Written collaboratively by Professor Jill Kolongowski’s Spring 2019 creative writing class at the College of San Mateo, ages 18-32.

Clowns. Forgetting my order at a restaurant. Wool thread in my teeth. Gum. Patterns of small holes. Being recorded in a safe space. Losing my phone. My dog attacking me. Things that crawl. Black widows. Parasites. Centipedes. A rat under the bed. Snakes. Frogs. Ant infestations. Aggressive birds. Bees. Bees. Spiders. Spiders. Spiders. Spiders. Spiders. Bugs of all kinds. Moths. Butterflies.

Jumping off high places. Tall buildings standing alone. Heights. Heights. Heights.

The depths of the ocean.

Looking underwater in deep water.

Being underwater.

Wide open spaces.



The dark.

Being in the spotlight.

Being the center of attention.

Being the center of attention.

Being called on to speak when I don’t know what’s going on.

Stepping up.

Speaking up in any setting.

Making a fool of myself.


Being fat. Scales. Getting ready in the morning. Mirrors.

Identity theft. Being myself in front of new people. My skin tone. My accent. Losing what I like about myself. Losing who I’ve become. Turning back into who I used to be.

Being judged. Messing up. Complicated math problems. Student loans. Exams.

Being rejected.

Disappointing people.

Being rejected.

Being hated.

Not being able to do the things I aspire to do.

Not accomplishing anything.

Disappointing people.

My life not being worth anything.

I’ll never be enough for anything, for anyone.

Being mediocre for the rest of my life.

Disappointing people.




Being yelled at. Being yelled at. Being yelled at. People who can’t won’t be reasoned with. Initiating confrontation. People who are overly aggressive. Conflict. Conflict. Confrontation. Confrontation. Getting into a fight unwillingly. My anger. Guns. School shootings. Not being able to fight back. Seeing a crime happen in front of my eyes. War.

Global warming killing me before my time. Natural disasters.

Driving. Drunk drivers. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident.





Blood tests and their results.



Getting injured and losing my skin.

Losing my eyebrows.

Losing the use of my limbs.

Losing my sense of sight.

Losing my sense of hearing.

Losing my sanity.

Spiraling back into my worst episode of depression.

Mentally ill people.

Carbon monoxide poisoning me in my sleep.


Being burned alive.

Getting tortured.



Getting sick.

Getting an STD.

Getting a terminal illness.

Getting old and not being able to take care of myself.







My phone dying.

My pets dying.

My older sister being sent to the front lines of a war in the Air Force.

Not being able to help my younger sisters.

Losing my sister.

Losing my dad.

Losing a friend.

Losing my mother.

Losing my mother.

My parents dying.

My parents dying.

Losing someone I care about.

Losing someone I care about.

Losing someone I care about.

Losing someone I care about.

Breaking someone’s trust. Having a friend you trust abandon you. Being taken advantage of. Being used. Betrayal. Commitment. Breakups. Never finding a life partner. Not being able to have kids. Having kids. Dying alone. Being alone. Being alone. Being alone. Love.

People. People. People. Being a bad person. Being a bad person. Unrealistic expectations, positive or negative. Not being able to support myself. Not being seen as an adult by my parents. My alarm. Being unprepared. Losing a great opportunity. Success. Making a bad decision. Decisions. Decisions. Being late. Mazes.

Remembering. Not remembering.

Being trapped. Being alone in a dark neighborhood. People breaking into my house. My house being destroyed. Moving out. Being homeless. Homeless people.

Exile for being different.

That one day I’ll slip up and tell my family I’m bisexual and bipolar.

Being ignored.

Being invisible.


Being forgotten.

Being forgotten.

Being forgotten.


Jill Kolongowski
 is the author of the collection of essays Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me (Ulysses Press, 2017). She received her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California, and other essays are published in Sweet: A Literary Confection, Sundog Lit, Essay Daily, Southern Indiana Review, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. She teaches writing at the College of San Mateo in Northern California and is working on an essay collection about disaster. Find her tweeting about earthquakes @jillkolongowski.

This essay is inspired by the wonderful 10 Things That Scare Me podcast.

Photo by Mike McKniff