What are some of your biggest fears? Mine are snakes, any and all kinds of snakes, being alone, someone thinking I’m stupid, and death. The abnormal fear of death is how they define thanatophobia. I started researching why I have this phobia. What can cause it and how can it be treated. I have been afraid of dying for as long as I can remember.
The first memory of someone that I knew dying was a little girl that I played with in a trailer court that my mom lived in. I don’t remember her name, but I still remember what she looked like. She had light brown skin and dark hair and eyes. She always had a dirty face and messy hair. She had lots of bruises on her arms and legs. We would find sticks and dig in the dirt for pretty rocks and then hid our treasures under one of the trailers in the court that had a loose piece of tin skirting. Anytime I visited my mom the first thing I would do is go next door to see if the little girl could play. One morning I woke up to the sound of sirens. I went into the living room and climbed on to the couch and moved the curtains so I could see what was going on. There were cops and firemen going in and out of the little girls house. I thought maybe something happened to her mom. As I continued to watch, I saw them carrying things out of the house. They brought a mattress out of the house and laid it on the grass. They were spraying it down with a hose and smoke was rising off of it as the water landed on it. I remember wondering where my friend was during all of this and thinking that I bet she was scared. Next, I saw her step-dad, a very tall native american man, being led to the cop car in handcuffs. When I looked at the mattress again, this time laying in the yard, I saw the outline of her little body. He saw me watching him through the curtains and glared at me. I was so scared. I slowly slid down onto the couch and ran to the room that I was staying in. I learned later that they said she was playing with matches and lighter fluid. I don’t believe that’s what really happened. Her step-dad often warned us that bad things happened to little girls who didn’t listen to their parents. I know she was scared of him.
Then, not long after that happened, my grandma died. I was at school, it was recess. I had been trying really hard to make it all the way across the monkey bars. I kept missing my goal by the last two bars. I was mid way across when I saw my mom walking across the playground. I was so happy that at first I didn’t realize that I made it all the way across the monkey bars. As she walked up, I could see she was sad. I told her that I made it all the way across the monkey bars thinking that would cheer her up, but she took my hand and led me inside to my classroom. She said I needed to gather my things because I was leaving school early that day. I was excited that she came to see me at school and now she was letting me leave early so hang out with her. Wrong. She told me that my grandma, Mary died. I remember thinking that if my grandma died, who was going to protect me? I always felt so safe and happy at my grandparents house. Even now, as I write this, it makes my eyes fill up with tears. My grandma, Mary and grandpa, Dale will always be my hero’s. After my grandma died, I started talking to God all the time. I always make sure to sleep on my back so that my heart would be closer to my grandma in heaven.
Throughout the years, it is inevitable that we have all lost people we love. I don’t understand why I worry all the time about dying. I don’t know if these two early memories of death are what frighten me. I know that I often try to predict my future out of fear. If I was good at predicting the future, I would probably be rich and famous…lol. In other words, I’m not good at it so I wish I could stop trying. The treatment for thanatophobia is relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy. When I tell people that I’m afraid of dying, many say, “well there’s nothing you can do about it we’re all going to die”. Cue the panic attack. So, hopefully someday I’ll be able to stop worrying about this and so many other things I worry about. I wonder what the term is for chronic worrying. Maybe that will be the next blog topic.
Symptoms of Thanatophobia (from healthtopia.net)
Common symptoms that can occur with thanatophobia are:
- Irrelevant and extreme fear of death or that one will die
- Associated fear of cremation, burial, tombstones or fear of unknown/afterlife
- Increased alertness about any danger or threat to life such s during driving or during sickness (almost all times being irrelevant)
- Repetitive and distressful thoughts about dying
- Clingy behavior towards elder people or guardians ( only in children)
- Complete avoidance of any situation that may be associated with death or threats to life (one might stop going outside of one’s home to remain safe)
- Not being able to differentiate between real and unreal things
- Panic attacks accompanied by physical signs like trembling, dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting, abdominal uneasiness, racing heart beat, chest pain and sweating