Private Fears

We are not defined by our fears, but I believe they cut to the core of our being in a way that most other feelings do not. Our deepest fears are held closely, and the experience of them is intensely personal and often isolating. I’ve asked complete strangers to share their fears and be photographed, an act of courage perhaps made easier because they did not know me. For some, the experience was cathartic. This series examines the dichotomy between who we are and who we appear to be, of how little we know of those around us and what they carry.

I am terrified that my genetics will someday be my future. Afraid of the voices in my head or that those bits of paranoia aren't acceptable and in fact the result of a disorder. My grandmother was schizophrenic and killed herself when I was six months old. I've lived with her shadow. My dad always warning "that stuff skips a generation,” and it's terrified me since childhood as I've struggled through my own bouts of mental health issues.

I'm afraid of never being loved or cared for.

My deepest fear is that I am insignificant; that I do not matter. There is still a little girl within me that feels neglected each time that she is rejected or pushed to the side. After moving from foster home to foster home, you internalize the idea that you will never be loved as you are. When I am spiraling, I say to myself: "No one loves me, I do not matter, no one cares about me." Instead, I am trying to ask myself, "Who loves me? Who do I matter to? What makes me important?"

When my son died, I lied to myself and said he was just spending the night with a friend. I keep telling myself that lie any time I start thinking about him being gone. I’m afraid of who or what I’ll become if I ever let myself realize the truth.

I wake up every morning afraid to get out of bed because I know I’m going to have to encounter others during the day. I stay inside most of the time for that reason. I’m afraid of being myself, being trans, and living with it day after day. I fear the judgement of others as I walk down the street. I fear it so intensely that the simple act of being noticed by others on the street gives me anxiety.

I fear men. All men, but particularly straight white men. This fear is more like a physical fear for my life. I actively avoid them at all costs. When I can’t avoid them, I pick fights with them. This usually makes them not want to be around me… mission accomplished. I am, however, physically attracted to them.

I fear anything that makes me cry or feel any kind of emotion other than anger. It’s become easy for me divert my fear onto a path of anger. That too scares me.

I fear that, at the end of my life, my body was created for nothing more than to be molested, abused, and raped. And that everything I am on the inside – all of my dreams, desires, and passion – is nothing compared to the pleasure I’ve given men that chose to steal it from me.

My fear comes from PTSD. I am 62. I was sent to California’s most violent prison for eight years for a non-violent marijuana crime. I left prison in 2008, but I am doing life without parole because my mind never left. I fear being incarcerated again even for a few hours, that could be the final straw. Right now, standing in the cold wind, I fear camping for the entire winter will kill me.

I am not afraid of anybody and that scares me more than anything else. That I may be forced to defend myself and harm another. It almost happened here in Golden where I camp because it feels safer, though I have never in my life hurt another human being.

Perhaps I am getting better. But my night fears are taking my life. Suicide on the nightly installment plan, I call it. I look like a horrible accident; you don’t want to look yet can’t look away.

My biggest fear is that I’ll give up on my dreams and end up just like my father. He was an incredibly intelligent man who was full of potential, but due to bad life decisions he ended up in the penitentiary and eventually committed suicide. I never met the man but I know how much of him is a part of me.

Like him, I feel like I’m fighting with two hands behind my back. All this potential and promise and nowhere to go. Sometimes I see a future, but I have to jump the Grand Canyon to get there. Ultimately I’m stuck, just like him, able to see the grass on the other side but never able to touch it.

I’m not suicidal, but I do feel that sense of overwhelming dread. If I’m always gonna be stuck, what’s the point of going on? If I’m always gonna end up here, why try? I’m terrified that it will all get to be too hard, that I’ll give up and become someone I can’t live with.

My worst fear is being abandoned, unloved and unimportant. I’m afraid I will never be good enough for anyone just as I am.

