What are you afraid of?

<subject not for the faint of heart>

The late great FDR made the famous statement "You have nothing to fear but fear itself."
I bet that doesn’t mean much for the current generation of people and wonder what your mild or crippling fears may be? Mine has changed over time as I used to be a lot braver before nearly dying a few times. That vulnerability really kicks your butt in the “I feel immortal!” department after near-death experiences. So when I think of things that really really scare me, here’s the order they pop into my mind:

1. Dying and there being no heaven, or no ability to haunt people or hang around people you love(d), or anything. Just to cease to be. That terrifies me. I was quite ill yesterday and heart arrhythmia and multiple infections made me think about all this stuff again. Made me think wayyyy too much.

2. Heights on a roller coaster. I don’t mind tall buildings, walking up stairs, elevators, or if I had to work cleaning windows 900 feet up. The roller-coaster deal is I’m afraid the belt will fail and I’ll fly out and plummet to my death or that I’ll have a breathing/heart attack while going down the first big hill at Cedar Point’s Millennium Force and they won’t have time to get proper medical to electrocute my heart chambers with a car battery to get it restarted - LOL.

3. I’m terrified of losing anyone else in my family. Sometimes I don’t think I could cope with life after that, because I love them all so dearly.

4. Claustrophobia. I loved packing myself into a tiny suitcase as a kid, but after same hospital stays that nearly killed me I became terribly, claustrophobic. When going into a MRI or CAT Scan now I shake like crazy…so much so I ask them to tie me down so I don’t mess the test up.

5. My time on this planet to have been worth nothing.

6. I’ve seen Dementia in people and it is horrible. Remembering nothing and having to be guided through your life by sticky notes that you don’t remember writing. The only positive is you could forget you saw certain movies and enjoy them for the first time every day. So could see Aliens and have the shit scared out of you the fun way! Ten do again the next day and be like, “This has to be the best movie I’ve ever seen, and I saw it today!”

7. Wasp/Hornet in the house. Eeeeeek!

We just had a hornet infestation come through our ceiling vent in the kitchen last week. It was terrifying.

I’d say creepy crawly critters. Spiders, roaches, maybe throw snakes in there too. Not a fan.

Jeff, I used to worry a great deal about numbers 1 and 5 on your list. I do not, at least so much, anymore. Except as they make me consider my own shortcomings and my desire to do better and be better.

I think that the way we think about the present as we experience is weirdly unique to human beings. This time, right here as I sit, is a unique time. Or so our brains trick us into believing.

But…if we know our Einstein, we know that time is a deceitful thing to us, because this unique time as you’re reading this doesn’t just disappear into nothing when you close your web browser. It’s a reality authored. It remains. It is eternal. Yesterday didn’t stop existing. November 12th is a thing, always there even if we struggle to perceive how that can be.

And so as humans we make our own mark on this constant, always-there experience. We can choose to author a lifetime of enviousness and disappointment and dissatisfaction. A lifetime where our flaws as humans are given free reign and make us and everyone around us miserable, building until we die, and the mark we’ve etched onto the constant glass of time that always exists is a terrible one. To me, that’s hell. Or…we can choose to try to make that mark a good one, with love and enjoyment and selflessness here and there (or more than that, even!)

You build frop bogs. You’re set.

“I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

I’ve never believed in an afterlife. If anything, the traditional afterlives scare me. Because I know that if an omniscient being sat down to judge my life by a rigid set of rules, I’m up for an eternity of torment. While my actions have been reasonable, I’ve thought all sorts of terrible things, and thought crime usually counts in these systems. That’s the point, of course, that you cannot avoid breaking the rules, and thus are beholden to the priests for absolution.

Roller coasters scared me as a kid. They don’t anymore.

I’m a claustrophile. I like enclosed spaces. As a kid I was fond of building snow tunnels.

I’ve reconciled myself to the idea that I’m not going to leave any mark. I thought I was going to, but it didn’t work out. So I mostly focus on having fun while I’m here.

Wasps are nature’s assholes, but they don’t really scare me. Spiders are great, they eat insects. Snakes are no big deal, though I’m not around them much.

Oh man, this is like a textbook setup for someone to jump in and share the gospel, or at least the reformed Presbyterian version I subscribe to. The short version is that’s why Jesus died, because no one can earn their own redemption (and it’s not the priests that provide it), so God takes the punishment himself through Jesus. The long version is that an internet forum with people I like chatting with but can’t really claim to “know” isn’t really where I feel like proselytizing, both because I just don’t really think this is the place (it feels like street preaching), and because I’m terrible at it.

