I’m afraid of everything. I don’t know how it started, I’ve had some real bad stuff happen with my family this year and it’s made me scared all the time. I’m so embarrassed about all this anxiety and I’m going to therapy about it.
You’re talking to the 1987 and 1988 welterweight division champion of the Olympic men’s fraidy-cat finals.
I am not qualified to offer advice on any subject—such as topics concerning the opposite sex. Take, for instance, a recent column I wrote about lifting the toilet seat. I received several letters from irate females who threatened to baptize me in their own personal toilet bowls. But when it comes to being scared, I’m a certified veteran.
When I was a kid, my home life was pretty crummy. Childhood was unpredictable. We were bouncing around between different houses, my parents were arguing a lot, our lives were a mess.
One morning, I woke up puking. This vomiting problem lasted for weeks. I lost weight. At first, my mother thought it was a virus so she gave me castor oil. Her answer for every ailment was castor oil. I am grateful that many brave Americans have since broken the silence associated with the nationwide problem of castor-oil-related child abuse.
NOTE TO YOUNG READERS: Castor oil is a unique medicine that turns the human body into a military-grade projectile weapon.
Anyway, the doctor discovered that I had stomach ulcers caused by severe anxiety. To help my ulcers he recommended a strict regimen of treatment known as—cue theme music from “Psycho”—suppositories.
Let me pause for a moment. Do you remember what I said about castor oil being bad? Well, suppositories make castor oil seem like pure joy. I won’t go into details because this is a family column. I will simply say that suppositories are little wax objects shaped like tiny surface-to-air missiles.
My mother deserves a Medal of Honor for administering them into a well-known orifice of my body.
This marked the beginning of my lifelong afraidness. I was worried my parents might get divorced. I was worried they might stay together. I was scared of everything. Especially clowns. I have never understood the practical purpose of clowns.
My worries have sort of ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes I’d be fine, other times my aunt would hire Pickles the Clown for my cousin’s tenth birthday party.
Even in adulthood sudden irrational fears appear out of nowhere. Like my fear of propane.
I developed this particular fear when we lived in a twenty-eight-foot trailer. One night, our dog jumped on the stove and accidentally turned the gas on. When I awoke the next morning our home was filled with propane. Thank God we were okay and didn’t sustain anny seerius brane demmage 2he 739;/!’ H.
But after this incident I was checking stove knobs twenty times per hour. I was even checking the stoves in OTHER PEOPLE’S HOMES. And worse, I could actually smell natural gas wherever I went. Even at college football games where large shirtless sports fans often paint their bare torsos and dress up as—I can hardly bring myself to say it—clowns.
But enough about that. I want to tell you about one summer when I was helping my cousin coach Little League.
I remember the sunny day we were teaching five-year-olds how catch a baseball. And if you’ve never seen five-year-olds playing catch, it will bless your heart.
But something was wrong. These boys were terrified of the ball, they flinched whenever it came near them. At first I didn’t think a thing about it. But then I got to wondering:
“Wait a second. How come I’m not afraid of the baseball?” Especially considering my documented fear of clowns.
The answer was simple. Because baseball is one of those things that your father, or some other male, passes down to you as a boy. It’s the same with hunting, fishing, working on cars, or belching popular American melodies.
My father started playing catch with me when I was a three-year-old, underhanding baseballs. Throughout my childhood we played catch. Even during the driving rain or in the dark.
My father was our Little League coach. At practices he would pitch to us, Coach Danny would be the catcher. My father would throw violent fastballs and try to scare us from the plate.
I know this seems cruel, but if you’ve ever played organized baseball you’re nodding right now because your coach probably did this to you.
At first, we boys leapt away from the dish and dropped our bats, and in the case of Jon Jon Williams, peed our pants in public. But after only one summer, our ragtag team of messy-haired boys was able to face eighty-mile-an-hour four-seamers that could split the air and break a catcher’s wrist. We were fearless.
During games when pitchers would threaten us with high-inside pitches, we would just glare at them with icy eyes and, in one solitary act of defiance, we would adjust our jockstraps.
Do you realize what this means? It means that the only reason I am not afraid of baseballs is because I’ve faced millions of them.
So I am not saying that you’re going to ever completely get rid of your fear. And I’m not saying that you can get rid of life’s hardballs, either. Wild pitches will scream at you from every angle. Many will hit you.
You are going to be anxious. You will get hurt. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t stand at the plate, even if you’re trembling, and swing like the Dickens. Just know that I’m sitting in the stands cheering for you right now.
Let me leave you with the monumental words of Franklin D. Roosevelt who, in his famous 1933 inaugural address, said:
“We have nothing to fear, but suppositories.”
And of course clowns.
Harriet White - Atlanta - January 25, 2020 7:59 am
Wonderful Sean. Your words are healing.
Susan - January 25, 2020 10:41 am
Clowns. Evil personified. Thank you Stephen King for my lifelong terror.
Marilyn Ward Vance - January 25, 2020 11:34 am
I’m with you….since watching the movie, “Magic”, I can’t stand dummies or clowns! Too easy to hide an evil face behind a mask!
