Thanatophobia: Fear of Dying

Horror movies may have began my fear of dying in ridiculous ways (Dante’s Peak made me terrified of volcanoes in Colorado), but my anxiety disorder certainly took that idea and ran with it. Ran a marathon with it. Ran like Forrest Gump with it. Let us delve into the psyche of a 7-14 year-old and explore this week’s phobia: Thanatophobia, the fear of dying.

It should come as no surprise that I was an exceedingly careful child. So careful, in fact, that by the age I could speak coherent sentences (assuming that I can do that now) at age two, I was already having conversations like this with my parents:
Me: (Sitting in my car seat, pigtails askew, happy feet bouncing) Mommy, do you know where we’re going?
Mom: Yes, Whitney.
Me: (Thumbs hooked on my Osh Kosh Bigosh overall straps) Are you sure?
Mom: Yes, Whitney.
Me: (very serious face) Have you been there before?
Mom: (Annoyed or amused, depending on how many times she’s answered this question today) Yes, Whitney.
Me: (Frantic) Are you sure?

(That last part is a dramatic reinterpretation of my mother’s unfailingly kind “Yes, Whitney” response or what I imagine she thought every time I made her answer those questions)

So the older I became, the more careful I got. I wasn’t 100% sure that somebody was trying to kill me–because I did know it was absurd that anyone would try and kill a pre-adolescent girl, unless of course I was a prophesied superhero and my nemesis wanted to strike early–but I was taking no chances. I made sure that if I was kidnapped or murdered (or kidnapped then murdered, the most likely scenario in my mind), the police would know exactly where I was when it happened.

How would I manage that, you ask?

I left my finger prints everywhere.

Every door handle, door, window, glass, table–any surface (including floors and walls) of the room I was currently in would receive little Whitney Markers. Not grubby, smudgy little kid finger prints. I would carefully press my pointer finger down so the entire print would be visible on the surface. I was an avid watcher of true crime shows (probably a stupid show to watch if you have an anxiety disorder) and CSI, so I

English: Picture of a whorl fingerprint pattern
Surprisingly, my family wouldn't let me leave my fingerprints on them. Does that make them guilty? They were totally plotting to kill me, weren't they?

knew how the fingerprint-dusting process worked. And I wanted the cops to know all they could in the event my enemies finally caught up with me in my hideout in Evergreen, Colorado.

This habit was so pervasive that you could see my fingerprints on every surface in the house. Joy, our house manager, would clean every day, and as she finished each room, I would delicately touch the surface of whatever was nearest to me. And then I would get up and touch everything. Just to be safe, you see. A girl can never be too careful before her superhero powers emerge (I am still waiting).

That wasn’t the only precaution against the mafia hit men that were torturing family members to find me. No, I also had hiding spots all over the house in case the bad guys came in guns blazing. My room was always messy, and my L-shaped desk had a little hidey-hole in the corner that i usually stuffed with my teddy bears or clothes I didn’t wear. Whenever I heard a strange noise (which was quite often), I hid under the clothes/bears in that nook and was virtually invisible. The closet outside my bedroom had a tiny shelf that couldn’t be seen unless you climbed up–that was good in a pinch, too. Then there was the tree house, the closet in the extra bedroom in the basement, the crawl space in the control room (Yes, our house had a control room… that earned its own fear, that of cables and electronics), and a myriad of secret exits (read: not the front door) that I prepared sneaky routes to get to (read: running against the wall and ducking as necessary).

I was also prepared for every other possible catastrophe that was probably going to kill me.

In case a fire broke out while I was in the shower (a very specific time for this to do so, I know), I always got dressed in a specific way. I still get dressed in that manner, but now it’s out of habit: underwear, bra, pants (because it was acceptable to go outside without a shirt on, but not without pants) and then a shirt. I would then grab the nearest pet and use the escape routes to get to safety.

I was also terrified of my ceiling fan. I knew that eventually it would fall from the ceiling, chop me up into little bits, and send my bits and bed crashing through the floor, killing my father in his office below. I didn’t

A "Tropical Breeze Delux"[sic] ceili...
Cooling device? Or murderous devil? you decide.
take into account that for that to be able to happen, my fan would need to weigh way more than a thousand pounds. Ceiling fans weigh up to  fifty pounds. It would also require possessed demonic blades that kept spinning at breakneck (literally) speeds when it disconnected.

