Content warning: Home invasion, home intruders, fear, potentially sensitive topics
I am afraid of home intruders. I had nightmares about it when I was a child. When I walk around my house with the lights off, I fear the darkest corners and race to the light. My bed is not safe, my blankets are not safe, my family is not safe — the only thing that defeats the danger is the light. If I can see it, I know it isn’t there. On the bad nights I’m afraid to turn my back to my open bedroom, and sometimes need to turn the light back on just to make sure there isn’t anyone there. On the worst days I’m afraid to shut my eyes.
I don’t lock my door at night. I don’t think about my windows. If I imagine someone standing outside of them, rarely do they ever try to break in. If they do, the thought dissolves rather quickly. I don’t think about being murdered. I don’t think about being robbed. I don’t think about home invasion. I am just afraid of home invasion.
I think there is a distinction to make. I admit it is a dualist way to think of the mind and body, but I’m not cognitively afraid of intruders. Not more than the average person. My fear of invasion is visceral. I feel it in my heart, in my spine, in the pit of my stomach and my legs. In my lungs. In my muscles. I don’t feel the fear in my mind. If I think, “what if someone breaks in?” It scares me for a moment, but then I think about someone else. When I have to get up in the middle of the night and stand in the open space in my room, back facing the shadowed corners, it is all of my strength not to run.
I’m not afraid of the stranger, I’m afraid of the stranger’s presence. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of what’s in the dark. I’m afraid of ghosts. I’m afraid of my house. I’m afraid of standing in my hallway and feeling, seeing, but not seeing, the presence of another person standing there with me in the dark. I am not afraid of the dark, and I am not afraid of being in the dark. I fear the sensation of knowing someone else has walked into the room. I feel it in other peoples houses. I don’t know how to describe this. I don’t think, “someone is here with me right now.” I think, “I can feel someone in the room.” When I was young, I had recurring nightmares about people breaking in through the window in my parents room, and the only thing that made me feel better was sleeping alongside my parents in their room, under the very same window. I love watching home invasion horror movies.
I don’t know what to call this. I don’t know how to describe this. I know what anxiety is — I’m very familiar with it. I know intrusive thoughts and irrational fears, and yet, still, this is different. This is a bodily fear. I am not cognitively afraid of the subject. Only the physical situation, the physical reality. My body senses the danger and then I feel the fear, but my body senses the danger whether I’m thinking of it or not. It comes in waves. Sometimes I can’t shut my eyes. Sometimes I stand in my kitchen in the dark, hand on the light switch, next to my kitchen door, contemplating what it was I wanted from the kitchen at all. It’s strange. I don’t think of it as a hindrance because it doesn’t hinder me mentally.
Instead, the sensation forces me to rethink my understanding of fear. Of what am I afraid? That isn’t the whole question. Where?
Where am I afraid?