But man, you really set that up like we’re in some goofy youth group instructional video on “How To Share Your Faith”. Sorry for the derail!

Anyway. I’m terrified of Alzheimer’s. There’s some family history of it, and more than the general fear of it, I worry specifically because I’m 34 and still haven’t started a family of my own (which I want), and I’m terrified of what I’ll miss out on when I do. Every year that goes by I think terrible things like my future children will be one year younger when I go crazy. What will I miss? Grandkids? My kids’ marriages? College graduations?

That’s not how the Catholics tell it. You know, confession and absolution and all. But I was actually speaking more abstractly, and what you’re saying fits what I meant precisely. The religion tells you there’s an afterlife, and that you’re damned in that afterlife and cannot fix that on your own, that only the religion can save you. The religion sets up the problem and then provides the solution. Of course religion is an abstract idea, and the practical impact of that is to provide a living for priests, since you can’t have that redemption-providing religion without the priests.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe in any of them, and in fact am psychologically incapable of doing so, any more than I am can take invisible pink unicorns seriously. I do, however, read a lot of fantasy, and have an active imagination. So the idea is still scary, in a monster-in-the-closet kind of way. Kids generally know that there really isn’t a hairy carnivore living in their closet, but closets, basements, and the like are still scary. Because it’s not the dark they fear, it’s what might be living in it.

Definitely afraid of dying, not so much of death. Though I fully believe it, it’s still depressing as hell to think about becoming nothing, just ceasing to exist. All those life lessons, all that experience for better and for worse is just gone.

I’m overwhelmingly terrified of all flying, stinging insects, to the point of being reduced to a crying mess when in their presence (that’s assuming I was unable to run away screaming).

I am horrified of alzheimers, as my mind is the only thing I even remotely like about myself.

I worry about being alone, because I am miserable when I am alone.

I worry that my girlfriend will never get well and will eventually kill herself because of her illness. Which leads back to fear number 3.

I worry that I’ll get fired and lose my house and everything and fail.


And the collapse of the US economy, taking with it the pension I’ve been earning the last 20+ years. That would really suck.

I wouldn’t say what I feel about knives is precisely fear, but when I’m cutting up pork or beef into cubes, I often realize I could cut my own flesh just as easily.

Then the mother-humping onions try and get me to do just that.

Well, I almost died twice in the last two years, so that pretty much eliminated that fear.

Dementia is truly terrifying, so that is on my list. I witnessed this first hand with my father in law and it was awful. Plus, I met a lot of messed up folks during my brain surgery rehab - my roommate was a woodworking artist who could not speak, walk or move his right arm. He would wake me up with his sobs at night - awful.

I am afraid of being eaten alive - sharks, zombies, pack of wolves. That would suck. Dying in a fire by burning to death would also be nasty.

Bugs palm sized and larger. In an enclosure - fascinating; free and near me - terrifying.

Car trouble.

Yeah. I can handle most other things that life pushes my way, but car trouble is my personal kryptonite that leaves me in a puddle of ineffective goo.

Flying stinging things? the end of the economy as we know it? meh.
A grinding noise in my engine and a thunking noise from the front left wheel well? Oh! Noze.

Go figure.

Heights is a big one for me. Just can’t stand being up higher than 20 feet. Once I get that high my brain starts to envision what it would be like to plummet towards the ground, the feeling of hopelessness of knowing it’s my final split seconds and that when I hit the ground, the lights go out and that’s all there is.

I used to have crippling panic attacks in my 20’s, thinking I was dying from a heart attack. Now that I’m in my late 30’s, I still have this worry in the back of my head every time my chest hurts or what-have-you, but it doesn’t spiral out to panic attacks anymore, thankfully.

The other thing that keeps me up at night sometimes is just a general fear of living poor. My parents got divorced when I was 6, leaving my mom as a single parent with 2 kids. She had been a stay-at-home Mom since I was born and had no college education. I grew up lower middle-class, never truly “poor” I guess. We had a roof over our heads and food on the table (even if it was just PB&J some times). By the time I was in my teens, my mom had gotten a business degree through night school courses and was running a small business. We were still lower-middle (moving towards true middle), but there was never again a time where we were rationing food or dressing in winter clothes to stay warm because we couldn’t afford to run the furnace.

Mom drilled in to me and my sister the importance of being financially independent, never relying on someone else to support us (as she had been with my dad). When I was old enough to work, she pushed hard for me to get a job and keep working as much as I could. The problem with growing up never being able to get what the other kids had is that, when I finally had my own money, I had a hard time denying myself anything.

