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The Death Fear

Posted by Shaun Hammel on November 26, 2010 at 2:52 PM

For as long as I can remember I have had a deep and resonating fear of dying. I always just assumed the rest of mankind shared this feeling. There are people who have through various means convinced themselves of an afterlife, of heaven and hell, and the like. And these ideas massage away their fear of dying, which really is a fear of loss of consciousness forever. But, when an immediate and convincing threat arises that could end their lives-- eg., a mugger with a gun pointed at your head, a woman waking up in the middle of the night to find a stranger straddling her body with a knife aimed at her neck, -- most do not want to die, and experience the fear of it then in all its naked intensity. It is the self-preservation instinct, found in most animals for millions of years. There are means to hide this, to trick your mind into forgetting about it, but it's always there. Even suicidal people, whose SPI has eroded over time, still feel it I imagine to some degree. What percentage of suicides do the act completely sober? And who's to say the fear isn't still there, and they've simply found enough will power to overcome it? Loss of the will to live, is not the same thing as, not being afraid to die. Turns out Kamakazi pilots in WWII were high on meth. And one can't underestimate the power of self-hatred I suppose.

 

But if you point-blank say, "I am not afraid to die," it's hard for me to tell you you're lying or crazy or deluded. Hard maybe, but... Even myself right now, right this minute writing this blog post, I am not afraid of death. In the immediate sense. Still I recognize in a more abstract way that it's still there, and always there. It's our nature as brain-controlled animals.

 

The month of October I was very ill and went to the ER a couple times, thinking I was about to die (heart palpitations and severe anxiety). Also, out of no where seemingly, I developed a problem with agoraphobia. I would start to suffocate and feel like I was about to pass out every time I went outside. Somehow my brain cruelly-conditioned itself on its own and I was its victim--  That has since faded away. Never had anything like it before and hope it doesn't come back. I have filled that space with expectations, with duties, with hopes, with life. But that is a process of covering, not proof the fear doesn't exist at all. This 'fear of death' I'm talking about has phases. Goes into dormancy, but has the ability to rise back to consciousness, sometimes when you least expect it. You can beat it down with strong religious belief, with meditation, with a busy schedule, children to feed and care for, with constructed attitudes of strength or apathy, etc. but this again is not proof the Death Fear doesn't exist. Severe and long-lasting illness can cause a mind to even desire death, but only because it will eradicate forever the torturous nature of the disease-- most would chose a healthy body again over death.

 

Of course, the very basic point of its inevitability, becomes all important. How one deals with that inevitability. If you require an attitude of denial to get on with your day, then fine. But I promise you, under the right circumstances, everyone is afraid to die, on some measurable level. You'll fear it again someday. Even as now you shrug or find it funny or fascinating. Entire career paths are based around this fascination fo Death. Thinking about it too long, becoming obsessed with it, can be dangerous business as well. The brain is a magnificent conditioned and apparently self-conditioning machine, and it can just as easily work to muffle or exacerbate the fear of death.

 

 There really is no proper response to Death, but I think it's a bit on the delusional side when people claim they are not afraid to die. Try to laugh at it, scream at it, ignore it, whine about it-- all attitudes are empty in the face of Time rolling on without you. "Sucking it up," becomes just another way to turn your head away from the inevitable.

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3 Comments

Reply JoeMynhardt
7:56 AM on November 28, 2010 
Good luck with the agoraphobia. My wife suffers from it, and it's no joke.
Reply Shaun Hammel
3:04 PM on November 28, 2010 
I use to scoff at people with serious phobias like that. Apparently it was only a temporary thing i was going through. The mind can and will do some weird shit to you. You just think you're in control. :)
Reply JoeMynhardt
4:49 PM on November 30, 2010 
When it comes to fear of death, I think people are more scared of not really living. Of dying before they achieve something. Anything. Now that scares the crap out of me. At least if I die now I can still say I was busy doing my best, and not just sitting on my ass waiting to die.