Because It’s THRILLER, Thriller Night
As always, this past week I have neglected my family, friends and needy harem in favour of reckless media consumption. But although I’ve enjoyed myself (Bastion is great, Prometheus is much better than everyone says it is, Transformers 3 is even worse than I thought it would be), I haven’t had any epiphanies of brilliant pop-culture insight. So rather than the usual diet of reviews, puns and murder allegories, today I’ll be talking about a subject important to every one of you: me. Namely, my own irrational phobias and fears. Although I hesitate to give the internet weapons to use against me, sometimes you have to write what you know, and what I know is shitting myself.
(Note that these will be irrational fears, so depressing, realistic fears like car crashes and cancer happening to my loved ones will not be on here. Although rest assured, I would definitely freeze all my loved ones in protective cryogenic suspension if I could.)
Fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) isn’t uncommon. They’re not exactly loveable creatures – they’re extremely deadly, slimy reptiles that have all the worst characteristics of penises and are commonly blamed for women’s love of fresh fruit. Add to that, I live in Australia. We have seven out of ten of the world’s most poisonous snakes (including the top five), several of my friends have snake-bite scars, our culture thinks that the word ‘safety’ is Latin for ‘gay’. When I was six and we were developing our property, it was common to see Mum or Dad (or Grandma) coming down from the bushes carrying a dirty shovel and a decapitated snake corpse.
But my fear goes beyond any rational respect for snakes’ deadly nature. I’m not perturbed by the possibility of being bitten, I simply believe with all my soul that every snake, everywhere, ever, should be set on fire. Fuck snakes. I will catch spiders, I will play with lizards, I don’t have a problem with sharks or crocodiles or drop bears, but snakes are stealthy, aggressive, fast, deadly, snobbish (?) little strings of slithery death, and if I see one I will jump on the nearest raised surface and live there until the surroundings have been firebombed. Every nightmare I have had for the last decade has been about having to swim across a pool (or walk across a floor) that’s straight covered with snakes. I feel them slithering over me, I push through them and dodge around them, and I gradually realize that there’s a snake under each foot and hand, snakes just everywhere, and they all start biting me simultaneously.
Oh well. It depresses me that the one thing I can ever hope to share with Indiana Jones is his weakness.
Wait, hear me out. Have you heard of the SCP Foundation? It’s a really nifty little internet project (I’ll do a post about it at some point in the future) about a bureaucratic, morally ambiguous X-Files organization and the creepy shit (SCPs) it tries to contain. It’s good stuff, well-written and original… and then something like this fucker turns up (http://www.scp-wiki.net/scp-198).
It’s a cup that shapeshifts and teleports until you pick it up, whereupon it bonds with your skin and forces you to drink your own shit/piss/blood/worse until you die. Pretty basic horror stuff, right? Yeah, but ever since I read that, I suspect every cup in my house of being a demon.
I understand this is a ridiculous phobia to have, and there are much scarier things on that wiki (093, anyone?), but shit my macaroni, I use cups all the time, and what if I’m about to die drinking my own pee? I have thought long and hard, and I think there are very few worse ways to die than starving to death while choking on your own bodily fluids. I’ve never trusted inanimate objects, and now it seems very possible that they are actively plotting to torture me to death. Ever since I read that article, I’m very careful about where I place my cups and water bottles. I always remember where they are, and if I can’t remember leaving something there, I always grit my teeth a little before picking it up.
Instant Horrible Tumours
Hear me out. So, you know what a gamma-ray burst is, right? They’re narrow beams of radiation, usually emitted by supernovae, and they’re pretty frigging powerful – we can easily detect bursts that occur in other galaxies. The thing is, if a gamma-ray burst came straight for Earth… well, those things travel at the speed of light. We wouldn’t know about it until it hits.
So, say I’m going for my afternoon jog (ladies). Because I am hilariously unfit and unwell, I will often get dizzy (doctors). Instead of realizing that the ‘unable to breathe’ thing means I should slow down, I immediately assume that a gamma-ray burst has just hit Earth. Right now, massive tumours are expanding throughout my tissues, my organs blistering under the relentless barrage of radiation. I feel dizzy because my brain is melting under the baleful gaze of a dying alien sun. Any moment now, my head will be full of searing pain and I, along with the rest of the hemisphere, will collapse dead to the ground.
Of course, then I get home, have a shower and watch TV. So I probably haven’t undergone any interstellar radiation assassinations yet. But gamma-ray bursts are very possible, and unlike asteroid strikes or rogue black holes, almost impossible to predict or defend against. For example, WR 104 is a Wolf-Rayet star around 8000 light-years away. Some smart people reckon that WR 104 is about ready to pop its electromagnetic load, and measuring its axis, any burst would be within 16 degrees of Earth. In other words, it’s the gun pointed at the head of the world.
