‘This is hell. You bought a candle to burn?’
-Keith Buckley.

I’ve been thinking about my own morality a lot lately. I’ve had a pretty frustrating case of writers block and whenever I do I start to contemplate the space in time I’ll occupy between birth and death. I get caught up in a mindset of frustration and start thinking about the choices I’ve made, opportunities I’ve missed, and how I will spend the moments I’m still yet to experience. To be frank, I hate when I get like this. I’m fucking petrified of growing older and knowing that I’ll one day kick the bucket causes my anxiety levels to skyrocket until my heart is hammering in my chest and I become short of breath.

I guess a large part of the anxiety I experience comes from the fact that I feel as though I still have so much I want to accomplish in my life. I am forever working against my biological clock to achieve my goals before death wraps his talons around my heart and squeezes until it becomes still. I want to be successful writer and make a career out of what I do. I want to see the world. I want to be loved, loathed and revered. And I want to know that when I’m a rickety old man with a busted hip, gruff tone and permanent scowl, that I’ve lived a good life and made a positive impact on those that I leave behind.

I’m trying to leave a legacy of words. Through my writing I want to create something worthwhile that allows me to reach out and connect with people. In reality I’m a pretty emotionally stunted individual. I keep even my closest friends at a safe distance, and while I’ll protect those that I care about till the bitter end, I rarely feel the need to reach out for their help. But through writing I can be vulnerable and I can be beautiful. In a weird kind of way I’m liberated in my madness through writing. Even my closest friends tell me that they read this site on the regular as a way of understanding me.

So I’m frightened of death. It’s occupying my thoughts and stressing me out. I’m suffering from writers block and stuck in a hellish state of frustration. So what can a writer do when they’re in hell? Bring a candle to burn. Turn up the heat ever so slightly and make the inferno their own.

Yep, after a brief hiatus from the world of my character Jason Dark, I’ve started penning my way through a follow up to Midas. It’s a tale that will undoubtedly focus on the idea of death. Ruin and woe are central themes that I’m trying to explore quite heavily in the four book story-arch and having the ability to do so allows me to further immerse myself into a mindset that both troubles and inspires me. I’m afraid of dying. It’s my hell. So why not create a story that gives me the ability to really engage with the concept and overcome the hell within me?

The way I see it is this: I’m pretty lucky. Every single person on this earth has some form of fear or phobia that has the ability to leave them crippled with anxiety or worse. The fact that I fear growing old and failing to carve my name into the sands of this earth seem to fail on comparison to the afflictions of others. I have a unique opportunity to use my fear to create not only wonderful art, but a beautiful life. I can use my fear to propel myself towards success.

Fear is hell. But fear is also easily overcome; you’ve just got to be prepared to embrace it. If you’re stuck in hell make sure you’ve got a candle to burn. Take ownership of the very place designed to break you and make your hell a place you can thrive in.

If you’re afraid of death; explore it.
If you’re afraid of change; embrace it.
And if you’re afraid of fire; light and candle and learn to control the fear that binds you.

If you do that you can set yourself free. For me right now that freedom comes from my newfound lease on life and from shaking off this frigging writers block and get back to what I do best: writing. I have the ability to create hell through my literature and I take solace in knowing that my protagonist is arrogant enough to embrace it, light a candle and turn up the heat ever so slightly. And if a product of my imagination can be so brazen, surely I can too.

If you spend your whole life fearing death, you may as well already be dead. Step into the inferno you fear and set it alight. Set yourself free.

Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

114 thoughts on “Thanatophobia”

  1. No reason to be afraid of death. It makes more sense to be afraid of life … without reading the comments yet, I guarantee there’ll be at least lots saying “It comes to us all” or similar. Which can be of no comfort to anyone.

    If you must fear the inevitable, fear the manner of it. And if the worst comes to the worst, you at least have control over that.

    I’m drawn to the quote in a book I’ve just purchased, an epitaph on a memorial. (Hell, I may even post on it):

    “When you go home
    Tell them of us and say
    For their tomorrow
    We gave our today”

    … it certainly makes one think. Alan Seeger and Ben Franklin both had thoughts on the topic too—you aren’t alone there. Good luck~!

  2. Wow – when I get writers block, I take a walk. (That’s supposed to be funny – humor is so hard to pull off in a comment.) I am growing old, tho sometimes I forget that’s true. I don’t really feel any differently, and retiring has allowed me to return to my childhood!

