Fear at the Door

I’ve always had a little fear of being home alone. 

It has lessened as I’ve aged, forced in part by the fact that I lived alone for several years. (A cat does not provide much physical security, after all.) And by the fact that I have children for whom I have to be calm. 

It’s all of the typical things: strange noises when there should be silence, creaks in the floorboards, shadows that seem to move. 

The worst is when a stranger comes to the door. 

Any number of horror stories race through my mind. I won’t elaborate here. Just watch an episode of Law and Order: SVU and you’ll understand. 

Maybe I should stop watching Law and Order: SVU. That might help. 

The real culprit, of course, is never the stranger at the door. The real culprit is my imagination. It is the thoughts that arrive unbidden about the terrible things that could happen to an innocent woman minding her own business in her own house.

While my imagination may be slightly overactive (whaaat?), I have learned that this mechanism of my imagination creating very real fear in my body is the very same mechanism that kept my Early Woman ancestors safe from danger outside of the cave. 

And it’s the very same mechanism that gives me negative thoughts about my creative work. Thoughts like:

This is a dumb story. 

No one will care about this.

I’m not a real writer. 

I’m not good enough. 

In the lovely book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert has this to say about that fear: 

Your fear – programmed by evolution to be hypervigilant and insanely overprotective – will always assume that any uncertain outcome is destined to end in a bloody, horrible death. Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: he hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everone “safe.”

This is all totally natural and human. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. 

It is, however, something that very much needs to be dealt with.

Learning that my brain is just trying to protect me with these thoughts of impending creative failure – and that I don’t have to believe them – has been life changing for me. 

Here is what USED to happen:

  1. I sit down at the computer, coffee in hand, ready to draft or revise a story. 
  2. The negative thoughts creep in. 
  3. Anxiety fills my body. 
  4. I believe that all of it is true. I find evidence for every thought. 
  5. I succumb to the fear. I leave the computer. Or I procrastinate on social media or email. Or I eat a giant bag of Doritos. 
  6. No work gets accomplished. 

Here is what I’m working toward these days: 

  1. I sit down at the computer, coffee in hand, ready to draft or revise a story. 
  2. The negative thoughts creep in. 
  3. Anxiety fills my body. 
  4. I notice the anxiety. 
  5. I identify exactly what the negative thought is. 
  6. I say “no thank you.” (Yep, I say it out loud.)
  7. I intentionally think a different thought. (For example, if I am thinking “I’m not a good writer” I will change it to “I’m a practicing writer. “)
  8. I get to work. 

Nowhere in that second sequence do I buy into the negative thought. Nowhere do I intentionally choose to believe it. 

Does this work all of the time? No. I’m not a saint. 

Do I have to do it over and over some days? Yes.  Over and over and over. 

Someday I hope it will become a habit, and it won’t take as much mental and emotional energy. 

But I’m teaching myself that the stranger at the door in my mind is not scary. It’s just my cave-woman brain trying to protect me. 

But I still don’t like being home alone. 

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