Horror movies may have began my fear of dying in ridiculous ways (Dante’s Peak made me terrified of volcanoes in Colorado), but my anxiety disorder certainly took that idea and ran with it. Ran a marathon with it. Ran like Forrest Gump with it. Let us delve into the psyche of a 7-14 year-old and explore this week’s phobia: Thanatophobia, the fear of dying.
It should come as no surprise that I was an exceedingly careful child. So careful, in fact, that by the age I could speak coherent sentences (assuming that I can do that now) at age two, I was already having conversations like this with my parents:
Me: (Sitting in my car seat, pigtails askew, happy feet bouncing) Mommy, do you know where we’re going?
Mom: Yes, Whitney.
Me: (Thumbs hooked on my Osh Kosh Bigosh overall straps) Are you sure?
Mom: Yes, Whitney.
Me: (very serious face) Have you been there before?
Mom: (Annoyed or amused, depending on how many times she’s answered this question today) Yes, Whitney.
Me: (Frantic) Are you sure?
Mom: OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ENOUGH ALREADY. SHUT YOUR STINKING PIEHOLE, YOU ADORABLE LITTLE MONSTER!
(That last part is a dramatic reinterpretation of my mother’s unfailingly kind “Yes, Whitney” response or what I imagine she thought every time I made her answer those questions)
So the older I became, the more careful I got. I wasn’t 100% sure that somebody was trying to kill me–because I did know it was absurd that anyone would try and kill a pre-adolescent girl, unless of course I was a prophesied superhero and my nemesis wanted to strike early–but I was taking no chances. I made sure that if I was kidnapped or murdered (or kidnapped then murdered, the most likely scenario in my mind), the police would know exactly where I was when it happened.
How would I manage that, you ask?
I left my finger prints everywhere.
Every door handle, door, window, glass, table–any surface (including floors and walls) of the room I was currently in would receive little Whitney Markers. Not grubby, smudgy little kid finger prints. I would carefully press my pointer finger down so the entire print would be visible on the surface. I was an avid watcher of true crime shows (probably a stupid show to watch if you have an anxiety disorder) and CSI, so I
knew how the fingerprint-dusting process worked. And I wanted the cops to know all they could in the event my enemies finally caught up with me in my hideout in Evergreen, Colorado.
This habit was so pervasive that you could see my fingerprints on every surface in the house. Joy, our house manager, would clean every day, and as she finished each room, I would delicately touch the surface of whatever was nearest to me. And then I would get up and touch everything. Just to be safe, you see. A girl can never be too careful before her superhero powers emerge (I am still waiting).
That wasn’t the only precaution against the mafia hit men that were torturing family members to find me. No, I also had hiding spots all over the house in case the bad guys came in guns blazing. My room was always messy, and my L-shaped desk had a little hidey-hole in the corner that i usually stuffed with my teddy bears or clothes I didn’t wear. Whenever I heard a strange noise (which was quite often), I hid under the clothes/bears in that nook and was virtually invisible. The closet outside my bedroom had a tiny shelf that couldn’t be seen unless you climbed up–that was good in a pinch, too. Then there was the tree house, the closet in the extra bedroom in the basement, the crawl space in the control room (Yes, our house had a control room… that earned its own fear, that of cables and electronics), and a myriad of secret exits (read: not the front door) that I prepared sneaky routes to get to (read: running against the wall and ducking as necessary).
I was also prepared for every other possible catastrophe that was probably going to kill me.
In case a fire broke out while I was in the shower (a very specific time for this to do so, I know), I always got dressed in a specific way. I still get dressed in that manner, but now it’s out of habit: underwear, bra, pants (because it was acceptable to go outside without a shirt on, but not without pants) and then a shirt. I would then grab the nearest pet and use the escape routes to get to safety.
I was also terrified of my ceiling fan. I knew that eventually it would fall from the ceiling, chop me up into little bits, and send my bits and bed crashing through the floor, killing my father in his office below. I didn’ttake into account that for that to be able to happen, my fan would need to weigh way more than a thousand pounds. Ceiling fans weigh up to fifty pounds. It would also require possessed demonic blades that kept spinning at breakneck (literally) speeds when it disconnected.
But logic isn’t really in the GAD sufferer’s bag of goodies.
To offset my fear of the Killer Fan, for a very long amount of time, I slept on the floor in my room (as opposed to the floor in my parents’ room). This allowed me to: 1) be out of the ceiling fan’s direct line of fire–though it wouldn’t matter if it was truly possessed, and 2) to keep an eye on my possessed dolls that were in storage under my bed. I wanted to see them coming for me, that way I’d be able to fight back more quickly.
In the end, all that probably did was exacerbate my back problems. And make me an easier target for Samara/Josefina.