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.
I spent several years struggling to extricate myself from a bad relationship and stalking that even extended to other countries. I had to get the police involved and file restraining orders and my mental and emotional life was a complete disaster. Yet I kept it hidden. I was too embarrassed to share my situation with anyone, afraid of what they would think, afraid of losing work. The longer it went on, the more ashamed of the situation I became, leading to further isolation. It made me wonder what others were hiding, what kept them awake, what they were afraid to tell anyone for fear of repercussions. I knew from experience how well a facade can be maintained, that we cannot trust what we see.
Our fears are held closely, and the experience of them is intensely personal and often isolating. I’ve asked complete strangers to share their fears and be photographed, an act of courage perhaps made easier because they did not know me. For some, the experience was cathartic. For others, our collaboration offered a chance to relieve themselves of isolation, if only for awhile. This series examines the dichotomy between our who we are and who we appear to be, of how little we know of those around us and what they carry.
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.
Michael I'm afraid of never being loved or cared for.
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.
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.
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.
Justain I am a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. I have had an issue with self injury since combat and my divorce. I don’t know if my fear is that I’m afraid to love anyone again, or if I don’t know how to live without the pain.
Makayla I’m terrified of my ultra conservative family discovering my bisexuality.
I’m also afraid of disconnection. I tell myself I’m not ready to settle down with one person, I need variety, I’m too independent, I’m still finding myself. It’s all true, but it’s also a barrier. When I find myself getting close to truly loving someone, I end up self-sabotaging. Being vulnerable is an experience that connects us, but once we are hurt, nobody is willing to open up again, to trust completely. Relationships start to become more meaningless, surface level, or all about sex.
I fear a world full of people using each other; I fear the fact that I am one of those people. No matter my intentions or how aware I am, I disconnect and choose control over love every time.
Holli I am afraid that I drive men to either die or want to murder me. Last year the guy I was supposed to move in with died of a heart attack. He was thirty-three years old. A guy I was supposed to go on a date with didn’t show up because he died of a heart attack. A guy I was having an emotional affair with died of a seizure just before I left my boyfriend for him.
I’ve had two boyfriends try to kill me. One shot at me and missed by centimeters. The bullet went through my hair. The other tried to kill me by beating me to death.
I am afraid that because of this, love is not an option and any semblance of love is only disguising a murderous or suicidal soul.
Amanda 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.
Janine 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.
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.
Sierra 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.
Meg I used to see this woman at night when I was addicted to pain killers. After seeing her a few times, I communicated with her and she told me she ended up living in the walls and mirrors of my old house when I was sixteen. After that, I've always been deathly afraid of dark bathrooms, especially when I walk into the room and no light is on and all I see is some of my face. I can't really do it anymore. I have to close my eyes and find the light switch.
Julia We adopted both of our children from Ethiopia. Our ten-year-old son came home at 7 months but our twelve-year-old daughter was already four years old when we got her. She has severe Reactive Attachment Disorder and was so abusive to my son, me, and our dogs that she had to go to a therapeutic treatment home. From there she went to another family who has raised children like her and will likely adopt her. This process takes six months, and they can decide to back out at anytime within that window. We are at month five.
My son is terrified she will come back. So am I.
Mathiba I left South Africa when I was seventeen to study in America on a scholarship. It was an opportunity for me to strive and change my surroundings. Though I made friends in America, I always felt lonely in a crowd. America felt foreign, and I was always reminded of things I couldn’t do because of my own foreign status. Because of my background, I always have to work harder to prove that I am capable.
When I visited South Africa after six years of living in the States, I felt lonely there as well. The place I thought I knew so well had also become foreign to me. I felt like people did not understand me, they had changed. So had I. My biggest fear is never knowing where my home is.
Joselyn I am afraid of my past keeping me stuck in its weighty grips forever. I'm afraid of not being able to let go and move on from years of childhood incest, neglect, and abuse. I am afraid of who I am, if I am not the abused girl filled with pain of childhood molestation from my dad. Wild as though it may be, I'm afraid of knowing what it feels like to be okay.
Jennifer I’m afraid of going to federal prison. I live in a house full of roomies. At some point, someone was involved in something deplorable online. I got caught in a crossfire. I’m currently waiting for my attorney to hear from the DA.
For the last four months, I’ve deeply analyzed my current life and overall existence. I can’t describe the utter terror of potentially having my life ended by imprisonment. It’s impossible to fathom and completely surreal when you’re confronted with it. What do you do when you are faced with the possibility of your life, everything you are familiar with, everything you wanted, hoped and dreamed of could end at any moment? I stressed about work, who I would marry, would I ever have kids, should I start a business. I had been told all my life not to take my health, finances, friends and loved ones for granted. I never thought for a moment to appreciate freedom.
It never entered my mind.
Angeline I'm 29, pregnant, alone, and homeless. I am living my fear.
Albert I’m a Veteran Airborne Combat Medic. The first soldier in Iraq that I tried to save died on me. I was doing chest compressions, unaware of the nick near his eye where a small piece of shrapnel entered and began a hemorrhage in his brain. He might have lived, but there I was, pumping blood, flooding his cranial cavity. I was following the orders of a superior who didn’t see the nick either. After all my training to to scan for entry and exit wounds, I stopped short, trusting his authority in the chaos. But he was my patient. I redeployed to Walter Reed Army medical hospital and watched the tortured bodies of soldiers fighting to survive. I drank too much and was sent to inpatient care to deal not only with not only the the horrors of the battlefield, but the horror of watching soldiers fighting for their lives, hooked to machines that would not let them die, wives pushing their husbands on gurneys because they no longer had limbs and were badly burned all over their bodies. Then I was sent to Afghanistan to clear IEDs and was in over forty firefights where I could have died. When I finally came home, my best friend died while trying to save a man from a car wreck. Everything hit me at once. I’m afraid of not being able to share my experiences with someone who understands everything about me. It’s a waking nightmare.
Shannon 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.