A Fear of Words

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

– Dune, Frank Herbert

Writing is scary because words on paper are meant to be read. When I write, my writing is not meant to be hidden in a private journal. I yearn to communicate to others. I want my words to reach out to the outside world and say, “I exist.” 

But for me, there is also a terrifying push-pull between the desire to be heard and the fear of being judged. To write, I need to have something to say. And behind that comes with a whole host of fears. Is what I have to say worth saying? Is my writing worth reading? I feel afraid of being judged and found wanting. 

Sometimes I fear that my writing will become devoid of emotion because in my day-to-day work, my writing is mostly scientific and technical. This happens in my daily interactions as well. I have conversations all day, often about very similar topics. Although each individual person and interaction is unique and different, there are inevitable similarities which develop into pattern recognition. When I am asked the same question for the thirtieth time in a week, I frequently begin to speak from rote memory. I worry that my words are robotic. The thing is, connection with another human being evokes an emotional response. I don’t want my words to be meaningless.

Sometimes I fear being wrong. Or more exactly, I fear inconsistency. Even after I leave training and become a board-certified, licensed psychiatrist, I am only human and I know that I can be wrong. When confronted with opposing evidence, I gladly revise my opinions. Minds change. But words on the Internet do not. I want to write words that I can stand behind, that I can look back upon proudly even years later. But I cannot predict the future. I cannot predict what new scientific revelations may change the medical and scientific communities. I cannot see how society’s values may change. I can only look at the information I have now and write from my current experiences.

Sometimes I fear being attacked. There are people who disregard scientific evidence. There are people who ignore medical authority. There are people who disparage psychiatrists and the field of psychiatry. When hidden behind the anonymity of a computer screen, keyboard warriors can be vicious. I am afraid of the emotional pain, or even the potential physical threats. Even if I do everything right, there may be people who hate me not because of who I am, but because of what I represent.

A part of me wants to suppress these fears. But it is difficult, perhaps even harmful, to ignore them. I think that these fears are quite reasonable, and furthermore, they serve a purpose. They motivate me to examine my choices, to research my ideas, to truly push towards bettering myself. They help me keep watch, temper my expression, and protect myself. It doesn’t mean that the fear is irrelevant, or that it can’t be prohibitive. Sometimes, I wish that I could work less carefully and more quickly, and be more tolerant of mistakes.

We all carry within us a secret inner world, hidden from others’ eyes. Writing is a way for our inner selves to reach out to the outside and attempt to connect with others. Writing is a form of communication. Writing is a form of vulnerability.

In the end, like many things in life, I need to write for myself. And I need to keep writing, despite my fears. 

Because even worse than being afraid is being silenced.

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