Day 23: The Fear of Being Seen


I have a friend who suffers from chronic vagueness, which means that he’s often late paying his bills, has enough parking tickets to wallpaper an entire room, and is usually in the shower at the exact time that we’re supposed to meet. But he—and others—always overlooks these things because he’s also very gregarious, generous, fun, and smart.

Recently he asked me to sit down with him for an hour each day to teach him how to become a Virgo: i.e. neat, organized, and crystal clear. As the weeks went on something became very clear to him (and me, but that goes without saying): the chaos and drama he creates in his life is a protective cover. What does this cover protect? It protects him from being seen—I mean really being seen.

Why on earth would someone, especially someone so clearly destined for the lime light, need to shield himself from being seen from the world? Because he was afraid that if we saw the real him—the imperfect, silly, dumb, inappropriate, needy, scared him—we’d all go running for the hills. And then he would be alone forever until he died a painful death.

And he’s not the only one who has a fear of being seen.

It really sunk in yesterday how scared I am of others seeing my true self. It manifests as a wicked sense of humor (nobody’s judging me if I’ve got them rolling on the floor with laughter), as people pleasing (nobody’s judging me if I’m serving their every need), as a set-in-stone routine (nobody’s judging me if I don’t go out of my comfort zone and try new things—i.e. subject myself to possible failure), as intellect (nobody’s judging me if I'm using my intellectual wizardry to make them wrong, while at the same time keeping these dang emotions safely tucked away), and as a victim (nobody’s judging me if I’m telling them about all the terrible things that have befallen poor little me). 

And this is the fear that has been coming up during this 30 submissions in 30 days challenge. Once I got that first request for my full manuscript, my mind started to shy like a nervous horse:

Yay, that’s fantastic! Oh my god how great would it be to finally get published?? Can you imagine that? A book! In stores! And people will read it! Oh. But what if they don’t like it? Or worse, what if they judge me as a person, not as a writer? You know what, I’d better not submit this novel until I’m absolutely sure it’s perfect and beyond judgment. Oh look, it seems as though the day got away from me before I had a chance to submit my one query today. Well, there’s always tomorrow. Dang. Poor me. I’ll never get published.

Look, I’m a smart person. I have a university degree. I'm basically rational. So I’m aware that everything I just wrote sounds ridiculous, unproductive, counter-intuitive, and a waste of time. Fear of being seen? says my brain. Don’t be an ass. Just submit your damn query already and shut yer piehole. (And yes, my brain really does talk to me like this.) But, of course, fears are not logical. You can’t reason with them or present them with a body of expert evidence. They are emotional, they are historical, and they are strong little fuckers.

But you know how you overcome your fear? You step into it. You can’t think your way out of it, you can’t skirt around it, you can’t deny it. You have to step into the fear. And it feels like you’re going to die, but if you don’t face it, it’s going to come back in another shape, in another form, at another time, and you’re going to have to deal with it at some point or spend your life in complete denial. But the beauty of it, the wonderful paradox, is that the moment you step into the fear is the moment that it starts to dissolve. So…

Day 23 I sent out three stories: Invisible Best Friends (to Fourteen Hills Press), Full Circle (to Gulf Stream Literary Magazine), and Ace of Spades (to Mid-American Review).

Invisible Best Friends is about a woman who files a missing person report with the police when her self respect disappears.

Full Circle is about a quirky woman who, the more she tries to be herself, the more she seems to alienate the guy of her affections.

Ace of Spades is about a woman who, the more she discovers the different meanings and myths behind the ace of spades, the more the card seem to dictate the outcome of her budding relationship with a man at work.