Monday, August 25, 2008

A terrified kind of life

For as long as I can remember I’ve been terrified. I don’t think I can remember a time when I was not terrified. I remember hiding under beds fearing my mother’s or grandfather’s or aunt’s or uncle’s belt. I truly don’t think I was especially abused. It’s just the Jamaican terrify, threaten, and cripple children with fear. Every relative had a belt and they would pick it up and hurt you anytime it pleased them.

I would not consider my mother cruel but before she earned her double masters and PH.D at Brooklyn College, she had strange ideas about fear. Fear was the power to keep girl children from coming home with the belly. Not that my sister and I were even sexual enough to even think of sex. By age thirteen both or us were pretty much emotionally destroyed. She would wake us at night by beating us with a belt if she came home to find the house messy. My mother must have had some inkling about the power of fear – she apologized for all the things she had done to me when we were growing up. And she also talked about the fear the whippings she received from her parents had caused her.

The trouble with all this terror is that it was interwoven with a kind of rebuked life. When they terrified you, they rebuked you. You were always wrong. And when they rebuked you, they always terrified you. Kinda like those people on television who always warn about how fat black women are going to get cancer anytime soon.

The image I have in my mind is this: a group of well-meaning vaguely sadistic folks digging a deep pit in my heart and mind that can only be filled with fear. If you do not believe me when I tell you how sadistic Jamaican parents generally are, I won’t try to convince you. Trying to convince people stresses me out. I will only say that rebukers -- media health nuts, telephoning collection agents, parents, know-it-all church people use terror in much the same way these old country folks delighted in telling me ghost stories. (Won't mention the sneering cruelty of atheists in this post cause they generally don't terrify.) The faces of the old folks lit up when they saw how their evil cruel stories made you tremble. To this day I can see and imagine this trace of spiteful joy on the faces of folks who rebuke and terrify me.

I once saw on the news a story about a little two year old who died of fright when halloweeners arrived at her door. This kind of thing is understandable. Fright is an emotion that literally – I mean “literally” tugs at the heart strings. I remember once a friend of mine played a practical joke on me. “Look, Carole, a bee is on your shoulder.” My chest became so tight that for about two weeks I had a burning tearing in my chest.

I am actually quite used to that tightness in my chest. It pops up all the time quite dependably whenever I hear bad news. But it also pops up when I only fear bad news. My body seems to be running overtime and fear seems to have its way with me. For instance, whenever the gate opens, I anticipate the mailman bringing bills and the chest pain rises.

This is not a panic attack, mind you. Panic attacks come and go. This is a kind of sustained emotional state that I can only say that my body is worn down with stress and fear. I do not add the fact that since my second son was born eighteen years ago I have spent every night fearing he will die. So then, what to do?

The trouble with this fear is that it has persisted through my adult years. Because it comes in various form even when one has become an adult. There is always some person out there who wants to either rebuke or terrify a person (or both.) I’ll admit two things: One, I used to terrify my child with stories about what would happen to him if he didn't finish school. I have terrified the soul of that kid. Mercifully, he has forgiven me. And I have tried to bless him with good words instead of cursing his spirit with negative terrors and rebuke.

And my second admission: I myself have fed and nurtured this terror within my own soul. For instance, whenever I get into a discussion with anyone, I find I am utterly unable to pick up the phone...lest the person I had a disagreement with is calling. If I owe bills, I try not to pick up my phone at all. And if I accidentally pick up the phone when a bill collector calls, the terror I feel rivals anything a good slasher fill could conjure up. Before my mother’s death she used to visit us. On those Saturdays, I would lie in my bed in a fetal position – remember, I was way past 30 by then– and tremble in fear until I psyched myself to come down.

May I rest in the peace of God.


Anonymous said...

Hi Carole, I read the blog and it is tugging at my heart. I am addressing two points:

Is it me, or is fear something we can control? Is it truly mind over matter? I cringed in fear when I worked for this lady at the school in 2006, she treated me horribly and age 24 I was scared then- of her. I didn't know why. She seemed so nice at first and then she just began to say and do things to spite me. When I look back, she seems smaller. See, when I worked with her she seemed huge and threatening, but I saw her in the grocery store this year and she wore sweats and looked feeble, tired, and defeated. I was scared of that??

