‘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. Loved your piece – if this is how you are when you have writers’ block you must be amazing when you don’t. I find the fear of death thing fascinating – why some people have it and some don’t. I don’t have it, but I have learned to understand that those who do also have an ability to see life with a sharpness and depth that is wonderful. Fearing death is also about loving life and that can’t be a bad thing.

    1. That’s a very interesting comment. I have always feared death, and also sometimes courted it. But primarily I have been terrorized by the thought of anyone dying…The implications of your notion are that my four during-life miracles, which all involved in some fashion or another, ways of seeing, might stem from my inherent (but not inherent to all?) fear of dying fascinates me. Thank you for your insight. Have you written about this on your blog?

  2. I don’t fear death. I’ve been at death’s doorstep three times so far. The leap to the other side sometimes beckons to me. I’m overflowing with the curiosity of what is there. My fear is in this world — mice and rats. The little creatures, themselves, don’t bother me, but the thought of the Bubonic plague they carry scares the sh** out of me.

  3. Have you asked yourself WHY you want to be remembered, to carve your name in the sands of time? “Sands of time” is right, if you remember Shakespeare’s The Tempest (and our little lives are rounded with a sleep)..

    1. I thought the same thing, Paul. Chris, what drives you to aspirations of fame? I do not understand. At 63 I just want to live the rest of my life enjoying what I have and continue to learn.I do want to help people and live a useful life. I desire mostly to help those around me when I can. through writing, listening, and making a peaceful environment in which people can think things through without judgement.

      I have created my peace through understanding, dealing with the past pains, and acceptance of the life I have lived and will live. I face the possibility of dementia or Alzheimer’s since my mother, father, aunt, and uncle have all had one or the other. So this peace is still a work in progress.
      Living is the hardest part, not dying. All of the deaths I saw in my 38 years of ICU/CCU, cardiac nursing were peaceful when it was an older person.Those who died at an earlier age of cancer fought it valiantly while they could, but they too accepted their deaths when it was their time. The body knows when it is time to give up. Your soul will continue into the new life.

      I have faced near death several times from childhood through adulthood. By the time you are older, you fear will change into acceptance. Death can be a friend to those who suffer or even an ally to survivors, being a motivator. Death is part of life and a new life comes from death. If it helps you, most everyone fears death. It takes time to alter that perception of it though.

  4. I don’t care if my name is remembered or not. That would cool, but what I would hope is that I have a positive impact on the people around me. I don’t fear death, I am anxious about leaving my lovely wife behind.

  5. Fear is only real while it lasts. But whilst it’s there, it can surely feel like hell! It can surely cripple us only because we resist it and don’t want to confront it. Take the bull by the horns and we can tame it. Like you said, embrace and explore it. But also, experience it to be free of it. Check my next post which will be up today or tomorrow which might be of some help. God bless!

  6. What I’ve heard that sticks in my head:

    “There can’t be fear in the place of love”

    To me that means focus on love, what inspires you, good. And the bad, fear, anxiety has no space to settle.

  7. Fear and death are often the companions of artists and writers from all walks of life. As you age it becomes less abstract and can cause further anxiety, fortunately, as you’ve eloquently suggested just facing your fears and confronting them is the best way to cope, grow and achieve freedom. Wonderful writing.

    1. Hi Monica, Yeah, my mother, bless her heart as she enters her 89th year of life, always said to me, Facing your fears is half the battle. i have made a practice out of facing them, or trying to, but as I continue to struggle even at 62, i must complain: What about the other half of the battle??? 8)


  8. Thank you for this. And just so you’re aware, you are definitely not alone. It scares the shit out of me and even the thought that I’m getting to be the age where I notice my family members and friends are reaching the ages where health seriously can start to decline.

    I hope that you (and I) can overcome this and do what we’re meant to do. Write on and live on my friend.

    Thanks for visiting my blog too. It’s a crazy tough world out there for writers and we need to stick together xo

  9. It seems as though we’re both in the same type of head space lately (sort of) what with the ‘phobia’ related posts.

    Wonderful post, and thanks for liking my post, guy.

  10. Death is not an option unless Jesus returns before it takes place, so I choose to live life to the fullest until that time comes. I pray all will do the same.

    One suggestion for change–“morality” to mortality. I suffer from impaired vision so I understand the error. Best to you!

  11. From reading this post, I can’t detect your writer’s block. It’s beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!

  12. As the writers mentions above, writers block is nowhere to be seen in your essay above, however I assume that you mean a block on writing FICTION, which is indeed an entirely different matter. My best advice is simply to remember that ALL writing counts, and it is all in some sense practice. So write what you can for now and the inspiration for fiction may return sooner than you think. OR you can try my “tried and true” to induce a poem, but I don’t really advise it: Coffee, someone else’s book that you love, and yes, a cigarette, foul as those things seem to most people these days. They do have a miraculous way of focussing the mind and even in-spiring as you inhale.. Best Wishes, Pam

    1. No … “busted hip and rickety, gruff and scowl” are not the inevitable part of aging. For some, maybe, but it’s not a universal absolute.

