My latest at the Catholic Weekly, recalling the strange fears of my youth and my gratitude to God for healing them:
When I was a new convert, I was filled with a lot of weird anxieties about things. Notions would take me and I could not shake them, often deeply fearful notions.
One time (and I feel silly talking about this, but I bet other people have had similar experiences) I was watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. You might remember it. It was the story of man who is afraid to sleep because when he does, he dreams about dying and is afraid he will die in his sleep.
What struck me about the episode was the thought that it planted in my mind: “What if you are asleep right now? Or what if nothing is real except you?”
I know that sounds stupid, but it really bothered me. I mean like, really bothered me. Like, I couldn’t think of anything else. It haunted me. I had no answer to this nagging thought. What if everything I think I know is a lie and unreal?
A more emotionally mature person can probably look at that young man that I was and detect not-very-deeply buried wells of anxiety and insecurity behind such a fear, but none of that was visible to me at the time. What was visible was simply the fact that I had no good answer to the question, “Are you really sure there is anything but you?”The Twilight Zone posed such questions repeatedly. In one episode, a guy wanders a town where there is just nobody else around. The title of the episode, if memory serves, was “Where Is Everybody?” (It turns out he is hallucinating because he has been locked in an isolation chamber in preparation for a space mission.) My feeling of isolation was like that, but even more so because not only was the fear that there was nobody around, but that there was nothing around me: no other being in all of existence. Just me, isolated inside my own consciousness, projecting out onto the void things that I only imagined were there.
Crazy, I know. But terrifying when you are in the grip of it – like a fever. I feared I might be going mad. And precisely because it was such a crazy thing to think, I got more isolated because I didn’t want to tell anybody I was thinking this crazy thing. When I told myself it was a crazy thing, a little voice from hell whispered, “That doesn’t mean it’s not true! How. Do. You. Know?”