I’ve been afraid of the dark since I was a little kid. I couldn’t tell you the day my fear started but it has been a life-altering fear that has affected my sleep and even my marriage in a big way. Until a few months (yep, months) ago, I couldn’t sleep alone in a room even if all the lights were on because I knew it was dark outside. The fear was not logical and it felt childish. Here I am, a 30 something mother who is afraid of the dark? It was embarrassing and annoying and even caused issues in my marriage.
When I was a little girl, I would sleep with the sheets over my head even if it was sweltering. I wouldn’t allow even one hair on my head to stick out because I thought I could hide from ghosts and witches under the sheets. I didn’t stop this until I was a teenager. As an adult, it was so bad that when I tried to sleep alone in a room, I would doze off for a second then wake up with a start every few minutes and would have to look around the whole room. And this is with all the lights on, mind you. I would never have, in a million years, even tried sleeping alone with the lights off.
And it wasn’t just in bed. When I was alone in a public bathroom, I would leave my stall door cracked so I could see out… just in case. Whenever I would get home from work (before we had Boots) I had to check every single room, closet, and shower in the house and turn on every single light. The fear was exhausting.
But I am proud to share that today, my fear of the dark is no longer a part of my life. I have overcome the fear after literally decades of work trying to do just that. I can go to bed on my own, without Anel in the room, without all the lights on. I still leave the bathroom light on as I’m falling asleep but I think it’s just a crutch at this point.
So what, exactly, was I afraid of? I’ve been afraid of ghosts since I was little so I know it was that, but I think it was also just the unknown. Everything I couldn’t see or hear. What would crawl out of a corner or from under my bed? It wasn’t logical when I explained it, and every day I thought: tonight will be different. But it was never different.
What ultimately ended up making the difference was two-fold: 1. Going on medication for anxiety 2. Seeing Amalia at night… Let me explain.
Amalia– This is going to sound a little woo woo to some of you but I always saw/felt ghosts/spirits as a kid but was told for my whole life that they weren’t real. I know not everyone believes this but I know they’re real. I’ve seen them. I’ve felt them. I’ve even communicated with them. But it took me seeing Amalia interact with a “spirit” to realize that they actually aren’t that scary at all. It’s usually family members who have passed that are saying hello. Literal friendly ghosts!
The first time I saw her do that was at my grandfather’s funeral when she was 6 months old. She had a terrible stomach bug that she ended up giving to every single one of my family members, including my grieving grandmother. It was a hot mess. Everyone had to delay their flights because they were so sick. Somehow I managed to be the only one who didn’t get it. Anyway, on the worst night of it, Amalia was so so sick, projectile vomiting everywhere, and Anel was puking and fainting. I was holding her in bed trying to get her to drink Pedialyte when all of a sudden she looked into the middle of the room and started hysterically laughing. Because I felt it too, I knew it was my grandfather making her laugh. He was a total jokester and saw the humor in the situation.
That was my first huge shift. Then a year later on the date of his death, she did the exact same thing. At that time she could speak a little so I asked her what she was laughing at and she said a man. I mean, goosebumps, right? We’ve had a few more instances like that, one where she named my great uncle by name even though I had never told her about him.
Seeing her interact with “the other side” without fear has been instrumental in me overcoming my fear.
Medication– When I started my SSRI, I had no idea how many areas of my life it would touch. It not only helped get rid (for the most part) of my anxiety, but also helped my insomnia, and fear of the dark which I was not expecting at all. It was last Christmas, about a month after I went on meds when I went to bed on my own one night and actually fell asleep before Anel came to bed. The next morning I was jumping for joy but figured it was a fluke and that I must have been extra tired. So I tried it again the next night and was shocked to find that I was able to fall asleep again. Since then it’s been smooth sailing. This was after the Amalia incidents so although it had already been getting better, I think the meds were the final thing I needed.