Camilla - January 25, 2020 1:00 pm
I never understood my mother giving cast royal and I can’t remember for one circumstance… But my sisters and I thought her and dreaded that and I can still remember the awful taste. How could that have been good for anything? Of course she couldn’t Google it then to find out what it could actually do to you LOL
Angel Alexander - January 25, 2020 1:23 pm
Sean. The caster oil story reminded me of when I was several weeks past due with my last child. I was determined that she would be born on the 2nd of April.. Not the 1st, so I swallowed a whole bottle of caster oil and she was born at home just a short time later.. Don,t remember how long, but I do remember how easy her birth was.. Just like sliding down a slick slide!! She was perfect. Wish I could have had all th children the Same way..except for th castr oil!! Yuuck
Mark - January 25, 2020 1:27 pm
Sean, You need a boy. I’m 56 and on my 3rd family and we have an adopted 12 year old and a foster 3 year old now. You have so much to offer a kid; and think of the stories that kid would generate. 😉
Allison Gilmore - January 25, 2020 1:48 pm
Sean, you just hit another home run with this column. Thanks.
Clonnie Kujawa - January 25, 2020 2:08 pm
Clowns and castor oil, two of my biggest fears in life. When I was about 5 We were living in Mobile and the circus came to town. A clown grabbed me and tried to drag me away. I’m sure he couldnt show his face again after being left battered and bruised on the ground. My little pregnant Mama became a lioness that day. That same lioness dispensed castor oil for ailments real and imagined. I still break into a sweat and look for the nearest exit if I see a bottle in the store. Are we related??????
Shelton A. - January 25, 2020 2:27 pm
My god, a little kid with ulcers?! And the treatment was awful (been there…I grew to hate and fear candles for a while). You are better now? I’m not afraid of clowns but I can find no real use for them either. Very lucky with the propane, very lucky. In some ways, Sean, you’ve lead a charmed life. You’re not afraid of baseballs thrown in your direction with bad intentions, you survived ulcers (thank you, God), and you survived the propane incident. You must have a rabbit’s foot somewhere.
aleathia nicholson - January 25, 2020 2:28 pm
Stand with the sun behind you so when you look up you’re not blinded and get hit on your head. You cannot avoid castor oil as parents swear by it to clean out all the summer mess you ate. My father had the pharmacist mix it with chocolate soda and expected me to believe he was giving me a special treat. Just because I was cock-eyed didn’t mean I was stupid. After I let it settle and sucked up the foam and threw the rest in the gutter, Daddy looked at me and said: “We’ll try this just one more time….understand?” At least I was not punished via the suppositories route.
Elizabeth - January 25, 2020 2:41 pm
One of your best…seem to say that a lot!
Robin Kidd B - January 25, 2020 3:01 pm
Sean, I am with you on the clowns, creepy painted on smiles…….
Kathie J Kerr - January 25, 2020 3:57 pm
Now with antidepressants there is no reason to suffer with anxiety. Anxiety and stress due to constant worry have a way of conditioning us to always be in a fight or flight mode. Sometimes, even children can benefit from medications that break that cycle. It’s chemical imbalance, usually inherited, nothing to be ashamed of.
Kathie J Kerr - January 25, 2020 3:58 pm
I hope you consider this.
Katherine Young - January 25, 2020 4:44 pm
Childrens’/all ulcers BEGIN with the helicobacter pylori virus. If not totally healed, stress will reactivate the lesions. It does not cause them.
Shelton A. - January 25, 2020 4:50 pm
Glad you lived through the castor oil-nasty stuff. Also glad you survived the propane incident. Good answer to the letter.
Mary T - January 25, 2020 5:23 pm
When my son was young he was afraid of anyone dressed up: Santa, Chuck-E-Cheese, and especially clowns. He is grown with children now and still hates clowns. He has learned to tolerate balloons! He hated them too.
Nancy Parker - January 25, 2020 6:12 pm
Sean, thank you for not belittling people’s fears, and for sharing your own.
Jean - January 25, 2020 7:07 pm
Kindred spirits here. I hated school and would develop a stomach ache that my mother finally decided it was suspicious. She gave me a dose of castor oil….which I have not forgotten….and I tend to be anxious over things that never happen….Suppositories….well what can I say! PS….never had another stomach ache….miracle cure!
billy j bowling - January 25, 2020 7:11 pm
The greatest threat to humanity is a suppository yielding clown.
Linda Moon - January 26, 2020 12:37 am
After a busy long wonderful day I am late in reading today’s Post. When I read the title with “Castor Oil” in it I almost read no further and just go take a nap. But fortunately for you I didn’t, because I might have a remedy for one of your psychoses: watch Mel Brooks’ movie “High Anxiety”. I am concerned about the propane leak because you still show signs of possible damage, but unfortunately I don’t know of a cure for that. My own daddy was a Clown — really — and I think Dads who coach us and make us laugh are better than therapy! I ain’t afraid of nothin’, Sean!!
Keren Williams - January 26, 2020 10:23 pm
First time reader Sean enjoyed your feedback though it triggered what I considered a a faded memory..the CASTOR OIL mystery…my sibling and a host of cousins would be dumped off on my barren aunt every winter break and because she had no children of her own she graciously took the 6 of us in…great-food family and fun but the mystery still remains…now this is a 70’s unsolved mystery why did she dose all the children at the same time when she only had 1 bathroom😖😖😖
Dunya-Anneli - November 26, 2020 10:44 am
My parents tried castor oil on me once – cue diarrhea and stomach cramps – but I spent my childhood living in fear of suppositories (which is why I never shut up about it online)
June - June 16, 2021 12:28 pm
I am with you on the clowns good ole Stephen King. And just thank your lucky stars you had castor oil and not black draft . That mess made suppositories look like a day at the ball field !!!!