23 August 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again

I lead a fairly boring life. No real highs, no real lows. Moderate in most things except, of course, moderation. Emotionally, I'm reasonably even-keeled: no raging, no binging, no cowering, no wallowing, no violence, no dark moods, no self-pity, no spite. Pretty dull stuff, objectively speaking.

Recently, however, I experienced an intensity of emotion that shattered my usual calm, wrung me out like a cheap ShamWow!. Unlike anything else I have ever felt in my entire life, this was as naked and raw an emotion as I can imagine ever having—and living to tell the tale.

It was fear. Sheer unalloyed terror. Petrifying panic. An irrational,* (*I'll qualify this later) existential** (**ditto) dread that made me want to rip off my skin and leap out of myself. And what's more, I brought it on myself.

Let me back up. I've done many things in my life that many people would be afraid of doing: I've played organized American football and disorganized rugby, I've caught a H.S. kid with an 86 mph fastball, I've climbed a 12,000 foot volcano and stared down its sheer inner cliff walls into its vast smoldering caldera, I've bushwhacked through trackless jungle and spent three hours sitting on the side of an African mountain with a troop of gorillas, I've talked my way out of what could've been a dicey situation when a Congolese guerilla leveled his AK-47 at me and demanded to see what my U.S. money looked like, I've played with large (non-poisonous) snakes, on vacation this month I had a tarantula fall out of a tree onto my hand, I've scuba dived with 6-10 ft. long black-tipped reef sharks and snorkeled straight into a school of barracudas, I've swum through a coral cave at a depth of 90ft., I've sat out on the beach on a starless night and watched a heavy lightning and thunder storm, I've been in a plane struck by lightning, I've piloted a glider plane, I've spoken and even sung in front of crowds ranging from a handful to over a thousand, I've acted and starred in stage plays, I've disagreed with and even corrected a federal judge in open court (gulp), I've demanded a raise and a promotion and said if I didn't get it I'd quit, I've quit a job, I've been in the operating theater during open heart surgery and held a living human heart in my hand, I've eaten sushi, I've made a life commitment to my spouse, I've sired children.

All that is by way of saying I'm not a fearful person generally. Have I ever been afraid in my life? Of course; I'm human. Have I been able to get a handle on this fear, contain it, and act in the face of it? Yes (see above). In fact, one motif in my (still unagented and thus unpublished) novel, EULOGY, deals with the protagonist's confrontation of roughly six or seven of the commonly-cited ten most common fears. And what are these fears? According to this site, they are as follows:
  1. Fear of public speaking (Glossophobia)
  2. Fear of death (Necrophobia)
  3. Fear of spiders (Arachnophobia)
  4. Fear of darkness (Achluophobia, Scotophobia or Myctophobia)
  5. Fear of heights (Acrophobia)
  6. Fear of people or social situations (Sociophobia)
  7. Fear of flying (Aerophobia)
  8. Fear of open spaces(Agoraphobia)
  9. Fear of thunder and lightning(Brontophobia)
  10. Fear of confined spaces(Claustrophobia)
(N.B. It's hard to credit that people are more afraid of public speaking than death, unless you're a public speaker by trade trying to pump yourself up.)

But this—the fear I experienced—this was way beyond anything I'd ever felt before. It was an animal terror so pure it consumed me entirely; it took over my body—which, of course, means it took over my mind—and refused to let me go.

And what was the cause of this siege? A doorway. θύρα in the the Greek (transliterated thura- or thyra-), thus thuraphobia or thyraphobia: fear of doors. A doorway about three feet wide and five feet tall. Curved, with a rolling plexiglas door. I was invited to go through the door, encouraged, nearly forced. But I couldn't—not wouldn't, mind you. Could not. My body, at some pre-cortical, reptilian-brained level, simply rebelled. "I"—the rational, conscious self of me that intended, indeed wanted to go through that door—was unable to move.

Why? Because on the other side of this door was a drop of about 14,000 feet. Some two and a half miles straight down.

(to be continued)


Frances Madeson said...

Glad you got the invite, Jim. You tell it your way. I'm riveted.

Toast said...

Sweetie, it's a pretty regulation list as far as I can tell. Which is not meant to be disrespectful, but I been skydiving too and having kids is so much scarier it don't even make the same page. The fact that so few people understand that is a clear demonstration that most people don't have the faintest clue of what dangers and challenges they really face. I'm glad you conquered your fear of skydiving, but that aint no thing compared to stuff you haven't mentioned at all. Plus, you think it was scary having a Congolese guerilla point a gun at you? Try being the Congolese guerilla for a few years -- see how tough that turns out to be.

A. Ominous said...

Toast, are you hinting that you're a Congolese guerrilla, man? The tone... it's so *knowing*.

Anyway, as a guy with a grown son (29) and a 3-year-old daughter, I have to agree with you on the "challenge" (and exhaustion) factor of parentology while quibbling with the "dangers" bit. Not that I can speak for your kids...

But: re: sky-diving: if you're addicted to lizard-brain danger-thrills, have an affair with the baby-sitter! Makes a *lot* more sense.