Courage Born From Disobedience aka I Used To Be Afraid Of The Dark

Fears… phobias are just a few of the things we often keep close to our hearts. We don’t like to talk about them for fear others will ridicule us or worse, use the knowledge against us. Fear is a powerful thing; it’s enough to start entire revolutions – or stifle them. Fear can win wars or lose them. And yet sometimes the smallest thing can help spark the courage you need to overcome that fear. I used to be afraid of the dark. “Used to be” because I’m not anymore. In fact, anyone who knows me knows I now prefer a dark room and night time to day time. All for one simple, ridiculous reason.

From the 7th grade onwards I developed an insatiable appetite for reading. This was a localised fascination, it had to be fantasy (and largely still is) simply because of the creativity it inspired within me. *I’ll discuss how I became fond of reading in tomorrow’s post.* However high school loomed and the work grew more intense. I would no longer have the countless hours to pore though fantasy and science fiction novels the size of dictionaries day in, day out. I had to be realistic. This is what my parents told me.

“Focus on school, read the books later.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. This post is about fear of the dark, what does it have to do with reading novels and high school? Firstly let me rephrase the term “fear of the dark”. I possessed (especially in my younger years) a quite incredible imagination as often is the case with youth. All I needed was space and time to create whatever universe my whims led me to. I only fell just short of the imagination Oscar for never having had an imaginary friend. I had an imaginary army but never the one friend who would take up space at the table etc for that would have been near suicidal. It was this intense imagination coupled with the housekeeper’s fascination with horror movies, ones I had to watch with her at all costs, that made me fear the dark for a long time… yes even into my teens.

So I would sleep with the light on. “I need to read,” was the typical response. It wasn’t nearly as intense as the phobia I wrote about earlier in my blog though. So long as I was already in bed with my eyes shut, I’d have been fine. But that was rarely the case so the light stayed on… until I was told to stop reading novels at night. I had to wake up early in the morning since my bus to school left at 0630. Immediately my mind went into detective mode because the love for reading was too great to let go instantaneously, much less for something as mundane as waking up on time for school. How to beat the system? That’s what I pondered for a few hours at most. The answer finally came.

“Good night. I’m going to sleep.”

Then I would switch off my light, proof that I was actually sleeping… only to go into my  blankets, produce my latest novel from under the pillow and switch on my Nokia’s torch. This is how I read Stephenie Meyer’s ‘New Moon’ in one night. I did this often enough that the fear of the dark evaporated. I needed the dark for me to do what I loved; read. And I read. I went through 6 to 8 books a month this way. In a school of 700 students the librarian new my name and would set aside new books for me to devour. So repetitive and exciting was the new habit that even my study habits tweaked to accommodate this mindset so that even now I’m extremely productive in the hours from late evening to early morning.

And that’s it. I told my parents about it a while ago and they had a laugh. It was silly beyond belief. But one can’t deny that it got rid of an unnecessary, hindering fear… even if it may have replaced it with a less than necessary habit. The young man no longer feared the dark… he was just borderline useless early in the morning.

So… Phobia?

Phobias. They are irrational aren’t they? To this day I don’t know the causes and how it feels to have one. I guess they are only irrational from the outside and perfectly rational to the victim. Victim – yes that’s the word I have chosen, because that is how I viewed the person who revealed her phobia to me. I wish it was so of her own volition.

If you didn’t know already, I currently work in the escape game industry or whatever you want to call it. What does this mean? Well, I interact with people of all ages, backgrounds, interests etc. who have decided to spend an hour (sometimes more) escaping rooms by completing puzzles using team-work and intuition. Most people know what they are in for, whether it’s a dark cell or an asylum, you’ll be locked up until you escape. It’s normally a great experience, trust me, I check up on all my guests to see if they had a great time, but for every normal event there’s got to be an abnormal one to skew the trend. For me that occurred two nights ago.

I gave my introductory speech setting the eerie tone. It’s something I’ve worked on, honed and am even now still perfecting. At this point it’s probably too good because at the end of it I either receive nervous laughter or a mixture of puzzlement and terror. They never know whether to take it as a joke or be genuinely terrified so they end up with a good helping of both. On this particular occasion I did my routine, making sure to have equal measure of eye-contact with everyone as I usually do. I should have seen the signs then… but for some reason I didn’t. One of the ladies there made prolonged eye-contact with me. There was dread in those eyes which I mistook for humour… I know, I need to hang out with people more. We proceeded towards the cell.

I split them up then I locked them up. As soon as the door shut I knew I’d made a mistake.

“No! I can’t do this! I need to leave!” she wailed.

Haha. I’m used to the jokes at this stage. So I look up to maintain my menacing façade only to be met by a tear-eyed look of genuine terror.

“I can’t do this! He knows about this…Why?”

“He” referring to her boyfriend in the other cell. I stood there stunned. This had never happened before, not to my knowledge.

“Let me talk to her.”

There was the only voice of reason in the group of seven adults, myself included. Sense penetrated the shock and my brain finally kicked into gear. I let the man out to talk to his lady while I shut off all the magnets and effectively reset the game to let her out. It all took about 2 min. It must have felt like an eternity for the girl.

She was beyond embarrassed. They’d done this as a sort of surprise outing and had no knowledge of her claustrophobia, apparently only her boyfriend knew about it. It was a powerful thing too, as soon as the magnet activated, shutting them in, she wasn’t having it. Fear grasped her senses and squeezed every ounce of will out of her, like an anaconda fully wrapped round its prey the fear squeezed and squeezed until she couldn’t take it anymore.

So she sat out the game. I did the best I could to comfort her. She sat outside on one of our couches listening to music. Sometime later I brought her a cup of water and asked if she was ok while apologising for the fiasco. She said she was fine and reassured me letting me know I didn’t need to apologise. But I could see the damage this had caused. I’d glimpsed the looks of incredulity her unknowing “friends” had shot her. So I offered her a window by letting her know they’d progressed into a much larger room than she was currently sat in and I could let her join them now if she wished. She declined. The shame she’d acquired that night paled in comparison to the fear that harboured within: the phobia of confined space.