Don’t worry, this is still an irrational fear. For all the smart people and money we pour into it, we really still know shit-all about astronomy and the universe, and the odds of 104 blowing during my lifetime is absolutely infinitesimal (good luck, my immortal cyborg children!). But tell that to me next time I get dizzy.
Again, this is a pretty common (and even, sometimes, reasonable) fear. We don’t know randoms on the street, and as such we can’t necessarily trust them to not stab us in the eye sockets for our spare change. But my worries go beyond the usual ‘in a bad part of town, don’t make eye contact with the tattooed guy’ fears.
If I am walking around Brisbane, and I pass someone who isn’t a middle-aged, well-dressed female, I will assume they are planning to kill me. That’s just how I think. Oh, a businessman coughed while going to work? He probably just gave me ebola. That bag lady who probably owns seventeen cats? Yeah, she’s carrying a switchblade and she wants my bling (my bling being an empty wallet, a carrot and a $20 plastic watch). That young guy, fresh from the gym, who just boarded the train? He has machine guns in that backpack, and he is absolutely going to shoot up this entire train.
I assume that passing cars will suddenly swerve and run me over. I assume that anyone who isn’t a criminal is a disease carrier, and anyone who isn’t a disease carrier is an alien cyborg. I remember one night at 8 o’clock on King George Square (literally the most brightly-lit, well-trafficked spot in the city) I was approached by a 12-year-old boy, and I was ready to throw my backpack at him and sprint across the nearest road. It turned out he just wanted the time, but you see what I mean. Once you realize that Bad Guys look just like regular people, everyone is potentially a serial killer.
I’ve pretty much got this under control now. I accept that serial killers tend to avoid food courts and crowded footpaths at midday, I realize that despite my shapely physique and symmetrical features I’m not much of a rape target, and it’s been days since I switched train carriages because I thought those schoolkids looked ‘stabby’. Still, the paranoia remains within my psyche as a reminder of my even more paranoid past. And that leads me to something different – the one thing I will NEVER, ever be afraid of again:
I am unafraid of Heart Attacks
As you might have guessed for yourself by now, I’m not the most well-adjusted individual. So far, thank the Lord, I’ve managed to dodge any really life-destroying issues, but I’ve still dined extensively at the smorgasbord of psychological disorders. In 2010, my main affliction was panic attacks.
Everyone knows the term, and according to the Australian government, about a third of you will get a taste of one at some point in your lives. But what isn’t clear on WebMD is what the really bad ones are like. Really bad panic attacks show up randomly, for no reason, over a period of months. And they (or at least mine) feel exactly like heart attacks.
Well, like they’re supposed to feel, anyway. Your heart starts pulsing with pain, your left arm gets stiff, you feel your pulse and it’s all over the place. You get really, really light-headed, and if you don’t stick your head between your knees, you could very well pass out.
All this happens for a variety of reasons, and too many of the things can massively increase your susceptibility to real-life heart attacks. But I will never be scared of those. Why not?
Because I couldn’t make panic attacks go away. Counselling, medication, the handy distraction of my meth habit – they didn’t stop my heart from feeling like it was exploding every second day. So, I learnt to simply ignore it. Every time my chest clenched in agony and my brain started screaming “shit a brick, you’re about to die”, I gritted my teeth, reminded myself that this was the tenth ‘heart attack’ this week, and kept doing what I was doing. It took ages, and I’m pretty sure a less paranoid and irrational person could have cured themselves in a tenth of the time, but I learnt to just ignore simulated heart attacks. A few months after I stopped being such a gullible pussy, my brain finally packed it in and stopped sending the symptoms. Yay, mental health!
But my circuitous point is that I’m not afraid of heart problems anymore. Not because they’re not a threat to me or anything, but because I’ve taught myself, by torturous, rote practice, to just ignore them. File them away under the same category as unicorns and enjoyable Monopoly games. They’re not real. If (when, knowing my relationship with chocolate) the day comes that I actually do get a heart attack, I’ll probably be halfway to the floor before I realize that yes, I should alert somebody about this. So more jogging for me.
What’s the moral of the story? None, really. I’m a weird guy, snakes are evil, don’t trust your cups, and it is very difficult to learn about astronomy without becoming pointlessly suspicious of the night sky.
Look out for my next edition, More Space Shit That Is Right Above Your Head And Could Totally Kill You, But Probably Won’t, But Might. Coming soon to bookstores near you.