This is the kind of phobia that feels inescapable.
Fear of crocodiles? Don’t go near a crocodile. Fear of loud noises? Wear earplugs.
Fear of eternity? Well, that one’s here to stay.
There were months when I wouldn’t talk about this out of pure fear. But I type this at a time when these thoughts cause minimal discomfort.
This is a big step for me. I have phoned the Samaritans when feeling suicidal about this in the past, shortly before walking to the hospital asking for help.
It can be defeated.
The night sky was the trigger
I usually gaze up to the stars for the beauty. But one day as a 16 year old, my brain processed things a little differently.
Maybe I gazed a little too long. But as I did I was overwhelmed by the sense of inevitable doom. The magnitude of the universe didn’t fill me with awe but a complete lack of control. I no longer felt part of the universe but a prisoner of it.
From this day forward, I spent every waking moment tying to wrap my head around this new nightmare I called existence. It would last for months.
I didn’t look into this until it overpowered me again at the age of 25. This time, it hit a couple years after my father died, when anxiety was very much a part of me.
I would still go to work, hiding my anxiety as best I could. I would help the team out, make jokes and remain somewhat ‘normal’.
But during break one day I decided to look up my fear.
I became numb and nothing mattered anymore
Death was no longer a fear of mine. It became a calming thought.
‘If eternity is real, I don’t want to be conscious during it‘- I would tell myself repeatedly.
But then the realization that I would either be dead forever or alive forever was a double-edged sword.
The only thing giving me some peace was the idea of reincarnation.
Maybe not being alive for a million or so years and then coming back as something else was the best reality, free from any memories of the previous life. Having enough time to sleep before starting it all over again.
My existential crisis was in full swing.
I couldn't even escape in my sleep
I would have regular night terrors. Dreams where I was falling through space with no end, time nor distance. I would wake in a cold sweat and the anxiety would already be waiting for me.
It was on my mind 24/7.
The days were mental torture. I would fear the infinite, but at the same time feel trapped in the universe. Almost claustrophobic.
Why was I born inside it and not outside of it? Was my consciousness already here somehow?
I pictured the Big Bang happening, and then another, and another, for eternity. What if there are no limits, and things just keep happening forever? Surely it would stop. But where would the end point be?
Not having that end to my thinking caused the most intense mental suffering.
In fact, there isn’t anything that has come close to this in terms of my own trauma.
I searched for help online when I was at work
It got to the stage where I would search help on the work computers. I didn’t even use incognito mode either. I didn’t care that much. I just needed the help.
On my breaks I would call the Samaritans. In fact, one lovely lady said something that I will always remember:
‘Well, how do you know that’s what eternity is?‘
This was one of the first moments I learned that my anxiety was fueled not by what is real, but what I worry is real.
It helped me keep my composure until I could see someone in person.
The strange thing is, I never had visible panic attacks. I felt more dead to the world, accepting these dire truths in secret. I was numb.
I visited a walk-in center before I did something to myself. I was given a form asking for my details and my emergency situation.
‘Possible mental health issues‘ is all I described it as.
I was grateful to be seen almost immediately by someone that was very patient and understanding of my mental anguish.
‘It sounds like an existential crisis.’ he said.
‘I can give you the details for CBT therapy. I feel this will help.’
I organised it and a few months later had my first session.
Eternity and Infinity OCD died down before I started therapy
Now the therapy was great. And it helped me with the OCD struggles that were building over the years. I still use the techniques today and have had more therapy since.
However I realized that the Apeirophobia died down, seemingly on its own.
This has happened to me three times now. As a teenager, in my mid-twenties and now in my early thirties.
I cannot pinpoint exactly why this seems to happen in 7-8 year cycles.
But I do know that changing my diet has been a big factor in improving my mental health since the pandemic.
If I have a period of anxiety, I ask myself one question:
What wouldn’t scare me right now?
And the answer is, nothing. Nothing wouldn’t scare me at that moment.
It has helped me realize that it isn’t the nature of eternity or infinity that scares me. My anxiety scares me.
I know this because I am writing about it now, and I couldn’t give a damn.
The fear isn’t due to the nature of reality. The problem is my tiny OCD brain is burning out trying to understand it.
I now know when it is coming and how to avoid overthinking much more than I did the first two times this got me.
This is part-two of a personal account on lived experience with existential worries. Part-one looks at existential anxiety, depersonalization and derealization, and can be read here.