I’m afraid my baby will die. I’ll be holding her in my arms and she’ll be breathing and I’ll feel the rapture and the relief of okay, we’ve got her now, safe and sound, but then she slips away from us anyway and there’s nothing we can do to bring her back. After all the love and hope and good intention we poured into bringing her to life, she just goes away. And instead of celebrating a miracle, we mourn an unspeakable tragedy.

I am afraid that I drive men to either die or want to murder me. Last year the guy I was supposed to move in with died of a heart attack. He was thirty-three years old. A guy I was supposed to go on a date with didn’t show up because he died of a heart attack. A guy I was having an emotional affair with died of a seizure just before I left my boyfriend for him.

I’ve had two boyfriends try to kill me. One shot at me and missed by centimeters. The bullet went through my hair. The other tried to kill me by beating me to death.

I am afraid that because of this, love is not an option and any semblance of love is only disguising a murderous or suicidal soul.

I'm afraid there is something intrinsically wrong with me. My mother has lived an isolated existence, chasing everyone away by virtue of being herself. I fear I will do the same.

My fear is falling back into my eating disorder – anorexia nervosa with a side of body dysmorphia. Just like a recovering or recovered alcoholic, it's something you work towards every day.

I had been going to the gym and eating healthier, then Covid-19 struck and shut down the gyms. Since I couldn't go anymore, I started restricting my food intake. I felt like I was losing control over my life and everything I was working towards, but I could still control what I ate. I considered it to be self discipline. The less I ate, the more in control I felt. When I did eat, I felt weak and unworthy, like I had lost some self-made competition against myself.

I hit a couple of “milestones” before realizing I needed to get better. First, I was scared to take off my shirt for what I saw; all ribs, including my floating ribs, and my spine all the way down to the sacrum. Second, being able to see my heart beating through my chest.

It's been the hardest thing I've ever had to overcome.

I’m afraid to run out of time before I even realized it’s past by. I’m young. 24. But last year I had to have emergency surgery and was minutes away from dying. I wanted to turn it into a positive, told myself moving forward I’d “grab life by the balls”. But I blink and six months is gone. 15,768,017 mundane, forgettable seconds that I can never get back.

I was a single mother of four children. At various times I've been disowned by each of them. Currently, my youngest daughter of almost 26 has disowned me to the point of wiping me out of her life. My greatest fear is that I will never see her again, hug her again, talk with her again.

I left South Africa when I was seventeen to study in America on a scholarship. It was an opportunity for me to strive and change my surroundings. Though I made friends in America, I always felt lonely in a crowd. America felt foreign, and I was always reminded of things I couldn’t do because of my own foreign status. Because of my background, I always have to work harder to prove that I am capable.

When I visited South Africa after six years of living in the States, I felt lonely there as well. The place  I thought I knew so well had also become foreign to me. I felt like people did not understand me, they had changed. So had I. My biggest fear is never knowing where my home is.

From eighteen to twenty five, I worked as an exotic dancer. At times, I felt empowered and in control of the room, but as soon as something bad happened I wanted to get out. I felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of wanting to quit the industry, but not knowing how. I had to sit back and take every racist and dehumanizing action and word. Being sexually assaulted was what now seems an everyday occurrence, but I never spoke to anyone about what I had been living through. I always had to shake it off and give them some excuse. There was cocaine, dealers, pimps, prostitution, theft, and violence. I kept moving from club to club, even changing states, but it was the same. I suffered with anxiety, had panic attacks. I felt trapped up until the last day I danced.

I fear that if anyone knew all of my truth that they would judge me. I’m scared to admit that I was a co-creator of my reality, that I put myself in bad situations. I fear that working in such an environment did permanent damage to my spirit. I fear that I can't find another way of making money to support my life and family, and of being pulled back into the work through financial desperation. I fear admitting that I was addicted to a toxic lifestyle. I fear that my anxiety and depression will come back due to not healing from it, at all.