Before all of this, I had tried seemingly everything and anything to help. Not being able to sleep alone was a huge issue. I couldn’t go on trips by myself. I had to wait until Anel wanted to go to sleep before going to bed myself, even if I was exhausted. And my sleep was terrible because I would wake up scared. And for many other reasons but that was one of them.
Here are a few of the ways I tried to overcome my fear over the years:
Traditional therapy– I started seeing a kid psychologist at age 5(ish) about my fear of the dark. I remember that I loved going because she always had fruit roll-ups and I wasn’t allowed to have them at home. We would talk and play with toys and she would make me draw pictures of what I was scared of. The photos were always of a witch under my bed.
Hypnotherapy– I worked with a hypnotherapist (over the phone) for years and out of everything I tried, this was the only one that moved the needle at all. She is the same woman I worked with for my hypnobirthing, Laura. She’s wonderful and we’ve been working together for 10 years now. When we first started, she told me that it usually takes 2-3 phone sessions with meditations in between to get over a big fear. After our 5th session, I finally started to improve and was able to sleep in my apartment without waking up every few minutes. This was before Anel and I moved in together so I was still alone a lot of the time.
Meditation– As part of my hypnotherapy, Laura made me guided meditations that I would listen to nightly. They helped but I was literally too afraid to keep my eyes closed to meditate at night so I would have to do them during the day or with my eyes opened… So I don’t think I got as much out of them as I could have.
EMDR– EMDR stands for “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” which is a type of psychotherapy that is supposed to help with deep-rooted fears and PTSD. I did this for about 6 months and it did nothing for me with the fear, sadly. But was cool and helped with my anxiety!
Photo by Julia Dags.
Thank you for sharing this and being so open! Has Amalia shown any signs of fear around the dark?
I’ve had insomnia since I was six and a lot of it was based around fear of the dark (instead of witches like you, I was afraid of a vampire and the Bloody Mary myth that was going around the playground in the 90s), and the anxiety/fear/loneliness that I was the only person awake in the world. It’s still something I haven’t fully been able to shake, so this was incredibly comforting and interesting too. Thank you!
I can’t beleive you just said that. The Bloody Mary myth (where we would say it into the mirror) was one of my biggest fears. I remember doing it with my friend and couldn’t walk by a mirror without feeling sheer terror for like a year.
Amalia has just started showing signs and I really try to listen to everything she says so that I don’t overlook any of her fears. We got her a Hatch nightlight which has helped immensely.
I’m so happy that you’ve been able to overcome this but my heart breaks for you that you experienced so much of life with this fear. I also had serious issues with the dark and putting the covers all the way over my head as a kid, and I was eventually diagnosed with panic disorder and put on medication at age 10. It changed my life and I was finally able to be a happy kid instead of worrying all the time (are these markers toxic? will someone come into my bedroom and stab me? is my mom going to die?). Now that you’ve been able to pinpoint your chemical imbalance as a reason you experienced this, you can keep an eye on Amalia so she doesn’t have a childhood full of anxiety and worry.
I wish I had been able to get on medication as a kid. I think it would have really changed a lot in my life. But I’m glad I figured it out now. Better late than never! I watch everyday for these fears in Amalia. It’s my personal worst fear for her. She has started so show some signs and I hope that I’m handling it well.
thank you for your honesty and for sharing your story. I continue to be inspired by your persistence and desire to overcome your fears <3
Thanks Jennifer. That really means a lot!
I am so happy for you that you can finally sleep well!! I‘ve had some serious issues with insomnia too. Totally understand how you must have been feeling almost you‘re entire life – well, actually not totally, because I‘ve had it „just“ for 2-3 years. This makes me so sad, what a terrible thing you had to endure for soo long… Hope you’re feeling a lot more energy and calmness now!!
Very interesting to hear about you and Amalia feeling ghosts! I think kids are able to see so much more than we are as adults. Still a lot to discover in brain research!
I agree. Kids see more because they keep their eyes open to it too. They dont know that it’s “wrong” societally yet.
