Anxiety – Letting go of childhood fears
This morning I was looking at my Instagram account and found it kind amusing that I have quite a few surfing related followers. I know it is because I liked some surfing videos, pictures and a few people who I follow that surf. So it can be expected to be inundated with related topics, people and products.
I found it amusing because I live in the middle of the United States and have been here pretty much my whole life. It’s a land locked state almost in the center of the country. The largest bodies of waters we have are rivers, lakes and streams but that’s about it. If we want to see beaches and ocean waters it requires an 8 to 12 hour drive to get there. The closest being the Gulf of Mexico which isn’t really known for its beaches or the water itself. It’s gray and muddy looking due to the many pollutants.
I have been to really nice beach once, well to me anyway, it was in Pensacola Florida. The beach was sandy white and the water a beautiful blue. I also had the fortune to be stationed in Dover Delaware during my time in the military and we would go to Rehoboth Beach and I only remember being in awe of it because it was the Atlantic Ocean. It didn’t matter the location though because I never got in the water.
I know that as children we sometimes have irrational fears that all kids go through. Not being able to sleep without a night-light, being afraid of the boogeyman, fear of bugs, etc. but sometimes the fears are actually trauma caused by someone or something else.
I remember exactly when my fear of the water started. I was around 6 years old. I was actually still learning to swim and hold my breath under water but would stay safely by the shore. It was summertime and all my cousins would come to my grandmother’s house to swim in the large pond on their property. I was sitting by the edge in the water playing with another cousin. I remember someone saying “Why aren’t you in the water?” the next thing I knew I was being lifted up and flying out over the water. I remember going under and seeing nothing but the brown of the water all around me. I was swallowing water and couldn’t breathe.
The next thing I know someone was pulling me out and I was laying on the grass looking up at my cousins shaking me and asking if I was okay. I was throwing up the water I had swallowed. I almost drowned. The cousin that threw me in was an older boy, he had no idea that I couldn’t swim and thought it would be funny to toss me in. The relationship with him was never the same after that and we never really got along with each other even still today.
That whole incident started a fight between some of them and when the parents came down to see what was going on no one told them what happened. It was just something between me and my cousins. I remember that it took a few summers before I would go back into the water again but never going more than a few feet from shore. I never attempted swimming again.
I get anxious anytime I’m near water now whether a lake, pond, river or even a pool. So whenever going near even larger bodies of water such as the gulf or the ocean it is rather overwhelming. I did once sign up for swimming lessons in my early thirties to face and overcome the fears but that was squashed by my then husband and laughed at by my own mother & half-sisters. I felt embarrassed and never went.
So now in my mid-forties I see all these wonderful pictures of the beaches, blue waters, people surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and the coral reefs only to know that until I overcome the fear that it will only ever be a dream to be there. I’m not quite ready yet but it’s getting there.
Another irrational fear that carried over from when I was a kid is the fear of spiders. I was a tomboy growing up, running around with my boy cousins and acting like them. We didn’t have a fear of anything really especially not bugs. I was about 12 years old now living with my mother, her husband and her family. I’ve written previously about the abuse I went through. Well, while I was living with them I was expected to be basically the housekeeper.
It was a weekend, my mother and her husband had gone into town to grocery shop. I was told that the living room had to be cleaned, the furniture moved, and the carpets swept underneath. Okay, I was a twelve-year-old girl so I don’t know how they really expected me to lift and move furniture by myself. My half-sisters were there but one was 9 and the other was an 8-year-old with cerebral palsy. They were not expected to help.
So I am doing the best I can trying to move this big heavy couch. I managed to get it turned over on its side and was picking up the clutter underneath. I had my hand on the couch leg and turned to grab the broom when I turned around there it was, a spider that apparently had been under the couch. It had crawled up my arm and was only about 8 inches away from my face.
It wasn’t a big spider but all I can remember is the eyes. I don’t know what happened because any other time I would have shaken it off and squashed it. This time I froze. I couldn’t move and all I could see was the eyes of the spider. It was like everything was out of proportion, moving in slow motion and all I could hear was my breathing.
I assume that I was actually having a panic attack but didn’t know that then. I tried to yell for help but nothing came out. I just sat there, me with my hand on the couch and spider just sitting on my arm. It seemed like an eternity but probably was only a few minutes when the 9-year-old came into the living room.
I looked at her and then looked at my arm not saying anything when she knocked it off my arm and stepped on it. That’s when I started crying. She thought it was funny and starting laughing but I wasn’t laughing, instead I threw up on her.
Then the door opened it was the parents coming back home. I don’t really remember much after that except the being hit with a belt because I had thrown up on my half-sister and the floor plus the room wasn’t cleaned as expected. Yeah, my so-called parents were real gems back then.
Now, I don’t always have a fear of spiders but occasionally the picture in my mind of the spider’s eyes will flitter through my thoughts when I see a spider but not always. When it does I usually have someone else deal with the spider. It’s a really irrational fear that I haven’t been able to overcome yet.
It’s just another twisted thought mixed in with the trauma from the abuse. It’s not really about a fear of spiders but an unfortunate coincidence that happened. I’ve tried overcoming it before by forcing myself to look at pictures of spiders and the eyes but it too becomes uncomfortable at times. I hopefully will be able to not let it affect me as much but only time will tell on that one.
Childhood fears for most people are usually not carried into adulthood but for some it sticks. Who knows why? It could be the just the association with other things. This can be rationalized and thought through but only if other things are not interfering with that process. The ones that have other issues going on such as depression and anxiety will have a difficult time sorting through the thought processes but should never give up hope. It will get better but you have to be willing to do the work to get there. You have to be ready to face the fears and conquer them. You have to be ready to make the changes holding you back from experiencing what life has to offer.
In my case I’ve been working on letting the fears go for a few years now. It hasn’t been easy and yes I’ve faltered a few times but the determination is still there. I don’t want to be this person that lives in fear anymore. I want to take my life back and make it my own again. I know that the strength and confidence is still there, I have to bring it forward.
So as the days move on and I continue down this path I will just take each day as it is. I will try to remember to laugh, smile, and love more often. I will continue to find things that inspire me such as beautiful beach pictures, people surfing, swimming and snorkeling in the beautiful waters. I will keep working toward the dreams that I have and face the obstacles that will need to be overcome in order to make them come true.
Thank you for stopping by.
Have a great week!