  3. Interesting read.. It’s not easy to open up to people and let the proverbial cat out the bag by showing fears and what could be construed too easily as a weakness. Instead we should embrace the fact that we’re human and we do like a comfort zone. Stepping out of that zone can be daunting at times but worth it. Writing – as it is with being creative means having find courage to try something new..

  4. I have to agree with Kate Rauner. Though I quit running years ago, I have become a maniac cyclist. When I’m stuck for an idea, a good bike ride usually does the trick.
    As for the rest of your post – Wow! Death! Mortality! Longevity! Put it into a good Sci-Fi novel. Sometimes writing about something, in a fictional sense can alleviate the concern.
    In my recent piece, I explored Fantasy writing rather than Sci-Fi. I simply wrote people who lived over a thousand years. They also had Birthdays whenever they liked – Though sometimes they snuck up on them.

    Don’t fall to despondency. Just write. (Oh, and read a lot too)
    Good Luck!

  5. I’m with Kate Rauner. A good long bike ride for me usually awards me time to think about my new piece.

    As for the deep thoughts about death, mortality and longevity – put it into a neat Sci-Fi or fantasy story. It will clear your mind on such despoiling issues.

    In my newest work, a Fantasy Novel, I have people who are over a thousand years old. (They also have Birthdays whenever they want)
    My point being: Turn those despondent thoughts into a nice story. It will pick you up, and give you a boost out of that writer’s block at the same time.

    Good Luck!

  6. I can’t find who said it originally, but a lot of writers quote a saying:
    “To be an artist means to never avert your eyes”.
    That’s what’s you’re doing, going to the most difficult place inside you, that’s scary and painful. It’s also the place that the best work comes from, and the place your best self grows from. Stay with it. Keep at it. Be patient with yourself. I believe the rewards will be worth it.

  7. I think most people fear their mortality. The fear for me has been more about the fact it’s something I can’t control or prevent. Truth is, life is uncertain.

    Creating whether you are a writer, painter, sculptor, etc. is equally uncertain. The process never quite a straight line for me. Blocks occur when I shift my focus (not always knowingly) from the process and moment to some external goal or expectation. I have in essence “averted my eyes” from the fact that I paint because I love painting. The outcome I need to let go of.

  8. Hi Chris,
    First off thanks for stopping by, reading my post and liking it. It feels good. Your post on Thanatophobia reminds me of my struggle with fear of death. Not death per se but dying alone. It’s a thought that occupies a lot of headspace. You write so well and you’re a published author as well. Keep the inferno of creativity going, all blocks will melt in the heat. :-). Thanks again, and all the best. Will keep visiting.

  9. Hi Chris,
    Great article. I really believe that we all have fears and by doing what we really enjoy doing we can embrace them. But whenever I fear death I think of the military troops who are in hell everyday. So keep up the great work and good luck!!!

  10. Hi Chris, life and death are important contemplations. i like the idea of life death rebirth, the notion that we grasp life by the horns and run with the beauty and then fall into anxiety/depression/grief/discomfort all those difficult to sit with feelings that come up when we are challenged by life. On the other side there is rebirth (I’m sounding weird writing this down but I have considered this a lot from a non-religious point of view). This is when the thoughts and practices that are generated by the hard times come together and make us shine. We are always growing! i wrote something about depression a while ago and i think I’ll tackle anxiety as I have to sit with it too. But what surprised me, in my inquiries I have come to a very hopeful point where I am writing about being in the present and letting go of expectations. It’s an old story that I am discovering for myself. It is actually incredibly exciting. So great to be able to share.Have a most wonderful day 🙂

    1. You are on target with “being in the present and letting go of expectations.” Easier said than done, but amazingly freeing when we can let go and be there.

  11. There’s a book called ‘The Novel Cure’ based on bibliotherapy – using books to treat emotional and psychological issues – and the authors’ recommendation for Having an Existential Crisis is ‘Siddhartha’ by Hermann Hesse. I plan on giving it a read soon myself as I suffer from similar meltdowns when I try to reconcile my desire to write with my crippling inertia and overwhelming fear.

    I also recommend ‘On Writing’ by Steven King – a practical motivational kick in the pants – and ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield – a discussion of the Resistance that keeps people from doing something important. Pressfield’s point is that the more Resistance you feel, the more important, imperative, necessary it is for you to do that thing.

  12. Nice little Diddy about death… i feel it creeping in me as I hit an “almost” middle life age.. aaagghhhh. Tough stuff said she… as she sipped on her wine and realized you gotta be brave and just suck it up! Cheers – be well M

  13. Living in the future is death.
    Writing to succeed will always fail.
    Sorry…..I’m 78 and I’ve learned these things the hard way and much too late.

