Fearing the Apocalypse

This is my brain on fear…

I’m in soul-bearing mode.

I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m terrified of the end of the world. And it isn’t just the Rapture or zombies or the Dec. 21, 2012, Mayan apocalypse. Also on the list are less mystical apocalypses such as supervolcano eruptions, asteroid collisions, global pandemic, and nuclear fallout. I think it mostly started around the time I was given a series of copy writing assignments to write about the 2012 apocalypse and the various things it could be or how to survive it (spoiler: not a whole lot you can do).

There are some days when I think the sound of an airplane means that it’s going down, and I wait for it to come close enough to me to roar and then breathe a sigh of relief when the sound fades in the other direction. When I hear booms or loud pops outside that sound like gunshot, I wonder if a nuclear bomb has gone off or if the looting has started. Most of the time, those feelings come and go in a matter of seconds. Other times, I lie in bed for hours, hardly daring to breathe, sure that this is the day that the Yellowstone caldera will erupt and cover a third of the U.S. in hot ash.

At its source, the fear of the apocalypse is the fear of death. Everyone has some of that – that’s just self-preservation working its evolutionary magic. But fear of apocalypse is fear of death you can’t prepare for, death that is completely out of your hands, bigger than any preparations you could make.

Sure, I could learn how to shoot and stock up on ammunition and nonperishable foodstuffs. I could take survival training and self-defense training and build a bomb shelter. But really, those things aren’t meant to last for years, and there are some scenarios that they don’t protect you from. So you manage to avoid nuclear fallout for six months. Eventually you’ll run out of oxygen and food and waste management and have to come out to face the radiation. And a bomb shelter isn’t much use against a giant asteroid that hits with the power of thousands of nuclear bombs. Sure, you can stock up on weapons for the zombie apocalypse, and FEED showed that it doesn’t really have to be the end of the human race as we know it, but weapons ain’t going to do much against a virus or some other biological weapon.

Humans are resilient creatures. I have no doubt that under most scenarios, some element of us would survive it. But I’m a red shirt, always have been, and I know it. In an apocalypse scenario, I’m not even a credited extra. I’m barely a blip on the radar. I’d just die. And that scares me to death.

Most people tell me not to worry about things I can’t control, but usually that strikes me as precisely the thing to worry about. I don’t worry about things that are in my control, since I affect the outcome. Most forms of usual death can be thwarted or caused by my actions, or there are things to do to overcome them. But there’s not much to be done about an apocalypse, mystical or not. Why? Because we live on a bloody sphere, that’s why, and there’s nowhere to run. Why do you think I’m watching the private space race so closely and with just a flicker of hope? Because then there’s escape. We have no escape now. We’re stuck on this rock, for better or worse.

To give you an idea of how irrationally afraid I am of the apocalypse, the Harold Camping prophecy that the Rapture would happen May 25(?), 2011? Yeah, I was pretty sure it was a crock just like every other failed Rapture prediction, including his own in the 90s. But I still woke up that morning and checked to make sure that my parents were still around, and I checked Facebook to make sure that everyone else hadn’t noticed weird things happening. Even though everything was copacetic, when Camping said that was the spiritual Rapture and not the real one, which would happen in October, I then had to wait until then to feel better when it didn’t happen … again.

So, here it is, about one month before the 2012 apocalypse, even though it’s been thoroughly debunked as just the start of another calendar year, I still have moment of cold, paralyzed panic at the thought of what I would lose, of life I have not yet been able to live, of things I haven’t done or achieved. I thought that when my depression went dormant I would be able to face these kinds of things better, but instead, I went from being depressed that I had nothing to lose to being anxious that I have things that I don’t want to lose.

I try to keep my spirits high and not live my life as though I’m going to die either Dec. 21, 2012, or on New Year’s Day (since I won’t really feel safe until 2012 is behind us). Really, it’s not a good idea to live your life like it was your last day, because living by the day is directly in opposition to the kind of living you need to do for the long term. I joke about the apocalypse to try to defuse my anxiety, like with the recent Hostess bankruptcy issue, I bemoaned that it was the end of the world and I couldn’t even have Hostess cupcakes? I talk about things I want to do in 2013, and then parenthesize that I’ll do it as long as the world as we know it is still here.

But take election stress and the fear of economic chaos and civil unrest and the rumblings of war that has been going on and couple it with the upcoming end date, and most of my jokes are for show. I have stories I still want to write. All of my editing is planned for the beginning of 2013. I have things I’ve never done that I still want to do and am certainly not going to do by the end of the year, no matter how much diem I want to carpe.

I’ve been thinking about throwing an apocalypse party on Dec. 21, but 1) people will probably be doing holiday things with their families, and 2) I wouldn’t want to be away from my family if the apocalypse did decide to show up. I already figure I’m going to have to break down and ask at least one person to stay up with me past midnight on Dec. 21 and Dec. 31, because I’ll probably be in serious panic mode at that point. I’ll probably go to sleep resigned to my death and just be very happy when I do wake up the next morning. I’ve done that before.

How do I deal with it? I try reason, but it doesn’t work too well. I know that “the end is nigh” has been a rallying cry for centuries, and they haven’t been right yet. And I know that humankind has, in fact, survived quite a lot, and a lot of my scenarios don’t necessarily have to mean my doom or humankind’s doom, although it’s more likely for me. I know that the odds of an apocalypse are miniscule – then again, so is the lottery, and someone always does “win.” And nuclear war and biological weapons and cybergeddon seem less unlikely all the time.

I’m hoping that some groups don’t see the apocalypse date as a time to incite end-of-the-world fears with terrorist activities, although it would be appropriate. And a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in its own right.

Mostly, I just try not to let it determine how I live my life, which is a lot like how I deal with my inner critic when I’m writing – I just work through it. I try to live as though things will still be here. Even when my brain is paralyzed, I continued with my school work and my writing, as though it will matter in the months and years to come. I still plan for the future, even if I’m not sure there is one. And to some degree, I use that fear in my writing. I write horror, and even when I don’t, being afraid of everything makes it easier not to flinch in your writing, because that’s where you can be stronger. The ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away plan doesn’t completely work, but it’s the best I got.

After 2013 comes along with no sign of apocalypse, that won’t be the end of my fears. But if we do, in fact, see the door hit 2012 on the way out, I think the fears will at least calm down. Until the next damn prophecy or news article that calmly talks about how we’re all going to die. Yeah, I’m not allowed to read those anymore, just like I’m not allowed to Google medical issues.

I wish there were a way to be assured, one hundred percent, that there was no need to worry, that everything is going to be okay. But history doesn’t exactly back that up. I just have to hope that the better angels of our nature outnumber our demons, and that as we hurtle in space, we don’t hit anything or erupt or something like that. Cross your fingers.

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One Response to Fearing the Apocalypse

  1. Pingback: How To Survive The End Of The World | The Observer

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