I have led a lucky life. I nearly died as a child, but I survived. I have a loving family who helped me become a resilient adult. Because of my experiences, I have a finely honed sense of how tenuous and temporary our life here is on earth, so I try to remember to make the most of that time every day. I try to live my life to the fullest and to be as kind as possible.
But I’m not Pollyanna. And while I try to practice positivity and resilience, today I want to focus on another, less popular human emotion: Terror.
What experience can I possibly have had with terror, you might ask? I’m a middle-aged, middle-class white woman with a good education, a good job and a stable family.
And yet when I close my eyes and fall asleep, terror often invades my subconscious.
I don’t remember most dreams, but I remember the nightmares. They change slightly each time, but the theme remains the same. There is always a house. Usually I am in it, or I run into it, or I run out of it, because death is coming for me. And I am terrified.
One time death came for me in the form of thieves who snuck into the house and planted a bomb that blew up my house as I ran out, screaming. Another time the moon exploded, hurling giant chunks of matter that smashed into the house, destroying everything around me as I cowered under a desk. Recently death visited my house in the form of an assassin wearing a black face mask carrying a fully loaded semi automatic.
I wake up breathless, screaming, sweating, sobbing. Terrified.
Emotions present a conundrum, particularly for a 7-year-old child who is running around a playground one day and a few days later lays in delirium, fighting for her life. At the time this happened, I needed all my energy just to survive. I didn’t have time for terror. Later, when I had mostly recovered, I didn’t have the language for terror. And pretty soon the years slipped by, and I covered my terror in happiness and resilience. Yet how do you ever reconcile the fact that what almost killed you is the very body you rely on every day? And that your body could turn on you again at any moment?
So my subconscious tries to work it out for me.
I write this here because in our world of selfies and social media, we spend a lot of time projecting the awesomeness of our lives, and when we become that one-sided, we lose the opportuniy to connect with people in an authentic way. We curate our images as “funny,” or “fit,” or “cultured,” without delving into the messy, complex, contradictory, very human morass of our lives.
There is no answer to my nightmares I can give my 7-year-old self that will make her feel safe, or better. I can only continue on the journey of exploration of this terror that lies beneath the surface of my joy. It does not rob me of my happiness, but instead teaches me to be grateful for all aspects of my life – even the terrifying ones.