To illustrate the difference, let's talk an actual fear OF monsters: ophidiophobia. Yes, I know some of you like, even love snakes. I know that snakes have a crucial role to play in the ecosystem (or so I'm told). Yet the mere act of typing the word gives me heebie jeebies. What's more, I don't think this is necessarily an unhealthy fear. What was coming out of Medusa's head, after all? Not fluffy bundles of cuddly cuteness. And what about Genesis? Whether you believe the Bible is God's word, a crazy story with a spectacular ending, or something in between, you have to admit that the whole Adam-and-Eve-meet-a-snake episode is rather terrifying, particularly its concluding curses. Then there is the here-and-now: copperheads who occupy a friend's woodpile, rattlesnakes that take over a highway rest area, cobras who spit, for crying out loud!
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The problem is, you can have too much of a good thing. Healthy, protective fear runs amok, and before you know it, you have a fear monster. Rather than simply give the copperhead-infested woodpile a wide berth, you stop a mile from the house, desperately hoping your significant other will answer the phone and assure you that there are no snakes in sight. Never mind that you are safely ensconced in your car. Never mind that you have seen snakes, probably the same snake, exactly twice in as many years. Never mind that said snake was a harmless, even beneficial, black snake. You are in the grips of a fear monster, and it is dictating your every move.
Fear monsters have stalked me a lot in recent months. Not so much over snakes –I moved years ago, and so far, they have kept a respectful distance– but just about anything else seems fair game. Home repairs. Kid tantrums. Car trouble. Health scares. Things that go bump in the night. These things usually a) aren't real, b) are real but don't apply to me, or c) are real and do apply to me, just not in any sort of life-threatening way. And rarely are they things I can even control. They are just there, trying to take charge, especially between 2 and 5 a.m., though they can grow unwieldy at any time and without warning.
The good news is, the fear monsters don't have to win. They may be legion and they may be tenacious, but we can cut them down to size. To find out how, stay tuned... The black cat will be back soon.