Alone and Afraid of the Dark
The world has no care for your worries, it will plod on whether or not you lose yourself in your fears.
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I set off back towards the city, yet again armed with this knowledge. We fear the unknown. Anyone who denies that is a either sadist or a gifted liar. I drive on pitch-black roads and sleep alone on the road to face the conquerable unknown so that when I return, I can face the uncertainty of real life.
So that every sunrise at home is a reminder that my fears are ill-conceived. I drive to remember this. We all need some reminding. Photos by Linnea Bullion.
Still, I would perform this ritual the next evening, too, in the somewhat superstitious belief that these small measures kept the demons at bay. A fifth grader, I was forbidden to read it; my mother, correctly, thought I was too young. In the book, an adolescent girl is menaced by obscene notes and phone calls before being assaulted—horrors I had never dreamed of. Starting that school year, my parents had permitted me to let myself in the house and stay alone until they got back from work.
Every afternoon, I approached my unassuming home in suburban Cleveland with the same caution and trepidation as a rookie cop on a drug bust. Anyone under the porch? OK, open the back door on a count of three.
Once inside, all it took was an unexpected clank—damn those old radiators—and I would sprint over and hit the panic button on our security system. After half-a-dozen episodes in about three months, the police informed my mother that we would be fined if I ever pressed that button without cause again. Barely a week later, to my quiet relief, I found myself making lanyards in a well-supervised after-school program. I was so busy in high school that I was hardly ever home, period—alone or not. In college, I lived in an overcrowded dorm.
And then I moved to New York City. Some of my midwestern relatives, heavily influenced by certain Martin Scorsese movies, were concerned about my welfare: All those muggers roaming the streets! But I was elated at the prospect of living in an apartment, with people above me, below me, and on either side. After all, most horror movies are set in single-family homes where no one can hear you scream. In my Brooklyn apartment, I could tell when my neighbor sneezed or blew his nose; I may be the only person to have ever genuinely cherished such sounds.
Five years ago, however, Christopher and I decided we could no longer cram our family into a one-bedroom rental. Nor could we afford a sufficiently large place in the city. The suburbs were inevitable. As the real estate agent squired us from one four-bedroom, two-bath to the next, that old familiar chill washed over me. Promises of Jacuzzi tubs and stainless-steel appliances took a backseat to my real concerns: Was the street too isolated?
Were the windows too accessible? Still, when we signed the papers and moved in, I nearly burst with pride. When the fear makes it impossible to sleep, causes severe anxiety, or continues into adulthood, it may be considered nyctophobia. Nyctophobia may be associated with a sleep disorder, like insomnia.
Fear of Darkness Phobia – Nyctophobia
A small study on college students with insomnia uncovered that nearly half of the students had a fear of the dark. Those who had the most trouble sleeping were more easily startled by noise in the dark. Not only that, but the good sleepers actually became used to the noises with time. The students with insomnia grew more and more anxious and anticipatory.
Diagnosis involves meeting with your doctor and answering questions about your symptoms. Your doctor may also ask for a psychiatric and social history. From there, your doctor may use the diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition DSM-5 on specific phobias to make a formal diagnosis. Nyctophobia, on the other hand, can make it very difficult to get enough sleep. That can affect your overall health and lead to sleep disorders like insomnia.
One treatment for people with insomnia involves leaving a dark bedroom to sleep in a lit room. This treatment exposes people to their fears repeatedly until the thing they fear, such as being in the dark, no longer triggers feelings of anxiety or panic.
Nyctophobia: Understanding Fear of the Dark
There are a couple of ways to be exposed to fears, including visualizing the fear and experiencing the fear in real life. Many treatment plans blend these two approaches. Some exposure-based treatment plans have worked for people in as little as one long session.
This type of therapy helps people identify their feelings of anxiety and replace them with more positive or realistic thoughts. This type of treatment is usually not used alone to treat phobias. Relaxation treatment includes things like deep breathing and exercise.
It can help people manage the stress and physical symptoms related to their phobias. If you suspect that your or your child has nyctophobia, there are many resources where you might find help.