One thing that’s unfortunate about growing up, at least for me, is that the older I get the more things I seem to find frightening. I vividly remember being 15 and repelling down a mountainside with no problem, and being 17 and fantasizing about skydiving. I don’t know when it started but somewhere between 22 and 30 I turned into a hypochondriac, a worrywort, and a bundle of nerves about everything from my sun exposure to my crossword abilities. Just the thought of jumping out of a plane now makes my heart race. I recognize that with youth comes hubris and a feeling of invincibility that slowly melts away, but with adulthood apparently comes increased awareness of all the things in your life that could go awry. You look for suspicious moles, you watch your sodium intake, and you do those crosswords not just because they’re entertaining but because doing them now may help stave off dementia when you’re 87. I even manage to be anxious about my anxiety. I am not a fan of this new feature of adulthood.
But I stumbled across this article the other day about a woman who, through a rare genetic condition, does not experience fear. Literally is incapable of being afraid. She picks up wild snakes, laughs at haunted houses, and blithely reacts to being held up at knifepoint. And the most fascinating part of reading the article was the realization that I don’t envy her. I would never trade places with her. I am not used to or comfortable with this new fearful part of myself, but it’s just a beast that I guess we learn to tame, not kill. “SM,” the woman in the article, walks into any dangerous situation with no warnings going off in her head. She not only has no fear, but no sense of caution. I do take comfort in the notion that a healthy dose of apprehension protects me. My grown-up awareness of my vulnerability is a curse and a gift. I suppose if I didn’t experience any fear, I might not only jump out of a plane, I might forget to open my parachute.