For much of my life, I have been afraid of the dark. When I was little, I’d wait for my roommates to fall asleep (originally I shared a room with three siblings, then one), then I’d creep out into the hall and turn on a light, THEN I could fall asleep. Later in life one of my brothers objected even to the light that came into his bedroom through the crack under his door, so I’d stay awake until he fell asleep, then put a towel over that crack, turn on the hall light, and fall asleep.
The reasons for my fear of the dark are probably rooted in my mother’s exhaustion. By kid No. 6, she was a big believer in “allowing” babies to cry themselves to sleep. One of my oldest siblings vividly recalls trying to study for his high school biology final with a textbook in one hand and a baby cradled with the other. Why? Because that ‘damned baby’ would have screamed for hours if he hadn’t picked ‘it’ up. The screaming baby was very likely me, who remains particularly close to that brother to this day.
My little brother and next-up sister ALSO had an exhausted mom, though, and they were never afraid of the dark. My superpower as a kid was anxiety, to the point of panic attacks. I could imagine the vilest monsters ever to ooze forth from the blackest pit dwelling under my bed. Snakes the size of school buses were waiting to slither up from the woods when darkness fell, and oh, the hideous, insatiable beasts the lurked in the closet. (The nuns have much to answer for.)
What plagued me was a very powerful imagination–so powerful, I can now make my living with it (knock wood).
What shifted this imagination from mostly a burden to mostly a blessing is a lot of therapy (weekly for five straight years back before for-profit health care was a thing), and also the acquisition of some simple cognitive tools for charming the snakes and disappearing the monsters. What never helped me sleep better was any sort of rational argument, as in, “You’ve awakened safe and sound in the morning for years now, Grace Ann. What makes you think tonight is the night the banshees will steal you away?” Or my un-favorite, “It’s all in your head. Close your eyes and go to sleep.”
I’m grateful as heck now for the imagination that went in all the wrong directions when I was a kid. I wish I’d found a few more coping mechanisms a lot sooner, but the ability to manipulate ideas, pretend, ponder, and cogitate my way through problems and challenges has been my light sword in adulthood. I wish I had seen much sooner the great gift those monsters under the bed represented.
What problem did you have to solve or cope with as a kid? Did you reap any reward from the experience or develop a useful skill? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card, because I don’t yet have any advanced reader copies of Love by the Letters (but I should soon)!