Perspectives on Fear

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“At the University of California at Irvine, experiments in rats indicate that the brain’s hormonal reaction to fear can be inhibited, softening the formation of memories and the emotions they evoke” (Baard).

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Sometimes I have trouble sleeping. I lie in bed for hours while my mind churns through endless streams of fragmented thoughts and memories, bits of brain matter that I do not have time for in my waking life. I have tried the homeopathic remedies. I drink “calming” teas, take showers, and inhale scents advertised to promote sleep and relaxation. I even have a lavender neck pillow. Nevertheless, when I am inflicted with a bout of sleeplessness, there is usually very little I can do but wait it out. I stay away from sleep drugs.

The streetlamp outside paints shapes across the wall next to my bed. I can see them in the darkness, dull orange lines that have become familiar in my many restless nights. At the heart of their canvas, they intersect to form a rectangle. A rectangle? For months I believed in this reality of form with the inborn certainty that accompanies that which is obvious. I didn’t have to think about it. Nightly, I would study the shape in a sleep haze, unconsciously harboring knowledge of its regularity. Except that it is not a rectangle.

Two forty seven. Nearly three hours after my first attempt at sleep, I stared up at the wall and realized for the first time the distortion within the orange light. Where the lines connected to form the shape, the rectangle, were angles. Obtuse and acute, they had none of the symmetrical regularity that geometry dictates of a true rectangle. The outline on the wall was crooked, skewed, an imperfect representation of the form.

I tend to think of my memories as shoeboxes, precise, neatly uniform components that stack tidily in the mind. Somehow I have trained myself to believe that in regularity and order I will uncover the diagram of my true self, a clear-cut explanation for all that I think, say, and do. But in sleepless nights I realize that even old recurring thoughts can be strangely misshapen, and I am thrown into a tailspin. My memories of experiencing fear seem contorted. Among the most vivid of my recollections, they stand out with their potent doses of color, emotion, and experience. They have been with me so long that I rarely question the nature of their composition.

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