am small and I cannot control these bigger things.  Take for instance my fear of the city.  Being born and bred in the country has had its benefits, but one big negative is that I’m so engulfed by fear when I have to go to the city.  Although some can navigate maps, buses, trains and timetables, I cannot.  The result is that I’m left crippled and only venture where I need to go when I have all of the routes memorised and have overfilled my Opal card to ensure that I’m not left stranded somewhere without having the funds for the card to help find my way home.

So I do what I do best when I’m anxious.  I over-plan and over-organise.  I try to recreate in my mind every scenario, good or bad, that could ever eventuate in order to cushion the effects with my premade solutions.  Amongst other things, this is exhausting.  My thoughts dart around, never settling, only ruminating on the perfect way to respond and react to what could be.  It feels as my brain ducks and weaves through the many and varied possibilities that it may just explode.  

Perhaps that is part of why I like to have a light on.  To be able to have advanced warning that there is a threat and to be ready to combat it.  Whilst the power bill climbs with the light on, my hypervigilance and alertness during the day is more of a problem.  The consuming worries don’t just waste electricity, they waste away my health.  As the cortisol levels increase with every anxious moment, my body plays up and so does my mental health.  It’s not sustainable to run at this level for so long.  I don’t have a tiger chasing me where I need a quick burst of adrenaline to fuel my body to run out of trouble.  Instead, all it takes is me trying to plan which lane I need to be in three blocks ahead so that I don’t get caught in a traffic situation where I have to merge without leaving enough space.  

Even as I write this, my heart is pumping faster and my eyes alert, triggered by just thinking of these things that scare me.  I want to be in control.  I want to know the future.  Not necessarily to have an all-knowing to me, but a super power of being able to know a few seconds ahead would be enough.  In this way I could be prepared and ready for anything. Instead, I’m left with my mind trying to be two steps ahead with all the variables.  It shifts my being from the present to the future.  In my struggle to be present I lose the beauty of the now that can only be experienced once before it disappears.  

Being aware of this is the first step to defeating the dragon of my mind.  I can dampen the flames that leave each worrisome thought.  I can instead fight the inner turmoil with a determination to focus on the present.  A recognition that the overdrive of my mind is too consuming.  That the payoff is too demanding.  This is not science fiction.  This is reality.  This is life.  That means that there will be messiness.  There will be future events that no amount of hypothetical planning will ever be sufficient.  I need to stop, take a breath and ground myself, knowing that I cannot ever fully know.  My goal is to turn off the light and let my weary body and mind rest.  It is then that I recall that the darkness is only momentary and the sun will come out tomorrow.    

Elizabeth is a Mum to Grace, step-mum to Will, wife to Ricky. She is very changeable. Sometimes she'll identify herself as a social worker, other times as a writer or even as a Christian. She loves her town of Dubbo, New South Wales. Elizabeth studied a Bachelor of Social Work at Charles Sturt University.

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