  13. Thank you for liking “Shadow Show” and “Shelf Clouds.” You are right. Fearing death is counterproductive because one day we will die whether we want to or not. I recently read a post about a writer who developed a terminal illness and was told that he only has a few months to live. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for himself and waiting for death, he is spending the time he has left doing what he loves to do most — writing.

    1. That’s the way to do it!! Live and love your life! Learn to love yourself if you haven’t already, that way you aren’t going over all of your mistakes and beating yourself up for them.

  14. “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.”

    I believe that thanatophobia is one of the largest contributing factors to the development, memetic selection and ultimate evolution of religious beliefs, which has subsequently had an enormous effect on the path of human history. Actually, I wrote about this in a post on the origins and success of certain religious beliefs ( It is definitely a major facet of the human condition, and thus a large driving force behind so much of human history. I’m glad that you seek to channel that fear into motivation for artistic expression, as that’s certainly one of the best ways to use that fear. In general, I think a lot of people do use the fear of death (even if it is an unconscious fear) to motivate them to make the most of their finite lives, or to simply try to enjoy the ride rather than harp about this or that accomplishment. We only have one life to live, so it’s nice to make goals we can be proud of during that time, yet we mustn’t lose sight of the importance of enjoying our lives (even if that means giving up some goals to accomplish that enjoyment). It goes without saying that finding this proper balance is a personal endeavor and can be quite tough indeed! I’m glad you have a positive attitude and are trying to channel the fear, even facing it head on! Good luck on your writing and keep on keeping on!

  15. Reblogged! Your words resonate with me like you’ll never know. You may be jnterested to read my post “Ungrateful” at my blog, Baldscientist. Thanks for your post!

  16. Wonderful post – and you are definitely not alone with that fear. I just recently learned that one of my oldest friends, who has suffered from severe anxiety for years, has feared death since she was little. She would ask her mother at bed time to tell her something positive to think of while she went to sleep to distract her from her fear of death and not waking up in the morning. Her husband does this for her now.
    I don’t fear death for myself. I faced it years ago and am okay with it, but I do dread it when it relates to the people I love. I am like you in the fact that I keep even my closest friends at arms length, and I don’t really know why, because I want them to share with me. It’s just not in me right now, and I think it would take a lot of hard work to get me to do it.
    I hope in the month since you wrote this that you have lit that candle and that it’s light is minimal to the bright flame of creativity that it sparked.

  17. Awareness is a big part of conquering fear. I know that particular fear all too well. It was a shroud that clung to me even in childhood. I wish I could say it was irrational but the family of origin are a dangerous group with long tentacles. I was sure I would never live to be 30. When that passed, I was still living under that veil. For me I had to make a complete break and create myself anew. The only constant in life is change and we cannot change others. That being said, when we change ourself, it does alter those around us. They can learn to accept and embrace who we become or move on. For some, the thought of people moving on out of their life is paralysing, yet it clears the path for new people to come in and in my case there are no regrets. My life is now rich with people who appreciate and embrace who I am.
    Today I no longer have time for that fear or any other really. I’m living a life I never even dared to dream of. I made many changes and cleared the air between the past and the life I have now. One of the biggest changes was moving to Europe.
    It can be done.
    Bonne chance! Léa

  18. Her Imperial Highness, #PrincessMelitaBonaparte, the #MostBeautifulWomanintheWorld, straddling the Sacred (In her role as #MotherSuperiorVenaCava & the Secular, as a Bonaparte Princess of the Imperial Line) simply, as she said many times “has no time for death, and no time to fear it. I remain devoted to the #RestorationoftheGreekMonarchy & to remaining young & beautiful. There is no time for death in my schedule, although I do attend State Funerals. And when I do, I must always look my best. You see, that scares, Death away.” She enjoys offering her wisdom to those who have writers block or suffer from Royaltyphobia. Once you see her, you will never forget her & will never, ever run out of things to write about. Writ without end, Amen!

  19. Dude, not that you asked for advice, but it sounds like you have a PERSPECTIVE problem. I sympathize with the fear of aging. When my grandfather died a few years ago I spent a year or so with that. But you’re being oppressed by an achievement-goal orientation, thinking about all the stuff you haven’t done, that has nothing to do with the creative process, and I think this may lie at the root of your writer’s block.
    Sounds like what you need is to relocate yourself, somehow, in your work, somewhere where you really love even the less-productive days. I suggest thinking like a reporter. Your life is hard, sure. What about other people in crazy tragic situations? Maybe you can use that for inspiration. Ariel Dorfman taught me that he has a message, something he urgently needs to tell regardless of what story he’s telling, and that’s the voice of the voiceless, people who’re oppressed. Do you have an urgent message on someone else’s behalf? Anyway, hope these ideas help 🙂 Thanks for the ‘like’ on my site.

