Dread terrors

A lot of people like this beginning-phase of summer, when the weather is warm but not usually roasting in this part of the world, when the kids are out of school and therefore everything has a holiday kind of feel, like something separate from normal time.  Summer is for kicking back, enjoying the long days, going on trips, having adventures.

I get that.  I don’t begrudge anyone else their fun, but summer isn’t my favorite season.  The heat doesn’t help, especially when it comes with stifling humidity.  But a worse thing for me is this is the season when a lot of crawly things are active in the world.  Bugs and spiders of all sorts have always made me jump.  The worst for me though, are earwigs.  It’s honestly difficult just to write the word.  It seems like this summer is bad for them, or maybe I’m overly sensitive, but this month has not been much fun and those ugly crawly things are a big part of it.

There was one summer when I was growing up, I can’t remember exactly when but I think I was in my very early teens or a tick younger, when I first took note of these ugly things in a bad way.  I don’t even remember seeing them before, but for some reason they got into our house that year and it was like they were suddenly everywhere — no matter what I wanted to do, whatever normal summer amusements, there might be a startling, ugly bug sitting there to scare me.  I remember I was going to put my head down on a chair arm for a nap once and suddenly there was one right there.  They would crawl up on my bedroom walls and make me scared to go to sleep; there was one terrible night when one woke me up by sitting on my cheek.  I didn’t even know what they were called, but these unnamed, dreadful things were everywhere and tormenting me and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.

It’s taken a long time and living in my own apartment, where there isn’t anyone else to make deal with the icky bugs, for me to slowly get over my fear of crawly things.  I’m noticing this year that a lot of them don’t scare me nearly as much as they used to — except the earwigs.  These still have the power to wreck my entire day, when one appears out of nowhere, like a dark, tormenting vision, right in the middle of whatever I was planning.  They’re like one of the creepiest antagonists from one of my favorite TV shows — they’re not everywhere, but they could be anywhere, and so I find myself always anxious and expecting trouble.  Being surprised and scared once can wreck my entire day, if not longer.  It’s really becoming a problem.

I can’t let my life be wrecked by stupid crawly bugs.  I’m doing what I can to fight back, and part of it is just plain owning the fear.  This week I have growled to my community on Ravelry, whined to a good friend by email, and mentioned it in person when I got to chat with a friend in person.  Now I’m writing the story here too, even though it fills my gut up with tension just to type the words.  Fear magnifies itself by pushing you away from facing it, pretending that it is enormous and will vaporize you where you stand if you only dare speak its name.  I’m not letting it pull that trick today.  I may feel anxious over writing about earwigs, but I will nonetheless write.

There’s more than just the experience of being startled by crawly things, though.  The more I notice that other kinds of bugs don’t bother me so much, even when I don’t love them and when they startle me, the more I realize there’s something else going on with my fear of earwigs.  This fear pretends to be about crawly bugs, but it’s something much deeper and harder.

The summer when I was first scared out of my pants by these stupid things, I felt like there was nothing I could do about it — whether I liked it or not, I was going to keep having these terrible experiences of being really scared and there was no stopping it.  Ever since, that’s how I feel about bugs in my house, that they get into my sanctuary space and make it uncertain, spoiling my haven with their sneaky, pop-out-of-nowhere ways.  Unless I move into a hermetically-sealed bubble, this is just how things are, and I resist it mightily, but there isn’t any changing it.

Fear about bugs is really a fear of not having control.  I can’t control where crawly things go.  I can’t seal myself away from the world and never, ever be surprised by something in my space, a bug or a spider or a person or an image or a thought.  There’s no way to control everything, and that is a really terrifying thought.  My sense of safety is so closely tied to this need for control, and right now I get frequent reminders that I don’t really have enough control over the world to be utterly safe.  I’m one human, one woman, and that isn’t much in the grand scheme of how the world runs.  I am not in control here, and that affects so much more than whether or not a bug sneaks into my home.  I’m not in control when it comes to whether or not I have paying work, or whether or not I have acceptance, friendship, and love, the two major sources of uncertainty in my life as it stands.

So what to do?  Two things, one of them difficult, one of them even more difficult.

The first one is exercising whatever control I have.  Humans can’t live well when we feel like we don’t have any choices, and I have lots of choices.  One of mine right now is to work on cleaning up my house and making things tidy, because it helps me to feel like this is my space and it’s welcoming and safe.  One way to face what may be lurking in corners to go into those corners with a vacuum hose or dustrag and clean them up.

I can take control in the deeper things.  I can seek out new possibilities for making a living, viewing the process as exploration and adventure rather than hopeless, terrorizing, doomed and clueless wandering.  I can go looking for opportunities to spend time with people and opportunities to be someone’s friend, because we all need friends.  If I don’t have absolute control, I do have options and possible actions, and I need to take them.  A lot of this stuff falls in the region of simple-but-not-easy — simple actions, difficult to take. Not difficult for everyone but difficult for me, or else I would have done them already.  Bravery is needed.  Fortunately, I’m already working on that.

The second thing I can do about my fear of not having control is … to let go of feeling like I need to have control.  To decouple my sense of safety and comfort from needing to be sure that everything is going to be the way I think it’s going to be — or if not to separate them entirely, at least to prise them apart a bit.

That’s so hard, hard even to think about.  I don’t know if I can live without the illusion that things are safe and controlled.  I really don’t know if I’m strong enough to make that change.  I don’t know what it would take.

I do at least know where to take it — into prayer.  Into writing.  Into conversations with people I love.  If I am not in control of the world, then I know who is, and I know he’s on my side.  Whatever I can do to sink that truth more deeply into my mind and heart, that’s what I can do.

It’s a big, scary world.  It’s also an exciting world, full of possible adventures.  I don’t want to miss the fun because of fear, even when I’m not in charge of the expedition.

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