  14. I can relate! (Both to the stress and feeling I can speak much more clearly and intimately through writing than in person).

    I find that when I’m feeling scared and really blocked, doing a ‘brain dump’ (writing by hand for pages and pages, akin to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages in “The Artist’s Way”) gets me through the hell.
    …also, acupuncture is a lifesaver for getting stuff out without it having to go through the brain!!

    Keep writing! You’re voice is nice and clear here, and I appreciate your honesty.

  15. When I get blocked I sit and “transcribe” what is occurring around me as rapidly as possible, no spell check, like I am a neutral recording device.
    Don’t explain
    Transcribe your experience.

    The magic of words will kindle that candle.

  16. I suspect that you are using your writer’s prerogative to embellish here but still an interesting post that compels a comment. Death is a compelling subject and oftentimes a huge catalyst I suspect to a fuller life. Thanks for checking in at my post, write on!

  17. There’s no getting around it. I’m older than you are, but when I was in my mid-twenties, I feared death, too. But, as time ticks away and days pass and you find yourself still in the same spot you were ten years ago, death isn’t so scary. It’s wasting away that becomes the dread. You start to feel like you’re running out of time and try to hurry to snatch a glimpse of your dream and that urgency only makes it harder. Don’t look at death and the falling of time, just look at the mirror because it reflects what’s before your eyes right now.

    I mean, yeah, the thought of facing those final moments can be somewhat daunting, but just look at it like this: you’re just joining the club. It’s one thing everything that will ever live has in common. You can’t escape death. You got to look at it not as some masked rider in black coming to lop off your head and drown you in fear, but as the final breeze that carries us all away. Think of death in a lighter image.

    Here is a poem from my blog that I recently wrote. It might help.


    We all face dying
    Death is the unavoidable visitor
    When he comes knocking,
    You can’t hide in the house
    Under the covers
    You can’t look out the peephole
    Or peek through the blinds
    You can’t fall back to the kitchen
    And hide in the corner of the counter
    With the lights turned off
    Hoping that he’ll go away
    When Death knocks, it’s for good

    Death doesn’t drive to your house
    You won’t see the car coming
    He’s not going to call ahead
    Leave a message
    His company is not at your convenience
    You might offer him a drink
    But he won’t take it
    He won’t sit down for tea
    He won’t take a sandwich
    He doesn’t need any of that
    He’s Death
    And when he knocks, he only knocks once.
    That’s all he needs.

      1. Thanks. I am brutal in my view of things and I try not to sugarcoat reality. And I am hardest on myself because I know I can take it. I tend to save my compassion for others, but not everyone. I kind of follow the idea of show compassion for others except for those who have earned your disdain.

        But, that’s just what works for me.

    1. GirlWhoThinksSheCanWrite
      July 16, 2015 at 8:13 am

      “I’m fucking petrified of growing older.”
      “Sorry, you lost me there. Guess my age is showing.”

      Then you’re not old enough. It will come back, rest assured. You’ll be petrified again. If not for yourself, for others.

  18. I think that a person, who does mental work and gets stressed out with it, should do something practical for a change. Cleaning can help. They say, that in many schools/universities, when the exam period is going on or starting, students are very good cleaners. 🙂

    Or then try to do some rhiming or hair trimming: rap a cab, a bird in a cage, turn the next page, bake a bun, and take a gum, through it in a basket, and leave it on a desk IT. And then do it in real as well! IT = information teasers, take the nearest scissors, cut the paper, leave the labor

  19. I reckon you’ve got a few good points there Chris. Not that I’d know. So far as I can remember I’ve never been dead.

    But I think you do need to embrace death – at least if you want to be properly alive. I’m not talking that emo ‘oh, it would be so much cooler to be dead’ shit either. You’ve gotta let go of all the self-inflicted bullshit about life after death and rebirth and reincarnation (two very different things as it happens) and especially the idea that you’ll ever do or say anything that will mean any more after you’re dead than anything you do or say.

    Death is the utter annihilation of all your dreams and all you are. That’s the beauty of it. No matter how much you achieve or how much you fuck up it all comes to the same thing in the end. For everyone.

    Embrace life and death equally. They’re both equally meaningless and equally meaningful. They just are what they are. If you can really accept them you can accept anything they throw at you. Then you’re free.

    Either that or there’s another chemical storm going on in my head.

    (P.S. Don’t make the mistake I did and displace your fear of death onto the deaths of others. Grief is even worse than terror.)