I have been exceedingly scared of going back to how I had to live as a kid. It drives me to work my ass off, but it also sometimes makes me spend money that I shouldn’t. When I needed a new car, I bought one that was more than I needed. We’re building a house that is larger than we probably should be building using materials that are probably more expensive than we need to use. It’s reckless and sometimes feels stupid and reinforces that “I don’t want to be poor again” feeling. The only way to squelch the fear is to prove I can buy what I want, which just causes a vicious cycle of spend, feel bad about it, spend to feel better.

Sober people have this discussion quite a bit. And you can also take it to the religious or spiritual side (take your pick) by thinking about the relationship between fear and faith … their meaning being if you are in faith, it’s (theoretically) not possible to be in two different states at once (fear vs faith) so be there and have less fear.

Me, my take on it has evolved over years of being sober. A therapist helped me too with the observation that … it is OK, normal, indeed “good” to have and experience some fear. It helps you plan ahead to deal with difficulties on the horizon. But, this helped me realize that anything beyond a “normal” amount of fear was, um, non-productive, obsessive, and unhealthy. Over the years what helped were a number of observations like … gee, the things I fear never seem to come to pass. Or, sure, things happen, but it’s not under my control, not my responsibility, I don’t have to be in charge of everything. Or, it did come to pass but in a different way than I expected. Or, maybe I shouldn’t fear things and instead look at them as opportunities, or challenges.

What helped a lot too was seeing other people deal with extremely difficult issues (things I feared, loss of job, severe illness, loss of loved ones or relationships) and get through it (and, for me, noting they didn’t have to or want to drink over it either).

What was most freeing for me (which dampened down my fears considerably), was one of the biggest realizations I had in my (not insignificant) lifetime. I always thought I had an inordinate amount of fear of “the future” (things that might come to pass in the future). I spent a lot of time with that and thinking about it and worrying about it and talking to others about it. Then, my realization was that this was a coping mechanism. No, I don’t really have such a fear of the future, what I have is a fear of being present in my life. By engaging with all this nonsense about fear of the future, I was clearly not present in my own life. It robs you from the simple enjoyment of the present. Like, you know, right now, it’s not perfect by any means. It might even be pretty shitty. But you know, it’s OK and I’m going to be alright, in my experience. Since I had that realization, my fears and worries have been dampened considerably. But, I would still like to find ways to be more present in my life as, from what I am told, it is the only real time, and my memories or projections are distorted (despite the earlier reference to whatever Einstein said!).

I’m curious about jpinard’s OP. Given how abstract some of those things are, I get the impression that jp actually dwells on them. That is, that he worries about them on at least a semi-regular basis, even in the absence of any particular circumstances or any ability to address the fear. That honestly sounds like a horrible thing to have to live with.

In contrast, I think I’m only afraid of something when a circumstance presents itself. For example, I’m mildly acrophobic. I’m certainly not a happy camper when I get on top of a roof, but I don’t give it a second thought when I’m not in a situation and I certainly don’t dwell on it. I also do what I need to do on the roof and I get off as soon as I can.

Similarly, I wouldn’t like to chop off my finger or die in a fire, but I don’t see that as being “afraid” of those things, in the sense of dwelling on them, beyond trying to avoid them when circumstances make them a possibility (e.g., walking by a raging inferno or going to sleep with a 100 candles lit).

I can’t imagine being afraid of something like a family member dying constantly, outside of specific circumstances that bring the issue to the fore.

Death and Dying is my biggest fear. I’ve found I can start obsessing over it and get very anxious. I don’t know how to deal with getting older and my own mortality. I don’t believe in the afterlife, so the thought of there being nothing and myself just ending kills me.

There are a few things that I’m afraid of. But one thing I no longer fear is death. Don’t get me wrong, I have fears about the form or method of my death. I certainly fear extreme pain. But I was hit by a car many years ago. According to my neurosurgeon I “died” on the operating table during my 22 hour brain surgery. Having considered that for many years, I no longer fear non-being. I’m pretty sure that it is identical to the infinity of non-being before I was born.

But I hate heights. Not airplane heights. Ladder heights. I know it’s ridiculous, but there it is. When the wife and I put up our Christmas decorations it’s like Laurel and Hardy.

  1. Outliving my children.

  2. Getting ALS.

I got in some trouble as a teenager (about which it would not be prudent to share details on the open Internet). A very large part of my life has been devoted to not being in that position again, so you could say my biggest fear is repeating my mistakes.

Losing my professional engineer status, as my family depends on it.

Losing my vision. I will dream of going blind once in awhile and feel real fear.

Alzheimer’s. Getting it is basically losing everything you know, love and are. When my grandfather passed away, I was almost happy. It’s more a sense of dread than fear though.