But logic isn’t really in the GAD sufferer’s bag of goodies.

To offset my fear of the Killer Fan, for a very long amount of time, I slept on the floor in my room (as opposed to the floor in my parents’ room). This allowed me to: 1) be out of the ceiling fan’s direct line of fire–though it wouldn’t matter if it was truly possessed, and 2) to keep an eye on my possessed dolls that were in storage under my bed. I wanted to see them coming for me, that way I’d be able to fight back more quickly.

In the end, all that probably did was exacerbate my back problems. And make me an easier target for Samara/Josefina.

13 thoughts on “Thanatophobia: Fear of Dying

  1. Hahahaha, you’re hilarious. I also used to pretend to hide amongst my stuffed animals, in case our house was ever invaded. I practised being very still because I needed my eyes, at least, to be out so I could watch where they went.

  2. Lol.. I can totally relate to this post… Except Freddy krueger was thevone who I always thought was gonna murder me…. Lol.

  3. that was hilarious… I’m really looking forward to reading your book, when it comes out… I used to be afraid of my ceiling fan as well… That’s why I still sleep on the botton part of my bunk bed… and gosh! if I had a nickel for a doll I was terrified of being in the same room with, I’d probably be rich… My sisters used to scare me to death by putting them on strange positions while I was sleeping (and then woke up with them crawling over my feet or staring at me when I was sure I locked them in a drawer) or taking a shower.. There’s nothing like opening the bathroom door and tripping over a doll while you’re completely naked (and alone) in a dark hallway … Yeah, seriously…. My sisters were THAT mean… Up to this day, I still can’t watch a movie about possessed dolls and go to sleep like it was just a “silly and not at all frightening movie about dolls” (as most people think)… Never mind that horrible “Dead Silence” movie… I didn’t sleep for a month after that…by any chance, have you seen that?

  4. I do not think this fear is unusual in children. I went through the same thing. I slept with a baton in bed with me. In case I needed to hit something with it. In grade school, I made sure I knew how to get the screen out of the window in case I need to get out of my room fast because someone broke into the main part of the house. I had to flip the mirrrors over to sleep because I thought mirrors were possessed. This began to fade a bit as I got older, but even in high school, being under 5 feet tall, (and under 100 lbs) I had a hiding place. My bedroom was directly across from one of the bathrooms. I could quickly climp up to the top shelf and hide in the back behind the linens. Just in case the house was invaded by commandos.

  5. Wow. I know this story was meant to be told in a satirical way, and everyone keeps saying it’s “hilarious”, but also having suffered from anxiety (OCD to be exact) since childhood, I not only recognize your pain, but I can empathize. I’m not sure your specific diagnosis ( I thought you said GAD), but the fingerprint thing sounds very much like OCD. I too was (and still am) terrified of dying. I am not very religious, and the thought of ceasing to exist, to be able to “think”, is inconceivable to me. And not because I don’t think the world could go on without me. It’s just terrifying. As a child, I also had an obsessional fear of vomiting, and for a while, I had myself convinced that every time I had a cramp in my stomach, I had appendicitis and was going to vomit and die.
    You are making me think I should blog about my experiences with this subject, but the thought of telling my tale feels very overwhelming.

  6. Well, it seems you’ve got everything covered in case things go wrong. Hey, paranoia pays off, right? Better safe than sorry. Lol. I share the same worries about the ceiling fan. I thought of the very same thing when I was a kid.

  7. The bit about the ceiling fan is what won me over. My old fan was this beat-up, black antique that would dangle and click if you had it set at the highest speed, so as you I was afraid one day it was going to spin out of its socket like a giant ninja star and chop me to bits (even if it was just wood).

    Years later, the same thing happened to me when I finally changed ceiling fans. I was so scared of the thing clicking and swaying again that I stuck a piece of cardboard in the plastic cup covering the motor.

    Hell. I even get anxious while changing lightbulbs, thinking they might explode as soon as I screw on the new one.

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