How I Stopped Terrorizing Myself

Mindful’s managing editor Stephanie Domet explores how choosing self-compassion in the face of things that go bump in the night, made for kinder days and easier nights.

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I’m standing on stage in front of 150 people, the spotlight bright in my eyes, the microphone solid in my hand. Their faces stare up at me, expectantly. I’m there to tell them a story. For a lot of people, being on stage in this way is a nightmare. Stage fright can make your heart pound, your mouth go dry, your limbs quake. But not me. I’m comfortable here. My worst nightmare awaits me later, at home. It’s also what I’m on stage to talk about.

“For decades—my whole life, practically—I’ve lived with a persistent, debilitating fear of being murdered in my bed,” I tell the audience. They laugh uproariously. They’re not being insensitive—I’m telling it funny. That’s how I always tell it. I run through the list of ghosts that haunt my overactive imagination: Sasquatch, vampires, Adolf Hitler, the Loch Ness Monster, Jesus—that crown of thorns, all that blood—those phantoms of my childhood. Then the Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer—the true-crime menaces of my late-night adolescent reading. Fear has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.

It’s not totally surprising. I was a girl in the 1970s and ’80s in southern Ontario. I read the newspaper every day from the age of nine or ten, and my mother’s magazines—Family Circle, Women’s Day—and they were all always cover-to-cover, it seemed, with violence against girls and women. Kids my age disappearing from the hallways of their apartment buildings, or last seen on the subway heading downtown to a movie with friends. Women like my mother followed through parking lots, pulled into vans, when out for a walk, flagged down
to help someone in need, and then never heard from again. I learned to walk with my keys threaded through my fingers. I read conflicting advice on whether to fight or submit. When my hair was long, I learned to keep it tucked into my coat so it couldn’t be used to apprehend me from behind.

Fear has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.

Some of that fear was caution, and self-preservation, I guess. It was the water I was swimming in—misogyny and men’s violence against women was baked into the society in which I grew up, from the news headlines, to the murder mysteries my mother read, to the movies and television shows we all