What Fear Does


I sit in my lounge chair, reading, thinking, watching. Always watching. My kids. Your kids. All the kids at the pool. We have lifeguards, good lifeguards, but still, I pay attention. I get nervous. Kids slip. They horse around. They make dumb decisions. And sometimes, accidents happen.

The diving board and the slide are a particular focus of my attention. A few years ago, my daughter, who was not engaging in horseplay, fell from the slide, hit her head and lost consciousness in the water.

Just typing that makes my stomach a confused mess of pain. She was concussed. She has a large scar on her back where she slid against the concrete edge. She has not forgotten, and neither have I.

A recent article in the New Yorker discusses the way memories, particularly painful ones, are forged in the mind, and how different parts of the brain are engaged or not in processing those memories. It turns out that those fearful memories can lodge in minds in painfully lasting ways.

In my own research into PTSD studies, I’ve learned that the mind is both a powerful regulator and a tool that can fix itself, with effort. When we experience fear, the amygdyla and the prefrontal cortex release hormones that are designed to protect us. But, the memories of those painful or dangerous experiences rent space in our brains, so that when we remember them, it is essentially as if we are experiencing them again, in real time. We react the same.

Next week, on Tuesday, I will publish the first Anonymous Project: fear post. I hope you will join us by reading, commenting and/or contributing. The glory is that no one will know you are the writer. And you can even comment anonymously. I look forward to learning along with you.