I think most people have at least one or two things that they are afraid of. If not particular things, then at least situations they could imagine that would frighten them. If you ask someone, “If a person broke into your house and held a gun on you, would you be afraid?” the answer would almost certainly be, yes. Or, “If you were stuck in traffic over a bridge and the bridge began to collapse?” Obviously, that would be terrifying, right? Not to me. I can’t really think of a situation that would make me genuinely afraid. I have my whole germ thing, which I will get into shortly, but it’s not the same as fear.
I have anxieties, neuroses, aversions, but I don’t think those are the same a fears. You may be thinking, “Yeah, right. If you were really in that situation you would be afraid too.” Maybe you’re right, but I don’t think so. See, I’ve been in some scary situations before, situations where, at the same, I thought there was a chance I could die. I’m not going to go into detail about these now, though I may in future posts. The point is, I should have been afraid for my life, but I wasn’t.
In fact, for the most part, I don’t even have the startle response. I remember an incident, back when I was in college, when I went to a haunted house with a group of friends. Afterward, we stopped at a gas station and some of them went inside, but I sat in the car. One of the guys came up behind the car, slammed his hands onto my window and yelled. I didn’t see him coming, I had no idea he was doing this, yet I barely reacted. The memory of the disappointment on his face when I just turned and looked at him still makes me chuckle to this day.
The one “fear” that I do have is germs. It’s something that causes a lot of problems in my life, and uses up a great deal of my physical and emotional energy. Of course, being afraid of germs is not really about the germs themselves, it’s about getting sick. So, in addition to excessive hand washing and being paranoid about being in public, I also do a number of other things in an attempt to protect my health and my immune system. I take a crazy number of vitamins, exercise obsessively, and am exceptionally picky about what kind of foods I eat (above and beyond being vegan). I have even adopted some cleansing and protection rituals to combat any possible illnesses from a spiritual angle.
So why, you may be wondering, am I so afraid of getting sick while not being afraid of other things that would probably be much more likely to kill me? The answer is, because the fear has nothing to do with dying. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was afraid to die. In fact, for the majority of my life it would have been a relief. I am currently the most emotionally healthy I have ever been, and I still have no negative feelings about the idea of dying. I just feel neutral about it.
My only true fear is of getting to the point where I can’t stand the idea of living anymore. That’s why I’m afraid of germs. Illness dampens any positive feelings and exacerbates any negative ones. So even a minor, or short-lived, illness threatens what little will to live I have managed to achieve. I hope that, one day, I will reach a state in which I will no longer have to worry so much about this. A state in which I will know that, even if I get sick, I will still feel like life is worth living. But for now, it is still a very delicate balance and my obsession with health is my, mostly futile, attempt to stop the scales from tipping.
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