I’ve always been afraid of the dark

Ellie McDowell

More stories from Ellie McDowell

It takes a village
April 19, 2023

Rebekah McDowell

One of the earliest pictures I have from back when the scariest thing was the monster under my bed.

I have always been afraid of the dark. I thought I would grow out of it, but since I was three in my upstairs bedroom with the slanted ceiling, the darkness has housed the unknown. The only thing that has changed is what I’m afraid of.

Fourteen years ago my biggest fear was the monster under my new big girl bed. I slept with socks on, worried it would grab my feet. I hid under the covers nearly every night, terrified something would attack me if I didn’t. Once the lights were off I didn’t leave my bed because what if something grabbed my ankles when I returned?

Thirteen years ago my biggest fear was the little door in the corner of my room. It was painted over in the same blue-gray paint that coated the rest of the walls in my childhood bedroom. To this day, I can only assume that it led to some sort of storage instead of my own little Narnia waiting for me behind the door I was wary of. I was less fearful of what was behind it and more afraid of what could come out of it the second the light switch was flicked off.

Now, as I slowly become an adult, my fears don’t lie behind a painted-over door or the monster under my bed.

Part of that could be the years worth of art projects and other memories tucked not so neatly under my bed. Or the random shoes and books hastily shoved anywhere I could find so I could go out with my friends.

Part of that could be that my fears now lie, perhaps more reasonably, in the hands of the serial killers I watch too many documentaries about. The late hours of the night that previously held a little girl who was too scared to put her feet on the floor once the lights were off now house an almost adult who still sleeps with the lights on some nights because she finished a documentary about John Wayne Gacy long after her boyfriend had fallen asleep and could no longer tell her everything was totally fine.

Part of that could be that the monsters under my bed have slowly morphed into anxiety and memories I often wish could be folded away and locked in a filing cabinet in the darkest corners of my mind. Locked, because for now they’re housed there, still free to roam about and come into the forefront as soon as the light bulb fades.

Anxiety about the future. About college, about school tomorrow, about making it through another shift at work.

Anxiety about the present. About my lack of sleep, about the homework sitting unfinished in my Google Drive.

I have amazing people in my life now that make everything a little easier. These people are filling the cracks from years of too much pressure.

Anxiety about the past. About the scariest two months of my life, about the things I’ve said and done that hurt people I care about, about what I could’ve changed to make my future just a little better.

The nice thing about the ideas that I used to be afraid of is that they were just that: ideas. They were just figments of the creative imagination I have always had. A lot of the things that now occupy my mind in the hours that I wish I could be sleeping have happened and I can’t stop thinking about them.

A bad doctor once told a fourteen-year-old girl that there was a decent chance she had cancer without stopping to think about what that could do to her. That fourteen-year-old girl still thinks about that from time to time. She thinks about the resiliency she learned from it, but she remembers how terrified she was.

A girl, now seventeen, has spent years of her life in friendships that only drained her. She spent years being walked all over. This also taught her resiliency, but it has drained her so much that sometimes the cracks still show.

I truly promise I’m okay. I know my limits, and I know how to take care of my mental health. Those who worry about me are helping me, and I’m learning to quiet my mind.

I have amazing people in my life now that make everything a little easier. These people are filling the cracks from years of too much pressure. These people are gluing my pieces back together.

And they make the dark a little less scary.