I”m so sorry you had this experience and I’m happy for you that its over now. Do you do therapy now as an adult? Experiences with medication can change and therapy gives you skills that can last a lifetime. I think therapy and medication together really are the best treatment for anxiety and OCD. Good luck!
I do! The combination of therapy + medication has completely changed my life.
I am so happy for you and please know that I really appreciate you opening up about these things. I still struggle with my anxiety, maybe because I still refuse to try meds -the thought on being on meds gives me more anxiety if that makes sense- but I am really starting to understand that I am not alone in this, and this is really life changing. Thank you and everyone willing to share this!
I know exactly what you mean. I was really anxious about going on meds until I actually did it. It’s obviously not for everyone so I totally respect and understand your decision!
Thank you for sharing this! I love how open and honest you are about your anxiety journey.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety for about 10 months now, mostly surrounding claustrophobia from an MRI that I had a year ago. It seeped into other parts of my life, like work, traveling, medical situations, and when things “were out of my control”. After reading a lot of your posts, I decided to get help because I just couldn’t suffer anymore.
I’ve been doing EMDR for 3 months now, and while I’m still working through it, I’ve made a lot of progress (but sorta like you, I had a “relapse” last week. My anxiety was almost crippling and I felt like I had taken 20 steps backwards.) I’ve also made critical lifestyle changes to help manage my anxiety, especially during certain times of the month.
A lot of my anxiety peaks before my period–I’m wondering if you’ve noticed that pattern as well?
Keep writing about your journey! There are women out there (like me) who feel a little less weird and alone. xx
I’m so sorry to hear this Shannon. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I’m glad you’re getting the help that you need but remember that it’s a journey and as long as your path is on an upward trend, you’re on the right path.
I haven’t noticed a pattern based on my cycle but I’ve heard a lot of other people say that.
You are not weird OR alone. Never forget that! And good luck on your journey.
I have felt absolutely ridiculous because I’m 42, and finally STARTING to get my fear of the dark under control. For me, I need to have the tv on still, but wearing an eye mask, and that’s only been the last few months. Light is turned down to level one from 2. Thankfully my husband can sleep through anything.
And my daughter has had similar experiences as well! The day I found out I was pregnant with her is the same day my grandmother passed away. When she was about 2 years old she was talking to someone in her room. When I asked her who she was talking to, she looked at me and rolled her eyes. She said grandma. I told her grandma was at her house (thinking she meant her grandma). She rolled her eyes and laughed. ‘Not my grandma, your grandma with the white hair and glasses!!’ And then she pointed to a picture of myself and my grandmother in another room. They are so much alike and I know it was my grandmother with her that day.
Woah. I have full body goosebumps reading this. It sounds like she wasn’t afraid of grandma though which is a really good sign.
I’m so glad you’re not afraid anymore. I’m sorry you had to deal with that your whole life 🙁 I always need a nightlight on or have to leave the tv on when I go to sleep because pitch darkness makes me feel disoriented and it freaks me out.
Interesting. I had a roommate in college once who had to watch TV on her laptop before bed or she freaked out too. I think that is really common.
I am glad you have dealt with your fear of darkness.Now that I am married for 7 years and used to sleep with a small light on since I had my son 4 years ago, I kinda admire my old younger self for being able to sleep in absolute darkness during the time I lived on my own without any relative or friend living very close.I could not sleep with any light on, I thought that half darkness was scarier and I actually slept better without lights, there is a scientific explanation to this.I am sure that if I tried to sleep alone without lights on now I would find it difficult to relax and sleep.
As a highly sensitive person, I can so relate to many of the things you’ve written. One thing that helps me at night is white noise in the bedroom (for me an air purifier that makes just enough noise to block out sounds that houses make or sounds from outside). Also, having your vitamin levels tested by a holistic or functional medicine practicioner to be sure they are in the optimal range – especially for magnesium & vitamin D deficiency – both of which can impact anxiety.
Interesting! I take Vitamin D and Magnesium for anxiety and they definitely help. But white noise actually does the opposite for me. If I hear the white noise I get worried about what I can’t hear instead. Makes no sense!