Common psychological wisdom suggests that in order to grow as human beings and overcome life’s obstacles, we should all face our fears—and presto, our fears will disappear.
Speaking from bitter experience, I can tell you this is a horrible idea, and it does not work. I found this out the hard way one day when, pushed to the brink of madness, I decided to vanquish my intense fear of marshmallows.
Now, I realize that most people are not afraid of marshmallows, but I am. Other people may see marshmallows as fun candy sponge blobs that add nostalgia and merriment to a night around the campfire, but I do not. Whenever anyone opens a bag of Jet Puffs and says those awful words, “Who wants s’mores?,” my gut starts to quiver, my chest tenses up, the saliva in my mouth disappears, and suddenly everything tastes dry and chalky. Ever since I was in Boy Scouts, my standard response to the s’more question has been, “No thanks, I’ll stick to gin.” But when I reached the age of forty, I figured it was time to do something about the terror that had crippled my childhood.
Small marshmallows don’t bother me much. It’s those big, fat, campfire marshmallows that terrify me. My fear is that if I put one in my mouth, I will accidentally choke on it. Somehow, it will get lodged in my windpipe, adhere itself to the walls of my esophagus, and kill me in a matter of minutes. Then my corpse will lie there for days, bloated and rotting. By the time anyone found me, the marshmallow itself would have melted and disappeared, puzzling the authorities and leading them to determine that my cause of death was “unexplained.” As my soul departed the physical realm, I’d be yelling, “No, no, a marshmallow did me in! Don’t you see?! You must warn the people!” Then I’d disappear into the light—the marshmallow-white light of eternity.
That’s my fear.
One day, I decided it was time to conquer my fear by facing it. So I bought a bag of Jet Puff Jumbos, put one in my mouth, and inhaled.
Lo and behold, precisely what I always feared would happen did—and, as it turns out, my fears were entirely justified. It was terrifying. The marshmallow got sucked half-way down my throat and lodged itself there, creating a tight seal that prevented me from breathing. My face turned red, then purple, but I could not call for help. I could not scream. I beat on my chest and tried to dislodge the marshmallow of doom by exhaling, but nothing worked. Soon, my vision telescoped into a dark circle—the tunnel of death collapsing on itself—there was a bright pinprick of light, then nothing.
I thought I had died, but my wife called the paramedics in time to prevent too much brain damage. On the ambulance ride to the hospital, I heard them say, “He’s going to live, but keep a close eye on him, just in case.” Ever since, my wife has been giving me strange looks and asking me if I’m okay? It’s creepy. Of course I’m not okay—a marshmallow almost murdered me!
The upshot to all of this is that, far from conquering my fear of marshmallows, I am now more afraid of them than ever. I can’t even go down the “snacks” aisle at Target now, for fear that a Jet Puff sighting will trigger a relapse and force me to relive the trauma of that day all over again.
So no, I don’t think facing your fears is a very good idea. In fact, I think it is dangerous nonsense. I’m also afraid of lima beans and full-time employment, but you won’t catch me trying to conquer those fears anytime soon. I’d rather stay afraid than die a stupid, unnecessary death, and I advise you to do the same. Trust me: Whatever you’re afraid of, stay afraid, very afraid, and maybe—just maybe—you’ll be lucky enough to survive.