Learning To Be Scared
Last week, one of the apartments in my building got robbed. Because I work from home, I imagine I had to be in the building when it happened.
One of my biggest anxieties---a new one, one that grew and expanded overnight like a Magic Grow Capsule--- has been the sound that happens outside my door. I did not always have this fear. I have lived in the city after all, in buildings where teenagers would roam the halls and throw basketballs at all the doors, and I never really worried. But, like many of my fears, they start out of a small reasonable moment, then turn into suspicion, then grow into some unreasonable and chaotic monster. When we first moved into my (actually very nice) building, my boyfriend and I were the first tenants there. For a few weeks, it was quiet. Total quiet. Then, people moved in, and the noise surprised me. Stomping started to make me skittish. Feet or tapping or loud talking or the noise all the doors in the building make when the metal scratches the floor—I would get on my tiptoes and peer through the peephole to see if it was a neighbor, a friend, or an intruder. Usually, it was nothing. Not even a person in the hall. Just me, my fears, and the things that spiral out from them.
At first, I was frustrated. I'm tired of my brain taking one idea and running with it. I was never scared of the hallway. Why now? But a year later, my fears were vaguely realized. Somebody came to my front door and rang the bell, frantically, and when I checked to see who it was, they had purposefully hid from my viewpoint, cowering to the side as they kept buzzing my door, saying UPS over and over. I had not ordered anything. There were no packages in the building left that day. And I know the UPS guy, because like I said, I work from home. So there was only metal and a few locks between me and a man who was hiding his face from my sight and had no packages that I could see. A UPS guy would make himself seen. In an odd moment of instinct that was not primitive, I ran to press the button that buzzes open the door to the building, which makes an odd siren noise to let everyone know someone was entering, and he ran off. I talked briefly to the police, which made me feel better and also very worse.
When a fear is realized in some small way, does that mean I was right to be scared of it? Of course. but for all the time I had spent on fear, there is a part of me that is frustrated for this reason: it could happen again. It could be worse next time. My fears can prepare me for action, but they can also overwhelm me and destroy my quality of life. Is there a balance to be had, here?
I think of that day often, and I think, of course, of the neighbors that got robbed downstairs. I think of my own old apartment that got robbed, years ago. I think of the landlord’s assistant telling me that it’s New York, and it happens. I think of the people it has happened to. I think of my renter’s insurance. I think of safety in New York City: never truly guaranteed, but you don’t need to think about it too much when you’re home on your couch. I feel my fear, vibrating in my chest like a bucket of alarms, just one more in a pile of many. I feel it catapulting and promising to grow. I feel a question: nothing too awful has happened to you yet, and so should you dedicate more time to the idea that it might? And: What the hell is beyond my door?
Even though it may not unreasonable to be a little scared, I know myself too well. The idea of “beyond the door” is not as simple as that, for fear is rarely simple.
When I get scared, whether it’s validated or not, I often have to remind myself to not be immobile from it. Fear can freeze us for moments, and that's okay. It's okay to need some time to be scared, to swim in it, as long as we promise ourselves to move forward from them, even if they're still on our backs. Some fears of mine—the fear of failure, specifically—beg for movement. If you don’t propel forward during that kind of fear, you’ll never get anything done, and you’ll probably fail anyway. Other fears can be conquered with some learning, or knowledge. Many just need time and practice and space to heal. And this one? Like most things, it ties most strongly to the unknown. It happens when other factors come into play that I cannot possibly control, and the desire to just check out when those unknown things become too scary to deal with.
I have to deal with them. Even when faced with the worse possible scenario, I know this: the door doesn’t always protect me. The peephole won’t stop everything. And so I must move beyond those crutches, to live and to move in a way that takes my fears into consideration without letting them stop me.
The worst thing about life is not that bad things can happen to us, it’s that bad things will happen to us. We don’t know how bad, or when, or why. It can feel like a path we have no control over as often as it can feel like a path full of possibilities. It feels random: it could have been the apartment below me, or it could have been me. I could have opened the door to the UPS guy and got a package, or something worse. I can actively make decisions about my life, or I can sit on my couch and peep. I don't know. Sometimes I sit. But if I don't force myself to not always sit, then fear will win. And who wants that?
There is no comfort in the idea that bad things will happen, but we are not alone in it, we can’t always prevent it, and good things can happen to us too. Because of those good things, we spend a lot of time fighting like hell to protect and preserve ourselves. Sometimes, I stay home. I buy another lock to put on my door. I walk at night, weaving in and out of parked cars and peering ahead and trying to fight, all the time. But I still leave. I still go out with the fear that I cannot prevent everything. Because a life lived is one that takes risks, that deals with discomfort, that goes outside the door.
What the hell is beyond the door, I think? I open it. Only then will I find out.