Next point: I think fear is being put into black women's hearts daily. The reports say we are highest case for AIDS, fibroids, blood pressure, and now cancer. So much negativity...

Carole McDonnell said...

Hi Erica:

When we're young, adults seem very big. I sometimes remember the very cruel way I was treated in high school by the white kids. Here I am 48 and still trembly because of some of the things they did. So I think fear works when we feel weak. Because the other person represents power and worth. Because they are older, or because they are many of them. Gathered together it makes us feel powerless, unworthy, and shamed.

Sometimes I think it's an emotional wound that needs healing. We heal it by prayer or by allowing Jesus to return with us to the time of the wound and asking him to heal it while we look at the situation with adult eyes.

Sometimes I think it's a spirit. Evil spirits just love latching themselves onto wounded souls.

Sometimes I think it's a seed, a bad habit we have gotten ourselves into because others trained us to have it. So we take it from them and water it and tend it with media news shows, warnings, etc. The response to this is the response Paul gave to Timothy (who seemed to have this problem because of his nervous tummy and problem with boldness). We are to resist the devil, fight the good fight of faith, remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power love and a sound mind and to speak it over and over to our souls, our minds, and our bodies.

I definitely agree that they are trying to put fear into the minds of everyone. Racism and snobbery. They want us to think that we are a doomed people...because of our lack of morality we're gluttonous, or oversexed or unhealthy. The spiritual hierarchy of America has always had racism interwoven in it. PErhaps because it knows that black folks have a great destiny in this country...and they are trying to destroy us with this fear. I suspect that life for black people would be better if we didn't swallow all these "statistics" and "prophecies" we see on TV. And if we watch our words and what we say about our lives ("Cancer runs in my family") or in the lives of those around us ("Well girl, you always picked bad men." That kinda thing. And if we will talk back to the television when it's on. LITERALLY: When the television says, "Black women have the highest yadda yadda," or "Jobs will be hard to get yadda yadda" we should remember that we have powerful precious promises of God. The battle against Satan -- the great deceiver-- is in the mind. And we have to be careful what we hear. IF a tv person says something negative, I turn to it and I answer with the appropriate Bible promise. I don't let it get away with planting a negative seed in my head. IF you don't challenge a negative comment, you're allowing it to rest in your mind without a balancing thought.

Just my opinion, though.


Lisa said...

Big hug!
This is distressing. Have you considered therapy? There is something to what Erica said as there are aspects of fear that we can control. Of course, a child doesn't haven't those skills.

It's concerning how this unrest from yesterday affecting you now.

On behalf of white people, I'd like to apologies for how you were treated in school.

Please, find a way to move forward. You're an amazing, kind, thoughtful person. People look up to you, I do!

A long with your creative writing talent, you have a lot going on for you.
There are so many stressers in your life that I think it has proven overwhelming for you pull yourself above the pain that's dragged you down for so long.

Please, don't allow it to win. You can do it Carole!

Carole McDonnell said...

Thanks, Lisa.

I went to two therapists in the past. Both white. One was a very Freudian type. Harsh and accusing. Authoritarian. Didn't help because of my history with authoritarian people. The other was Christian. A good soul. Also a minister. But he didn't believe in the supernatural -- yes a priest-- so if I told him I saw a demon or an angel, he just thought I was being psychotic. That didn't help either. Left with the feeling of not being believed by one or being not being believed or being pushed around by the Freudian. I decided I had to let it go.

I later found out this is a problem many minorities have with professional types. They have to push past the mental hurdle of distrusting the professional in many ways. They must first believe the professional isn't racist, that the professional accepts their worldview, that the professional is actually listening to them and is aware of societal privilege. This is why, for instance, my Arab friend didn't go to the doctors around here because they were Jewish and she feared they would be racist. Nor did she talk to the Jewish administrators in the school system. And it's the reason Kohl wrote that really great educational book "I will not learn from you." Too much of an unspoken battle going on with those we are to learn from or to be healed by.

I'm trusting my writing and my friends and God to heal me. Not ready to get stressed by getting into a relationship with a therapist I don't believe in. Also not in the mood to go for a search for such a therapist. Plus... am rich in friends but not in money. Won't waste what we do have on therapy. Thanks. -C

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