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'Our Enemy Is Dreamless Sleep'- Thanatophobia

Written by Aneesha J. 

Photo by Marcus Murphy from Pexels

Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of cremation. Fear of entombment. That’s how people, doctors, describe it. As for the victims, irrational fear of death. The feeling of dread or apprehension when one thinks of the process of ceasing to ‘be’. Or depression, anxiety, panic attacks, bipolar disorders, ADHD. What happens when you have a fear of something inevitable? As children, we have been told that death is unavoidable and unpredictable. But it is predictable. You know it's going to happen, but not when, where, or how. In the end, fear of death is just a fear of time.


I shake uncontrollably. Medication is not helping. I've tried hypnotherapy, counselling; I sit rigid on my couch or return to bed. 

I have had this fear since I was 12 or 13, I have tried to commit suicide several times, but the fear of death prevented me from doing anything that requires consciousness. At 14, I resorted to trying car exhaustion to do the job, go to sleep quietly. But, my father came home early from work and found me unconscious in the garage with the car running. Death seems to laugh at my attempts only to become scarier and more accurate. A few years, later I mustered up the courage to try again with sleeping pills. I failed again. I'm married, two kids, and I'm terrified. I try my best to be ok. ADHD and bipolar meds epilepsy and anxiety meds. The works. I know death happens, and I know I can't stop it. Even when thinking about it scares me out of it. I just want the suffering to end. Not me. I've been in this pit while life passes by. I feel unaccomplished. Not finished. I did not contribute enough in life that death will end me, and I would have been pointless here in life. A waste. I'm still trying for my girls. It's tough; these anchors of sadness weigh so much.


The symptoms are very recognizable here. Death has made this victim's life endless torture, wanting death to stop the pain but terrified of dying. Quite the conundrum, isn't it? Living is a struggle and a goal that seems just out of reach. Life feels complicated. You feel alone. For victims, only inevitability keeps us alive. When a person is this anxious about death, it can lead to suicide attempts or self-harm. 


Thanatophobia is an anxiety-based, specific disorder and is deeply rooted in fear of the Unknown, Fear of Loss of Control, fear of Pain, Illness, Loss of Dignity, Fear of Abandonment. Unfortunately, it is not a clinically recognized condition, despite the effect it has on people. It has no tests for doctors to identify or treat it yet. At times, psychotherapy can be helpful, and medication can be provided to help with the anxiety. But people are rarely lucky enough to find a good therapist who can understand your condition.

Most victims are well aware of how it works but can't help the constant fear raging within them. How can they? Thanatophobia has no treatments that can be given by doctors. Surprisingly, certain undiagnosed conditions like migraines, Alzheimer's, strokes, schizophrenia, and epilepsy can be related to Thanatophobia.


This fear? It does not stop death; it stops life. "The fear of death follows from the fear of life". The worst part about that is that we know it. We know the negative impact it has on our lives. I often imagine what it'd be like when my time comes. It definitely won't be filled with the fear of what's to come, but now I'll weep and pray for a little more time in life over and over again. How one second, you'll be alive. Conscious. Aware. But the next, nothing. Just another piece of dust for the world to walk on.


Let me paint you a picture. Imagine yourself at home, in your bed. It's not even dark out, and you're reading a book. Suddenly, it starts hitting you in flashes. Your thoughts go slant. All you think about is darkness. Imagining the moment, you stop feeling, stop breathing, Over and over again. You can't breathe. Your heart is beating so hard, you can hear it. The silence is too loud. But your mind is still chaotic. When in a split second you've arrived at 'the land of no more. Try to distract yourself. From living in a box-like house to a box becoming your house. Your breathing ragged and barely existing. When your family burns you. It hurts. Your soul is screaming to let you out. No one does. Only your ashes remain. You run a hand over your tear-stained face. Rub the teary eyes. Or is it sweat? You look at the clock. You know there's nothing afterlife. You can’t comprehend it. No light. Love, hatred, passion, everything left behind. It’s suffocating. You try to stand. Everything feels inconsequential. You just want to live. Your knees buck underneath you. You want an inconsequential life. A happy life. You almost fall. But stay upright. Distract yourself. You walk to your phone. Smile. Call a friend, maybe? Trust your gut, they say. The first friend doesn’t pick up. Upset? Nope. Used to this. The second one does. 'Hey, you say in a cheery tone. Finally, she talks and distracts you. You're glad. But those thoughts are still looming at the back of your head, like dark clouds on a sunny day. They’re never really going to leave. They fade after a while. Unfortunately, you let your mind wander. Is that all they are, your friends? A distraction? Drop it. Trust your gut. You can’t go back to reading. So, you just start cleaning your room. Another distraction? Shut up. Trying to regain control. But you’re suddenly angry. Annoyed. You want to hit something. No; you want to hurt yourself. Another distraction. Enough. You take a deep breath. Close your eyes for a minute. Your heart hurts. Open them. Your lips are bleeding. When did I bite them? Wash your face. Scrub it so hard, like your memories might wash away. Everything, almost forgotten. Almost. Glad you could leave those thoughts behind. Did you really? Stoic. No. Never.


Was that because of anxiety? Or paranoia? Being fake? That's what they say anyway, that it's an act for attention. But, the symptoms, again, are pretty clear that it's an irrational fear of death.


Space scares me sometimes. Not knowing what's beyond. Existence beyond the darkness? What's after these galaxies, another universe? You don't know; you never will. Never-ending darkness. But maybe it does end. There is light, and there is something after, much like the land of no more.


This phobia every person at varying levels, at any age. This feeling is often more intense for some people than others. This condition can be treated by taking proper medical assistance and psychological help. But in the end, only the patient himself can truly fight a condition such as this.

Edited by Hrudhai Chand