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By Irena Ioannou

In life, we all have our own demons to fight, but while some of them shrink the older we get, eventually even disappearing, others remain unchanged, the same shaggy goats with horns waiting for a sign of weakness to possess us.

My own demons tend to belong to the second category, time feeding them enough so they never really fade away, just changing their sheepskin to deceive me again and again. My most insistent ones are:

1) I’m not ready. Ever.

At nineteen, when I moved to another city to study, the reality hit me hard. My family, by surrounding me with its safety nest until then, never prepared me for what life was going to throw my way. Yes, I slowly and painfully learned to pick up my dirty laundry from the floor and cook a decent dinner, but the bigger realizations that not everybody loved me, or had my better interests at heart, took years to sink in. I am forty now and I still have to bear in mind that not everybody thinks the same way I do.

That feeling of not being ready still haunts me today. When I’m offered a promotion, I second-guess it, wondering, am I really up for it? When my first child was born, God knows, I certainly didn’t feel ready. And now that my daughters chatter about boys they like, well, to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready for that.

It took me years to realize that readiness, like happiness, is one of those words that is waiting for us to provide the meaning. Because, seriously, how can we ever be “in a suitable state”, or “fully prepared” for an action we haven’t undertaken yet? And why do we let words make us strive to meet other people’s definitions of them?

Only when I consciously changed my mindset have I been finally capable of ignoring my self-imposed limits and laying my readiness-demon to rest.

2) Loneliness.

Younger, I dreaded summers because my best and only friend went to stay at her village with her parents and I was left alone in town with nothing to do.

Older, my worst fear was that someone would ask me on Monday morning what I did on Saturday night and I’d have nothing to say. I feared Saturdays so much that I tended to overcrowd them with scheduled activities beforehand so that I wouldn’t have to spend that day alone.

Now my fear of loneliness has changed clothes. I fear my children will grow up and forget all about me, my husband will die sooner, much sooner than me, and, occasionally, I fear that my line of thought will deviate so much from everybody else’s that I will constantly be feeling lonely even in the company of others.

I had to search deep inside me to see why I view time with myself with such horror. Or why I talk of loneliness like it is some kind of plague, and I don’t, for instance, recognize the need to understand myself better.

Over the years, I’m slowly getting better at enjoying my own company, but it’s a work in progress.

3) I will lose my looks.

No, I’m not a model (not even close), nor do I earn money out of my appearance. Yet, when I lay my eyes upon an objectively unattractive person, I get this knotty feeling that I cannot entirely unravel. In absolute honesty, while part of me blames him/her for not making at least an effort to look more ‘presentable’ (yes, guilty, and I am not proud of it), another part of me blesses my luck for not being born like that. Deep inside me there is a demon whispering that everything I have achieved couldn’t have been done in a totally different wrapping. That everything about me has been the result of my looks, and thus, luck.

And my fear is that I will lose my looks: I will have an accident that will deform me, I will be attacked with acid by a revengeful woman-hater, or simply, time alone will find a way to punish me for my choices.

It takes a lot of effort to live with that little voice that despairs over wrinkles and cellulite, and learning to put it aside. I can’t quite make it disappear, but I can grant it less power over myself.

4) Death.

There comes a moment when all people face with dread the unknown, especially those who lost a beloved one at a tender age. My father died when I was fifteen. I learned that the demons you carry determine the faith you’ll choose to lean on at these difficult moments. There are many approaches to deal with them: Some psychologists suggest that after death you may feel exactly as you felt before you were born. Priests preach that there has to be a greater meaning in all this. And scientists prove that energy doesn’t get lost, just changes form.

No matter the chosen approach, for all our fears, it’s the search inside that makes us stronger people. There are many gurus and many philosophies that promise an easy way out. But the fights that we win are the ones that we have to try hard for. The fights that take place inside our heads, but that we also choose to speak out about.

The naming is not important. We tend to get so wrapped up with words that we end up losing ourselves in them. What is ‘image’, what is ‘luck’, and what is ‘guilt’? Instead of giving ourselves a break, we’re constantly struggling with connotations and other people’s opinions, or else, what happens on the inside of others’ minds.

Stop that, I order myself. Stop right now. Or, as my grandmother used to say, call your good spirits to chase your bad spirits out. Lay your demons to rest.

Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Betty FedoraFlash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, MortarOTV, and elsewhere. She is a mother of four.


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