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Goeun Park: Childhood fears grow to adult size

In elementary school, my friends and I whispered to each other the most fantastic horror stories in the middle of the night.

We’d gather around a flashlight and squeal about headless woodland animals, vengeful ghost-children and spiteful souls — the usual supernatural terrors.

We were a paranoid bunch.

At least, I was. I was a screamer, a crier. I was hysteria contained in four feet. I jumped at my own shadow and twisted simple coincidences into bad omens.

I remember how I couldn’t read The Boxcar Children or watch Scooby Doo at night because I was convinced that the culprit might jump out of the pages or the television screen and get me too.

I remember how much I detested bedtime. How I’d curl up into a ball under the covers and conjure up delusions like...vicious monsters are hiding the closet. This mattress is the only thing keeping me from drowning in the dark. A giant spider with legs longer than the coffee table is waiting outside the door. If I open my eyes, something awful will look back.

It’s silly to me now how easily innocent shapes and sounds triggered my fight-or-flight reflex. It’s silly that I’m still petrified by the most mundane things.

For one, I have lepidopterophobia, a fear of butterflies. When I admit this, people usually ask me if I had a traumatic experience in the past that justifies the word ‘phobia.’ I did.

Long story short, I was in third grade and a butterfly was in the living room. I screamed. Dad caught it and flicked it out of the balcony door. I stopped screaming and I’ve been scared of butterflies ever since. The end.

It’s anticlimactic and absurd, I know. The more I stalk the I Hate Butterflies forum online, the more I find myself laughing at them. At me. Because in the end, being afraid isn’t so much a measure of the “scary thing” but of myself.

Slowly, most of my childhood fears have unraveled into inconsistent logic and a squeamish stomach. I can now go down the basement at night. Step on spiders. Eat egg whites (long story).

I’ve replaced them with more realistic fears like getting a speeding ticket or meningitis or the bubonic plague. At least with them, I can control with speedometers and vaccinations and common sense. These, I’ll get over sooner rather than later.

I know now that overcoming fears is a gradual process. I don’t ever recall deciding, “Hey, let’s get over that fear of being in the dark tonight!” After years of nightlights and keeping my eyes shut tight, I noticed that my room wasn’t even that dark at night. I realized that there is no monster in my closet and if there is, he hasn’t gobbled me up yet so he couldn’t be all that bad.

I might still blanch and recoil from centipedes and lizards like the scaredy-cat I am, but I think I’ll let the fears sink a little deeper this time. I think I’ll try to be brave.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and plans to attend college in California this fall.