Today Fandango continues his Provocative Question series by asking the following: Do you have any phobias? If so, have you had these phobias all your life or have they developed or evolved as you’ve aged? A phobia is defined as not merely a fear, but a extreme and/or irrational fear.
I have loads of fears ~ I am a very anxious person ~ but none are extreme or irrational, except one. I’m not sure this one has a name, but the closest definition I see is kenophobia, the fear of empty space. But mine isn’t a fear of any empty space, like a room… it’s a fear of huge empty spaces, such as a giant field or the middle of the ocean or outer space. Yes, I know these spaces aren’t empty, but in my imagination they go on for eternity with no break. This is not true of fields and oceans, in particular, but there’s the irrational part. I also get dizzy looking down from a great height, or even a picture of that, but this seems rational because it’s possible I could fall from a building, while getting stranded in the middle of the ocean is highly unlikely. And I am afraid of flying over the ocean (not that I like flying at all), even though I know you die before hitting the water…
This phobia began around age 11, in the summertime, when my parents and I were driving back to New Jersey from Ohio and I suddenly realized that I would die at some point… and my mind would drift forever in nothingness… but I wouldn’t even know. I tried to talk about this with my parents and they brushed it off with unhelpful clichés, such as you don’t have to worry about that, it’s a long way off, everyone dies, etc. We weren’t religious, so I had no comfort from the afterlife fantasy and still don’t. I wish I had the fantasy, as I think it makes the idea of death more bearable, but I can’t make myself believe it sans evidence.
I stayed awake for about year and a half, obsessed with death and terrified of literally nothing. Now, I understand that I must have slept some, or else I really would have died, but it wasn’t much, and I was constantly exhausted. No one knew. My grades didn’t suffer, and after that first attempt to talk to my parents, I didn’t bother. Then, I forgot. Around age 13 (when I developed anorexia, which may or may not be related), I forgot about my fear of nothingness and became obsessed with new things, like calories, weight, and numbers in general. Ironically, anorexia can kill you and numbers go on forever…
Some years later, I remembered the phobia, and it still freaked me out. It expanded a bit to cover vast empty fields and ocean middles and total darkness (when you can’t see the walls), not just space, but it also receded a bit, in that I had the ability to make myself stop thinking about it after a few seconds of dizzy terror. Strangely, the man who broke my heart had something helpful to say: why would you want to be mentally aware forever when it’s so boring? He gave an example of the millionth issue of the New York Times ~ who even cares? Right! In fact, I already don’t care about the NYT. So boring.
I added a bunch of new images to my media library for this post, and we know that place is finite, even if we pay for a personal plan, but it seemed important.
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