Clair Williamson, a junior at Northridge Academy High School in Northridge, California, 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?
“A Different Kind of Relapse.” Illustration by Julie M. Elman
A Different Kind of Relapse
By acknowledging our fear, we demolish our only defense—denial. Denial is simple: if we ignore the signs, then whatever we’re trying to avoid isn’t there, right? However, by taking a few steps back and looking at our lives just as they are—without the filter that we establish to protect ourselves—we can see that our lives are riddled with insecurities and fears. It seemed that I had everything I could wish for as a child; I had a house, parents, a sister, and toys. I went to church and loved God. I was a capable student, and I couldn’t wait to grow up and fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher. But growing up requires abandoning the security blanket of ignorance that we unknowingly hold so dear as children. For me, that blanket protected me from my dad’s addiction to prescription medication, from the uncertainty of my own future with prescription medication that I take on a regular basis to manage arthritis, and from the state of my mental health. After abandoning my blanket, I was left vulnerable and quickly fell into the drowning whirlpool of depression. I had lost touch with love and was addicted to self-loathing. I used to fiddle with my pocket knife and make its reflection dance on the wall. Then, with a sudden change in mood, I would make the blade dance over the skin of my wrist and arms, leaving an ever-so- faint scratch. So much power in an inanimate object; how I wanted the courage to hurt myself with it. This was my lowest point. The mere recollection makes my heart sink. Now, three years later, my life is radically different. Through patience, the loving support of my family, friends, church, trust in and a relationship with God, and the passage of time, I have been released from my suffering. My dad has been sober for almost three years, and my family is together. My faith is stronger than ever. I have amazing friends, and my whole life is ahead of me. Best of all, I am happy. But if that’s so, why do I fear “relapsing?” If I have all of my metaphorical ducks in a row and nothing within a million miles hints that things are going to change, why does my mind stray to the possibility that I’ll return to the depression that hurt me and the people around me, or become an addict? I have pushed this fear to the back of my heart, muted it to the point that it doesn’t show up on long car rides or sleepless nights, when my mind is free to wander. It’s a looming shadow, threatening to pounce, containing the fear that one day I will see my pills and injections as a fix to a problem that isn’t there, or more frightening, that I will return to the void of depression that slowly sucked the joy and love out of my life. Fears about our future are based on “what ifs.” Once again we need to take a step back and shift the mindset of our fears. It’s only then that we can see that fear either “cripples or motivates” as Alexa Strabuk says in her YES! Magazine article, “This Artist Collects Your Worst Fears and Turns Them Into Something Great.” In a way, it is my fear of “relapsing” that drives me to be who I am today. My fear of returning to the lonely girl who wanted to hurt herself moves me to be a loving, friendly, compassionate person who can and will smile and laugh at the little things. My experiences have taught me that the universal truth about fears is that they are powerful, and if we don’t fight back against them, we have no hope of going anywhere. We are doomed to live in the shadow of things we think we can’t control. But when we take control, employing the love and kindness of those around us, we can use fear to propel us into greatness. We can defy the limits set by our fears and prove them wrong, prove ourselves wrong, and make something wonderful out of something terrible.