Angst can be a ravenous and insatiable beast. Whilst in an overall sense, it’s quite an unfocussed and global fear, the less formal usage of the word is applied to a fear both quite personal and at times, quite trivial. When it comes to the source of angst, though, truly size does not matter.
I was a difficult child. Not in a running-around, tearing-the-place-apart way. More in a quiet and sulky way. I slept poorly as a baby, and had rather particular rules to which only I was privy–until those rules were broken. Suddenly everyone else knew the rules too! Behaviour needed to be patterned and predictable. Peas could not be mixed with carrots once on my plate (though if they arrived mixed, that was no trouble). Biscuits (the cookie kind) needed to be whole, not broken. My mother, in fact, was concerned that I might be autistic.
From my perspective, which is the only one I have regular access to, I felt the world had a certain sense of order, yet it seemed nobody else understood just how important it was to keep that order. The doody-heads.
It all came to a head once I began school. I’d attended kindergarten, and had been in child care many times, but school somehow overwhelmed me; to the point that I didn’t speak out loud that first day.
That, then, became the trend for the whole year. My not speaking that first day had a few of the kids looking at me funny. At least, in my own perception, it did. From the perspective of an extra 40+ years of experience, I can recognise that they were all sunk just as deeply in their own psyches at that moment.
So, because I’d not spoken out loud in the classroom that first day, when day two arrived I just knew that if I spoke out loud, all eyes would suddenly be staring in my direction. “He spoke! At last!” It was one of those snowball effects, where every day of silence built up the pressure—in my own head and nowhere else, of course—to ultimately verbalise.
I hasten to add that at home, and in the playground, and even in the hallways, I was an average kid who spoke and shouted and played around. It was just the formalised nature of the classroom, I think, which gave me initial pause.
I lasted the whole of the first year without speaking out loud in class. At show and tell I would whisper in the teacher’s ear. My friends simultaneously acted as helpers and enablers. They would get up and ask the teacher if I could go to the toilet, rather than forcing me to confront whatever damned cat it was that had my tongue.
Despite being an on-stage musical performer, that kind of angst is still a part of who I am and what I do. It’s made a few appearances in my stories, as is always the way for anyone who writes.
Most notably, there’s a small section in my FF story, “Her Majesty” (edited by the lovely Lisabet!) It’s a first person story, which has long been my go-to POV (which is probably a branch of the same tree from which all this initial angst grew–a self-centredness which feels like protection).
This paragraph is, to my mind, my most accurate description of how that angst manifested in my mind. I wrote earlier of my childhood need for patterning and predictability, for vegetable segregation unless already intermingled. The last two lines of this paragraph…that sums up what was going on in my head.
“With a fortifying breath, I walked out until the water tickled the tops of my knees. Every passing wave slipped up my thighs like a drunken jerk’s hands until finally I bit the bullet and sat, squealing and shivering as the cold water coated my skin. It wasn’t just the temperature. Change has always been hard for me. Even when it’s just the change from dry to wet.”
Thankfully, life and experience and the arrival of genuine things to be scared of have broken those early fears and left them sprinkled on the floor of my mind. I could easily pick them up and weld them back together. But I have too much else to do right now.