I have a confession to make. There are monsters in my closet.
No, not literal monsters—though that would certainly make for a more interesting story—but the kinds that everyone has. Things like misshapen bags on the floor, heavy jackets slouched onto hangers, and piles of shoes on the ground that, with the lights turned off, look like goblins, ghouls, and gremlins.
Though seemingly innocuous items, these little “monsters” were the epitome of my childhood nightmares. I would lay my head down to sleep and try to make my mind still, only to feel the hair on my neck stand up and feel my eyes crack open once more. In those moments, my well-used personal possessions became creatures of lethal strength, drawing closer and closer every time I risked a peek. As time passed, my aversion to the dark only grew. Every night I was challenged, poked, and prodded in this unending state of discomfort in which I was preyed on by the monsters themselves and their accomplices who hid in the dark.
Suffice it to say, I hardly slept a wink in my early childhood years.
Ultimately, my pride caused me to seek a solution. I came to the conclusion one day that my fear of the dark was unbecoming of my dignified eight-year-old self. I could not bear the humiliation of admitting that I was scared of my own puffer. It simply wouldn’t do. So I forced myself to sit in my pitch-black room, waiting for the moment where I wouldn’t feel the monsters’ creep. It was a truly uncomfortable experience, yet after several months I began to embrace the darkness as an old friend. I marveled at the way that, given a little time, the monsters could transform into friendly dragons, unicorns, or even imaginary best friends. I started to look forward to going to bed, eager for the moment I could turn the lights off and talk to these creatures about the people and places I saw.
I have thought about this quite a lot recently. Perhaps it’s because spooky season is around the corner (I have seen more plastic Frankenstein heads at CVS than I ever needed), but I’ve recently thought about the monsters that used to scare me and the ones I might have today. My mind is practically the space that my closet used to be—filled with ideas, memories, and monologues, that serve as the visor through which I interact with the world. It is in this mental closet that I perceive others and feel empowered to represent my truest self among them. On some days, however, when I am feeling exhausted or vulnerable, I feel the monsters start to materialize in the crevices of my brain. They whisper falsehoods about my character, abilities, and future prospects as I cower at the center of a room I no longer recognize. When these voices get loud enough, I feel immobilized, unable to lead in the commitments I am involved in, laugh with my closest friends, or focus in my classes. I feel trapped in my own mind.
I must admit that these monsters are more formidable foes than the ones I grew up with. They try to convince me that I will never become the person that I want to be, never reach the goals I set for myself, or create the life I have dreamed of. They create a false perception of my reality that seems so incredibly believable and yet only exist in the shadows of my brain. But that presence—knowing this perception is only in my head and nowhere else— is actually what makes it comforting.
My child self has taught me how to sit with these monsters and be. Just like holding my breath while underwater, I can sit and wait with the monsters until they transform into shapes I can recognize and befriend. Sure, they may return in forms more grotesque and all-consuming, but they are, at the end of the day, shapes to be molded and remolded until I return back to myself and remember who I am.
In short, I can now say with all due edginess that I have embraced my darkness. As much as I have despised them, I am grateful for what the monsters have taught me about myself. And while they may never completely go away as they did when I was a kid, they have become beings that I work with as I move through life.
So as this spooky season comes to a close, and the plastic little Frankenstein heads disappear from the shelves, I must ask you: What’s in your closet?