We are not defined by our fears, but I believe they cut to the core of our being in a way that most other feelings do not. Love, hope, humor, determination, solidarity; these we express freely and are often expected of us socially. They unite. Our fears are held closely, and while some elements are held in common, the experience of them is intensely personal and often isolating.
I've asked complete strangers to do something I lack the courage to do myself, to share their secrets and be photographed. Some find it cathartic, an early step toward loosening the grip fears have on their lives. Going out on a limb and finding that they do not fall.
I'm drawn to the dichotomy between who we are and who we appear to be, of how little we know about those around us and what they carry. These small insights might spark a bit of empathy, a suspension of judgement for those who sometimes respond in unexpected ways. That is my hope, though my intent is not purely altruistic, but more of a personal compulsion. I just want to know.
Palynn I am terrified that my genetics will someday be my future. Afraid of the voices in my head or that those bits of paranoia aren't acceptable and in fact the result of a disorder. My grandmother was schizophrenic and killed herself when I was six months old. I've lived with her shadow. My dad always warning "that stuff skips a generation,” and it's terrified me since childhood as I've struggled through my own bouts of mental health issues.
I’m afraid to run out of time before I even realized it’s past by. I’m young. 24. But last year I had to have emergency surgery and was minutes away from dying. I wanted to turn it into a positive, told myself moving forward I’d “grab life by the balls”. But I blink and six months is gone. 15,768,017 mundane, forgettable seconds that I can never get back.
Michael I’m afraid of not being loved or cared for.
Chelsea I wake up every morning afraid to get out of bed because I know I’m going to have to encounter others during the day. I stay inside most of the time for that reason. I’m afraid of being myself, being trans, and living with it day after day. I fear the judgement of others as I walk down the street. I fear it so intensely that the simple act of being noticed by others on the street gives me anxiety.
I fear men. All men, but particularly straight white men. This fear is more like a physical fear for my life. I actively avoid them at all costs. When I can’t avoid them, I pick fights with them. This usually makes them not want to be around me… mission accomplished. I am, however, physically attracted to them.
I fear anything that makes me cry or feel any kind of emotion other than anger. It’s become easy for me divert my fear onto a path of anger. That too scares me.
Angeline I'm 29, pregnant, alone, and homeless. I am living my fear.
I’m afraid of someone seeing through me and calling me on the fact that my cheery disposition is all a facade and that I’m empty inside except for the feelings of depression, anxiety, and inadequacy. That I would give anything to just feel like I’m part of something and that I belong. I’m afraid of failure and looking stupid, so I don’t try anything new. I’m afraid of going through life without living, of never acting because of my fears.
Daviana I’m terrified of loving him uninhibitedly, and either falling short or overwhelming him with my excessive and unusual ways.
I’m afraid of brokenness, of always being a victim. Scared of being alone in ways most people cannot fathom. I had a friend being stalked by her ex, Jason, who was just out of prison. One night when she was closing Subway alone, he came inside and sat by the back door saying nothing, just staring at her. My boyfriend Jeremy and I picked her up and brought her back to our place. An hour and a half later, Jason smashed through our bedroom window with his roommate and said he was going to kill all three of us. Jason's roommate held Jeremy from behind as Jason savagely stabbed and slashed him. I clutched Jeremy to me, desperately trying to plug all the gaping holes. No one even came out of their homes and I know they heard my screams for help but help wasn’t coming and he's gasping and fighting for me, trying to not leave me alone, as I had just lost my dad and had little else. I had to tell him it was okay, that I would be okay and that he could let go now. I felt him relax and slip away with his last breath. With him went my entire life. Gone.
Jason’s roommate is out on bond and heard me testify at pretrial that I saw everything. I've already received threats about the upcoming murder trial and I'm still in the same place it happened. Feeling safe is a luxury I only daydream about, ‘cause when I finally succumb to sleep I'm in that life-shattering moment reliving my agony or hiding from some dark terrible thing coming to consume all that I am. For me, fear is a constant companion.
I’m afraid my baby will die. I’ll be holding her in my arms and she’ll be breathing and I’ll feel the rapture and the relief of okay, we’ve got her now, safe and sound, but then she slips away from us anyway and there’s nothing we can do to bring her back… After all the love and hope and good intention we poured into bringing her to life, she just goes away…and instead of celebrating a miracle, we mourn an unspeakable tragedy.
Mireille I’m afraid of people. I had genital reassignment surgery ten years ago and I’m afraid of getting to know new people because I’m afraid they’ll reject me (or physically attack me) once they know, even though I figure everyone at least suspects it immediately anyway. It’s very hard to meet people and I’ve been alone for such a long time.
Colleen My worst fear is being abandoned, unloved and unimportant. I’m afraid I will never be good enough for anyone just as I am.
Dan Aside from losing my parents or having something terrible happen to my children, deep down I’m afraid of two things: not truly living my life, and opening my heart to true intimacy.
Alma I’m afraid of death. Dying in pain. My brother was killed in an accident when I was twelve. His spirit stayed in our house for over a month before he could really go and I have many memories of things that happened after he died. Since then, I’ve been very much aware of my own existence and death. My mom died of cancer five years ago and I cared for her and saw her go away. Her last breath, her pain, is in my memories too. I know it will happen to everybody and that we can’t know how or when. So I’m afraid of dying and not living all I could. Not accomplishing what I want, not falling in love…
I’m intensely afraid of failure, to the point of paralysis in my creative output. I’m secretly afraid I’ll never harness any of my potential. I crave connection to a community of artists, but have overwhelming thoughts of never becoming one of them.
Keriba When my son died, I lied to myself and said he was just spending the night with a friend. I keep telling myself that lie any time I start thinking about him being gone. I’m afraid of who or what I’ll become if I ever let myself realize the truth.