Everyone has a fear of something. It could be a physical thing like spiders. It could be a fear with no known reason, like a fear of heights. I have a friend who is terrified of elevators and another whose worst fear is not being able to protect her child. These fears range from something that perhaps could be confronted with a lot of bravery and courage, to phobias so intense they literally control your life.
Agoraphobia is a common example of a phobia — having fear so heightened people are terrified to leave the house, to the point many of them don’t for extensive periods of time. I have yet to encounter anyone anywhere who is 100% fearless.
Anxiety and depression have given me fears that once would not have been a challenge, but the illnesses make everything, even the simplest of tasks, take an emotional and physical toll that is exhausting. Everything from going out alone to talking to someone new is riddled with fear that usually halts me right in my tracks, and although I may overcome it on a particular day, the fear has not dissipated; it remains at the same intensity day after day. I am deathly afraid of fire, but not afraid of actually dying; I’m more afraid of the manner of getting there. I am afraid of heights; I am afraid of spiders with eyes big enough to look back at me… but all those are tangible fears which perhaps could be overcome.
The one and only thing that is my ultimate fear is also my ultimate trigger. It started when I was abandoned at six months old, and happened so many times after that it has become not only a built-in fear, but it triggers an innate reaction. It weighs as heavily on me now as it did all those years ago. It affects not only how I view the world and others, but how I interact with people and at some point has affected every single relationship I have had, whether they are friendships, family or romantic. It stimulates the fear of vulnerability and makes fully trusting nearly impossible. It makes me build a protective wall so thick that very few have the patience or tolerance to put forth the extreme effort it takes to get in, and if you do, you may wish you hadn’t. This fear, or terror, if you haven’t figured it out yet is the fear of abandonment. It is so extreme that even saying the word “goodbye” to someone sets me off on an emotional frenzy which either ends in a complete meltdown or a verbal spew of anger, which immediately triggers guilt and I end up in a meltdown regardless.
I was abandoned five times before the age of 18 months, and then again when my Mom died when I was 19. It has been a repeated pattern that has caused so much irreparable damage to my psyche it has actually changed my personality, and I am personally not sure there is enough talk therapy or medication in the world to rid me of this weight. Being repeatedly abandoned so young and so often did not allow me to form a core sense of self. It did not let me develop a sense of self-esteem or confidence; how could it, when it was always obvious I was not wanted, not cared for or loved? Those feelings never left me, and are something I struggle with on a daily basis. Self-esteem, whether not developed or crushed, is an incredibly hard thing to regain and rebuild, especially the older we get.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the reasoning is behind the “abandonment” either, whether it’s a breakup or a death, or even just life circumstances that require paths to part, it is all equally devastating. Now, I do realize most people would be sad, perhaps even situationally depressed over these losses, but for me, it is like a grenade explodes in my heart. It physically sets me into a panic attack. I feel like I cannot breathe because this incredible weight is crushing my lungs. My mind goes into survival mode as I instantly plummet into suicidal thoughts and a depression so deep it often lasts for months.
The best way I can describe borderline personality disorder (BPD) — the disorder responsible for my fear of abandonment — is to imagine every nerve in your body is related to an emotion, and instead of them being buried under your skin, they all are exposed, so even the simplest of issues can send the most intense pain shooting through your heart and soul. A comment or even a wrong look can start an emotional searing that eventually hits all nerves and the pain becomes overwhelming. Now that is only with a small thing, so if you could possibly imagine the magnitude of the devastation which comes from abandonment. For me, it is the be-all and end-all as it touches every exposed nerve I have, sending me into a frenzy, which leads down the road of depression. The cycle continues over and over again.
I truly don’t know how to get over a fear which is so innate. It is as much a part of my being as my eyes or arms. It is not a fear I feel I can step up and challenge; the whole “face your fears” thing does not work, in this case. How do you prepare for someone to leave you? How do you cover your nerves with a sheath that protects against that intensity of pain? I feel like the only thing you can do is make the choice if getting attached, and those subsequent advantages, are going to outweigh the damage of abandonment. I have let very few people in; however, the risk of them leaving weighs heavily on me each day, so I turn to them for reassurance, to finally learn to trust the meaning behind the words: “I won’t leave you.”