I am afraid of my past keeping me stuck in its weighty grips forever. I'm afraid of not being able to let go and move on from years of childhood incest, neglect, and abuse. I am afraid of who I am, if I am not the abused girl filled with pain of childhood molestation from my dad. Wild as though it may be, I'm afraid of knowing what it feels like to be okay.

Aside from losing my parents or having something terrible happen to my children, deep down I’m afraid of two things: not truly living my life, and opening my heart to true intimacy.

I used to see this woman at night when I was addicted to pain killers. After seeing her a few times, I communicated with her and she told me she ended up living in the walls and mirrors of my old house when I was sixteen. After that, I've always been deathly afraid of dark bathrooms, especially when I walk into the room and no light is on and all I see is some of my face. I can't really do it anymore. I have to close my eyes and find the light switch.

I’m afraid of disconnection. I tell myself I’m not ready to settle down with one person, I need variety, I’m too independent, I’m still finding myself. It’s all true, but it’s also a barrier. When I find myself getting close to truly loving someone, I end up self-sabotaging. Being vulnerable is an experience that connects us, but once we are hurt, nobody is willing to open up again, to trust completely. Relationships start to become more meaningless, surface level, or all about sex.

I fear a world full of people using each other; I fear the fact that I am one of those people. No matter my intentions or how aware I am, I disconnect and choose control over love every time.

I am afraid that my career is over. That the emails stopped coming, or the sales stopped happening, not because of the recent events in my life that kept me from working full force, but because my work isn’t truly good. That I am a one hit wonder that will soon fizzle into some not-very-present memory. I’m washed up; I’m over. My art is weak; my statements aren’t smart enough; all that I have been working for was for nothing. In the end, no one really cared. I’m afraid that devoting my life to art was all along a ridiculous idea, an illusion, and I was just a fool for pursuing it.

The military chewed me up and spit me out. I thought I couldn’t tell anyone about my sadness. I thought it made me weak. At least that’s what they told me. So I buried it all and with it I sank. What I fear most is that the thought of suicide will finally win one day. I don’t want to die and I’m scared I might lose this fight.

I am afraid that one day I will remember my car accident. I have ten metal plates and thirty metal screws in my face, but nothing compares to if I could remember what happened. I was lucky to have made it, because the driver did not.

I’m intensely afraid of failure, to the point of paralysis in my creative output. I’m secretly afraid I’ll never harness any of my potential. I crave connection to a community of artists, but have overwhelming thoughts of never becoming one of them.

I am a 46 year-old man that has done almost 20 years in prison. I have beat a 20-year drug addiction. I am currently homeless, living in my truck with my wife who has cancer and our pup. I secretly fear never amounting to anything that is good. I try, I really do. I do good deeds when I can, yet I always feel like a piece of shit.

I’m afraid of brokenness, of always being a victim. Scared of being alone in ways most people cannot fathom.

I had a friend being stalked by her ex, Jason, who was just out of prison. One night when she was closing Subway alone, he came inside and sat by the back door saying nothing, just staring at her. My boyfriend Jeremy and I picked her up and brought her back to our place. An hour and a half later, Jason smashed through our bedroom window with his roommate and said he was going to kill all three of us. Jason's roommate held Jeremy from behind as Jason savagely stabbed and slashed him. I clutched Jeremy to me, desperately trying to plug all the gaping holes. No one even came out of their homes and I know they heard my screams for help but help wasn’t coming and he's gasping and fighting for me, trying to not leave me alone, as I had just lost my dad and had little else. I had to tell him it was okay, that I would be okay and that he could let go now. I felt him relax and slip away with his last breath. With him went my entire life. Gone.

Jason’s roommate is out on bond and heard me testify at pretrial that I saw everything. I've already received threats about the upcoming murder trial and I'm still in the same place it happened. Feeling safe is a luxury I only daydream about, ‘cause when I finally succumb to sleep I'm in that life-shattering moment reliving my agony or hiding from some dark terrible thing coming to consume all that I am.

For me, fear is a constant companion.  ︎  303•919•6181