I’m not someone who lives life in a state of fear, so I thought I was going to struggle finding something I was afraid of every single day to overcome. But this week, opportunities have readily presented themselves.
Today, the fear I faced was asking to leave early from work. I am three weeks into a new job, just took off two days for my brother’s wedding, and I was moving into a new apartment. I didn’t want the whole day off; I didn’t even want a half-day; I just wanted to leave at 3:30 PM, so I could move until 2 AM and show up at work the next morning.
This may sound trivial, and to some people it is. But to me, asking to leave early from work for anything less than a birth, death, or wedding is tantamount to abandonment. Asking for vacation time is even worse.
So what’s the worst my boss could say? Well, “No.” But it’s not the words I feared; it was the meaning behind them. It was the chance he would think I was less dedicated to my job or assume I was taking advantage of his kindness or our relationship.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a bit of a handwringer.
When I walked through my office doors on Tuesday morning, I knew I wanted to leave at 3:30. But as the day wore on and I had more and more reasons to interact with my boss, the nerves in my stomach became increasingly active. There were a couple of times I even lingered in his office, swaying back and forth on my heels, talking about nonsense.
I was trying to somehow steer the conversation toward moving or leaving early or something along those lines, but each time we ended up in an awkward silence and the look on his face said, “Why are you still here?”
Finally, with just one hour until my boyfriend was to pick me up, I stopped working and started staring at the clock on my computer.
“So, I’m moving today!” I practiced, a little too loudly. “To North Beach!” But no matter how many times I repeated the lines, they always sounded forced, like I was lying.
“You are such a wuss,” I told myself—again, out loud. With about 22 minutes left on the clock, I pushed myself away from my desk, shuffled into my boss’s office and blurted out, “Is it OK if I leave a little early today to move apartments?”
In the decades it took him to swivel his chair to face me, I planned my back-pedal.
Oh, no problem, it’s really not that big of a deal.
Or, I was just wondering, but I can totally just do it after work every day this week.
Then he smiled and said, “Where ya movin’?”
We talked about my new apartment, my roommate. Everything was fine.
“Are you coming in tomorrow?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah?” I answered. “Of course!” Wait, did I just miss an opportunity for a day off?
“OK, good luck.”
And that was the end of it. All of that stress and worry, for nothing.
One of my biggest fears is the dark. You’re probably saying, “How old are you, six?” And in this instance, yes, I am. I’m not afraid of the dark in general; I’m afraid of a large dark apartment or house where I can’t see all of the dark corners where the murderer in my imagination could be hiding.
As you will see over the course of the next 30 days, I have a very active imagination from which all of my fears stem.
On Wednesday, my second night in my new apartment, my roommate was out of town and my boyfriend was having a “boys’ night.” So I had to sleep all alone in this empty, strange, and dark place with lots of unseen nooks and crannies. I was not happy about it.
In fact, I turned on every single light in the apartment and sat up in bed working on a writing project until my eyelids refused to stay open. I looked at the clock—1:30 AM.
OK, even the murderer has gone to bed.
I saved my work, turned off my computer, made my rounds turning off all the lights and then closed my bedroom door. But as I lay awake, staring at the dark ceiling, I realized that if I closed my bedroom door, I could see all of the dark corners. So it wouldn’t really count as facing my fear of the dark.
So I opened my bedroom door. And lay wide awake for what seemed like eternity, listening for the imaginary murderer to emerge from the closet down the hall and chop off my head. I have no idea when I finally fell asleep, but when my alarm went off on Thursday morning, I had to resist the urge to throw it across the room.
I was groggy, I was crabby, and I did not want to take anything from anybody.
I was also feeling the stress of moving, working a 9-to-5, and juggling a second job of copywriting on the side (with five projects due end-of-day Friday).
So when one of my very favorite friends texted (yes, texted) to ask if I could help throw her rehearsal dinner. In Mendocino. In two days. I wanted to say, “You have got to be kidding me.”
Actually, that’s not true. I wanted to say, “Yes! I’m honored. I’d love to,” because I hate telling my friends no. I’m afraid that by saying that one little word that it will make me a bad friend, or worse, a bad person.
But what I really felt was, “I simply cannot handle this.”
So instead of taking on her stress and offering all of the time that I simply didn’t have, I texted her: “I’m sorry, I can’t.”
Actually, I said, “You can use the house that our group rented for your wedding weekend to throw the party, but we are not actually throwing the party. And I can’t promise I’ll be up there in time to help you set up.”
This would have been a much bigger breakthrough if I had said this to her in person or over the phone, but since I was sure the words would get caught in my throat, and actually come out sounding more like “yes,” than, “no,” I stuck to texting.
Maybe this is a fear that still needs a little work.