  20. Friends, oh my friends! Your talkings are sounding a bit negative to me. “Burned the books, they’ve got too many names and psychoses”, who was singing this? Yes yes Alanis Morrissette did, and we can sing their songs too, the songs that you like, ring the gongs that they spice. “Spice up your life, every boy, every girl” yesyes Spice Girls in 90teens. And you were born those times already, you were there, in the same globe as me, we and every one it’sdone! :] my dear friends, don’t get too many bends, in your knees, over the seas. 🙂

  21. Embrace me, embrace you. “Knowing you, knowing me, ahaa”, Abba, the year was, what was the year? Does any one know? Well, in the 19th century or do you call it 20th? There was a movie made, Mamma Mia, where they used Abba’s songs again and again. Exactly that one “knowing me, knowing you” too. So repeat and repetition repetika is that the key? Screw it on a whey, take some old, put it on a paper, with the love of labor, wrap it with something else, also with the cells and boom, we did it, we got it, we’ve got something new, and it’s completely lew.

  22. Take something old, and don’t forget the cold. Sorry my mistakes, maybe you get the point anyway, do you? too much of the point, throw it on a basket

  23. That’s exactly how I feel, that I want to leave behind words that are a legacy. I’ve recently thought about writing “my last lecture”, like Randy Pausch did (no, haven’t read his book yet). And yes, writing is the best way to shake off writer’s block.

    1. Why don’t you give birth to yourself again? That’s what I did to myself or I was guessing that it was that, what happened. You need to wait first some time, then to push hard and here we are again. Every one in the same line and ready steady go! A new life has began. Love and hope and do and pope – do it again and still to continue. Maybe it happens partly in an imaginary world and partly not.

      Good luck with your journey!

  24. You are a very compelling writer and obviously a deep thinker. I am surprised you would read and like my blog. Ever considered Christianity?

  25. I read once that fearing death was a sign of depression, my mother fears death and is dominated by comments daily on dying of some description, although not acknowledging it, I do believe she has suffered a depression of sorts all her life.

    It doesn’t need to be written that death is inevitable, it clearly is. Keeping a suppression on dark thoughts is my recommendation.

    I once saw a psychic, how is this related and where is this going…. Well the psychic said my father was putting thought in my mind, often reflecting back to my childhood asa form of keeping me based.
    That is a strange thought that has passed though my mind on occasions, particularly when a childhood story has come to my mind, it has left me wondering if the psychics telling was correct. On occasion I have simply told my dad to hop it for a bit, i need to live and I want to be happy. My childhood was affected by the death of a brother and a sister, the first a week before my fifteenth birthday, my sister died sixteen months later. Certainly it didn’t help me to grow up to be what i wanted to be or form the types of relationships I wanted to have.
    Hence I see you postulation on life and the need to feel loved etc, however, the more dwelt the less likely it will probably be. Live the motto of treating others how you want to be treated, and talk gently to get what you want….

  26. It sounds like you’re not really afraid of dying. You’re afraid of not living a meaningful life that others will remember you for. So start living that life. You’ll find you think less about dying…

    1. Dying, are here our pens and papers? What fascinates me is our the worls is changing as we are making the difference. How? By building new structures, not only buildings and halls and streets or balls. But as a structure that would cover the globe virtually and in real as well, with the humans. People put themselves as a cover against bad things, to prevent bad things to happen and to promote the good ones.

      How are you feeling now, Chris? Are all these comments here making any difference?

  27. Well Chris, from what I’ve read at least you aren’t afraid to risk living larger- that would be the greater tragedy. One of my fav quotes is by Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena- a political slant but translates well enough.

    Another I stumbled onto long time ago that rather puts it in perspective, unless you’re inclined to believe this life is all there is… “The day thou fearest as the last is the birthday of eternity.” (Seneca, Roman Philosopher)

    Worrying about dying is merely a distraction from living. Wishing you the best of success in all you put your hand to.

    John 11:25

  28. Do you like drawing? I like. Sometimes I draw some things, very little ones, to the side of a note book. I scrab a rubbish paper and think of the structure of the world. You can find models of the structures – in children’s books! 🙂 Richard Scarry and his models with a worm. I used to like them as a child. There are real structures inside of them as buildings. Similar thing can be applied to new things that we build our globe and future for. Just in our minds, maybe in your writings?

  29. I understand pretty well where you are coming from but death can be a powerful motivator. If you weren’t afraid, you might not care at all about becoming a writer or any other things you care about in your life. As long as you don’t forget to live along the way, I’m sure you’ll be fine, writer’s block and all.

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