What Are You So Afraid Of?

August 3, 2022

Emily Iorio (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer


For as long as I can remember, I have been a worrier. My brittle fingernails always picked down to the length of throbbing pain and the brittle ends of my hair indicative of my nervous tics. Not always concerned with the most rational fears, I worried more about the possibility of obscure situations that could manifest into catastrophic, life-altering circumstances. My worst nightmare as a child was one of my brother, Michael, dying. This dream occurred only once, and though decades have passed since that night, I can still remember the nightmare in striking detail. The basement of our three-bedroom bungalow was flooded with towering flames, inching closer and closer to the door that led upstairs to safety. Trapped in the blaze of that unfinished vault, Michael pounded on the door, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pry it open. These were my childhood fears: losing a sibling, a parent or even my own life to some terrifying catastrophe — always wishing I could have done something more to save myself or someone else. 


Flash forward to the winter of 2019 when we lost Michael after a short battle with a relentless bout of cancer — my mom, recently diagnosed with ALS and my stepfather, unknowingly harbouring the early stages of cancer himself. I found myself in the exact situation I’ve always dreaded: losing my family while being forced to bear witness, useless in salvaging anything. When your greatest fears come to devastating fruition, what are you to make of life in general? If the worst-case scenario has always been the most common outcome, how can you expect anything different? Just as dark clouds seem to foreshadow incessant Vancouver rain, illness in my life began to foreshadow death, and the challenges I faced as a young adult encouraged me to anticipate failure. To put it simply, optimism has been difficult to come by in the years following the loss of my family (despite how well I forge my bubbly demeanour) and trauma has thrown a real wrench in my decision-making process. 


Speaking from my own personal experience, my trauma has encouraged two opposing schools of thought at the crossroads of lofty decisions. On one end of the spectrum, my trauma forces me to meticulously approach situations with caution, but perhaps too much caution (anxiety, if you will). Now that all these years of caretaking have passed, how will I ensure that I make enough money to catch up to my peers? Perhaps I should move back to Ontario to spend more time with my family and friends before they all inevitably die too? I wrestle with these thoughts, these anxieties, almost constantly. They are the fear response to unknown situations — situations that could very well end up beautiful and gratifying if I were to give them a chance.


On the other end of the spectrum, I’m met with a familiar “Life is too short” philosophy: life is too short to deny myself of everything I have ever wanted. This is the inspiration response that allows me to daydream about an endearing future. It is what motivated me to leave a secure job that I wasn’t truly passionate about so that I could pursue further education. It is what fuels my love for travel and my desire to visit home so often, to be with the people I love. 


Strangely enough, these two opposing rhetorics can sometimes motivate the same outcomes. Even if this is the case, it is a matter of choosing to listen to the inspiration response over the fear — a selective hearing for the optimistic perspective. It is finding the strength within yourself to trust in the universe, or perhaps to trust in other people, that you won’t always end up getting hurt, despite what has happened in your past. It’s choosing to visit home, not because you’re afraid that your friends and family will die or forget you, but because their presence in your life makes everything more colourful. It’s choosing the career you are passionate about, despite the learning curve ahead, because you know how wonderfully you’ll flourish if you are satisfied with your work. 


When I think about what I want out of life, I think about honouring my future self — the ardent and aspirational woman who will inevitably die, just like her family did, but who chose to honour her fascinations rather than her fears. Sure, ominous clouds foreshadow rain, but they can also foreshadow the growth and prosperity of a crop, the flourishing rivers that end a devastating drought. And that optimism, that feeling of being inspired by the beauty of what life could be, is what I continue to try to appreciate. When I’m ready for it, when you’re ready for it, inspiration will be waiting.


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