Nicole Reiber, a student at Cascadia College in Bothell, Washington, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.”
In this story, Julie M. Elman shares how she created The Fear Project to help her cope with her own fears. That project soon grew to help others, too. Elman takes people’s stories—their actual words—about what they fear, and uses art to visually interpret those fears. Her vibrant, multi-media collages articulate what we’re afraid of or dread, and make them acceptable, tangible, and part of everyday life.
Writing Prompt: What is one thing you fear about your future? How can you lessen that fear?
Powerful Voice Winners Illustration by Julie M. Elman
The Monster Within
Fear. That word evokes a rush of physical sensations. My heart beats faster, my breathing becomes more rapid, and my palms get clammy. Just hearing the word “fear” brings me back to every time I have been afraid. In the YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great,” author Alexa Strabuk describes how artist Julie Elman takes your worst fears and uses them to create beautiful works of art. Elman’s Fear Project has inspired me to look inside myself and recognize that my biggest fear is self-sabotage, a monster of my own design.
The first time the monster took hold of me was in high school. I was struggling in my math class, trying to understand how to calculate linear equations, and became extremely frustrated. I remember asking my mom for help, but unfortunately my calls for help fell on deaf ears. At that time my home life was falling apart. My parents were going through a divorce, which was a horrific event for me. I lost my focus and drive to succeed. The hardest part was my dad choosing to move to California instead of staying in the area to be with my siblings and me.
My inability to focus in school led me to skip class. Instead of focusing on the teacher, I would think about what my life had become. I sat in the back of the class with headphones on while sketching in my binder. I felt like I was worthless, and that learning served no purpose for me anymore. It was then that my monster was born and had total control of my actions. My teachers offered extra help, but I was too far gone. I believe that they eventually lost hope for me and gave up trying because I had given up trying. My self-sabotaging monster had become too strong for me to fight.
I have also missed a lot of opportunities at a variety of jobs because of my monster. Any time I started to do well at these jobs, my monster would tell me that the company or an individual was doing something to sabotage my success, and I had to fight them. This would cause me to lash out at and accuse my managers of wrongdoing when really they just wanted to offer me a promotion for my exceptional work. I would end up getting fired or being asked to leave rather than move up in the company. I was never aware of what was happening until after my monster had destroyed my career opportunities.
On other occasions my monster would sabotage my personal relationships. Life would be going well with my family and friends. We would laugh and make amazing memories together, but things were too good to be true in my monster’s eyes. My monster would convince me that I needed to leave them before they could leave me—just like my dad had done. I would find trivial attributes about them I didn’t like, ranging from things they were interested in to the way they spoke. This agitation would lead to tension between the other person and me. In more extreme cases, I have lost friends and turned away from family members due to my hidden monster. I’ve become lonely and sad because I have driven so many people away, having hurt them because of my monster.
As an adult I have reached a moment of clarity and insight into my sabotaging behaviors. It has taken years of self-help and counseling to reach an epiphany. I finally found that by standing up for myself against this monster, I weaken its destructive sabotaging abilities. I am still afraid of this monster that looms inside my consciousness. My self-doubt and insecurities are what feed it. As long as I remind myself that I am worth the sun and the moon, I can fight this monster. I have slowly learned who I don’t want to be and who I can be through my journey to overcome my biggest fear. I am now powerful enough to beat this monster.