I don’t know what I am afraid of more: darkness, loneliness, or the silence they both can bring with them. Once the lights go off, my brain churns in overtime. The shadows shift into something that isn’t there, and all my biggest fears seem to be real. For me, the dark is the time for each memory to play out anew.
Age 6: Due to my parents’ relationship being on the rocks, my dad slept in our finished basement. Like any basement to a child, it seemed dark and scary anytime I opened the door and looked down the stairs. While my dad slept there, that darkness seemed harmless and warm. One day I ran down only to see the bed was neatly made, and it had apparently been made for several days. Later that day my mom confirmed that he wasn’t coming home.My dad decided to leave and start a new family. After that, anytime I would approach the top step, I would freeze up and turn around.
Age 7: One spring day my mother picked up my belongings and without telling me that the move would be permanent, relocated me to Russia. She left a week after introducing me to the rowdy Greek family I apparently belonged to but had only seen once otherwise. They were kind and welcoming, but they were all strangers. Because she “didn’t want me to get upset” she didn’t even say "goodbye", so I didn’t learn that I was left to live with this new family for two days. I recall that most nights I lay in my couch-turned-bed, starring at the stucco ceiling, wondering what I did to make her leave. I would fall asleep after crying a lot, promising to myself that I would be good if she ever came back. She did, three months later. I didn’t leave her side for two weeks, which is how I earned the nickname prelipuchka (sticker).
Age 15: Sleep was an elusive concept. I would spend my nights staring at the glow-in-the-dark butterflies stuck to my ceiling. Eventually, I removed them as my imagination was getting so creative, that they started to morph into horrible shapes in front of my eyes. My mind would keep reeling, so my body refused to rest no matter how tired I was. After a while, I was afraid of my bed, so I would lay on the floor with blankets. This just became part of a new routine: go to bed, read, watch TV, put my bedding on the floor and on a few lucky nights, get some rest.
All of the above is the reason darkness feels so loaded with emotions. I associate it with feeling small, unwanted and isolated. Like I am six or seven again and incapable of doing anything to help myself if left alone.
Of course, the older I got, the less likely there would be people surrounding me and the worse my sleeping patterns got. Through my first year in college, I would wake up in a cold sweat. I had a recurring dream that I was only sleeping in my dorm because I had been kicked out of my home. It didn’t help that when everyone moved in their parents were always there, exchanging saying tearful goodbyes after unpacking cars with stuff carefully selected to make the dorm a home. Every semester, as my boyfriend helped bring my things up to my room, I would stop mid-way to stare at the families. If they looked, I pretended to adjust whatever I was holding before moving along.
It took time to gather enough not-threatening experiences that I actually sometimes kind of maybe enjoy spending time quietly. Even so, if I know I am going to be alone for an extended period of time, I do things to prepare myself for it. For example, my friends note that I love being a host. A small part of that, is so that I can create moments to recharge with. This way, when my mind offers me my worst fears, I can evoke noisy, happy memories to counter them.
I have other ways to try to desensitize myself daily. I force myself to sit in silence when I eat if my husband’s late at work. When I sit down to write, I give myself a moment after turning everything off just feel the lack of sound inside my eardrums for as long as I can with only the living room clock faintly ticking.
Writing is actually the biggest inconvenience for this phobia. Since, unfortunately, I don’t write well unless I am surrounded by silence. Darkness comes with silence, so I am working to re-associate the silence with the joy of self-expression it permits; giving it another purpose other than letting all my worst fears run wild in my mind. One thing that helped with this phobia was getting a dog. My pup not only make for great company, but also requires consistent belly rubs, so I am assured he’ll at least stick around for those.
At 27, I am just now truly learning to dive into silence instead of trying to jump over it. I try to take it as an opportunity to clear my mind, and handle my fears so that they do not come in the middle of the night. I welcome it, compared to the chaos of the rest of the world...though this doesn’t work every time. In fact, as I write this, I am crying over the irrational fear my husband will never come back and that my friends left not because they had to go home, but because they hate me. This considering I literally have my dog on my lap and my phone on the stand beside me with my friends’ messages, asking when they should come over next.
Anxiety isn’t rational, though its main claim to fame is being able to convince you that it is. As I approach this piece to edit, I’ve purposefully turned off all the lights, turned on a crackling wood-wick candle, sat back with my laptop and tea, and the only thought that crosses my mind is: "bring it".