  20. It’s odd: I’m a very timid person, in general, but death is quite low on my list of phobias or fears. Its inevitability is quite acceptable to me. I’m in no hurry! But it’s the hurts and difficulties, not the ultimate end, that trigger my terrors. I guess what *I* need to do is to face *those* fears down and set fire to ’em.

    Thoughtful piece, this.

  21. Fear of Death. As mentioned by many here. You are not alone with these thoughts. I fortunately don’t have such thoughts. (I am retired.) The door could be ajar. I’m not going to let that concern me. Take each day as it comes. Re writers block.. Writing your blog is not showing signs of that. I really liked this blog. Oh and thank you for your like on mine 🙂 AJ

  22. I believe you are afraid of your Mortality, not your Morality! But do not fear death, fear living badly and dieing badly. Now there is something to fear.

  23. Perhaps since so many close to me have already died from a new born baby to a 102 year old woman, I am not afraid. Not ready. But not afraid. Your post is thought provoking. Thank you for writing. Keep writing.

  24. All this phobia is because you are not dead yet. Only when one dies, then comes the art of living. It is not easy to let our desires, our ambitions, our memories, our relate die, thereby, it is so hard to live. That art comes on how one places one’s feeling, emotion, thought, desire in their right place.

  25. Reblogged this on authorkdrose and commented:
    Originally from Renegade Press and found via Cristian Mihai’s blog which is a fantastic blog in its own right.

  26. One of the most thought provoking blogs. I learn so much every time I read one and the comments as well. Your style of writing is wonderful! Keep it coming please!!

  27. Wow this post really resonates with me! Just brilliant! The first few paragraphs about the frustration of things not yet accomplished, regrets, dreams, goals, and fitting in everything I want to do before time runs out… that really got me because I feel that daily! I too want my words to be a legacy I leave behind… I want it to make a difference… and I can totally relate to keeping everyone at a distance and for me writing is the place where I can truly express myself… thank you for expressing all this so well and look forward to more of your posts.

  28. I’m nearing the halfway stage of slowly dying of Parkinson’s disease. I’m battle I will lose before most of my peers fight theirs. I am at peace with it. I still enjoy family, writing and creativity.

    Your vulnerability indicates that you’re on your way to excising fear and becoming “enough.” But it seems like you’re fighting your way into making writing a self-supporting, rewarding career. Further, it seems like you’re not there yet and are currently unsatisfied with what or where you currently are in your life’s journey – a tough place to be.

    I understand feelings of wanting to desperately be something other than what I was. I didn’t want to accept my gift of being a teacher until my 16th year of a 41year career. Until then I felt I wasn’t “enough” being “just a teacher” – miserable. After I accepted who I really was, I threw myself into teaching, did and required a lot of writing, and used creativity of all sorts. After choosing contentment I had a great time.

    Some questions to ponder:

    – At what stage of writing will you know that you have become “enough – successful?”
    – Is perfectionism hindering your creativity? (it does mine.)
    – Into what kind of stone do you want to throw your life’s energies to etch your significance: 1. the sandstone of popular press or aspiring thereto or 2. the granite of relationships built (family and otherwise) along the way? If you can do both you’re indeed blessed.
    – If you end up in hospital bed (like my disease runs,) able to think but hardly able to move muscles to form a word, let alone a sentence, what will you consider your greatest achievement?
    – What will your identity be? “I did it myself, mystically, uniquely my way, emotionally keeping people and relationships at bay, motivated by fear, or…”

    I recommend:

    -Rereading of negrocomics April 26, 2015 comment on your blog
    -Brene’ Brown in a youtube TED TALK “The Power of Vulnerability” (google it.)
    -Christ, in whose friendship I find identity and security. In Him I’ve no fear
    for the future and in Him I will always be “enough.”

    1. You are so right. There are worse things to think about and the questions is always, should we go there. Is it even healthy? Something each has to decide for themselves, both as writers and as humans.

  29. I believe God has a plan for us all. Why else would humans seek purpose in their lives? We all seek greatness, because God was great and we were made in his likeness. And even if you don’t believe this, I do and it’s helped me beat horrible anxiety attacks, depression, loneliness, and despair. I’ve learned to trust that my purpose on this earth will be fulfilled at some point, and not to worry about it. It’s very freeing.

  30. Great post! I don’t have a solution for writer’s block, and as an atheist I can’t even help you with your fear of death. I can, however, say how much I have enjoyed your writing. Please do it more.

    1. “…and as an atheist I can’t even help you with your fear of death.”

      Unless you’re a theist who only believes in heaven (and no hell), it is actually the atheist who can in principle be more comforting regarding consolation from the fear of death because atheism tends to be accompanied with naturalism and naturalism implies that death is the end of that person’s consciousness. Thus, after death, according to naturalism (which atheism is contained in), there is nothing to worry about other because your experiences will merely cease. It’s as if you go to sleep without any dreams forever. There is nothing to fear ultimately within that view.

      With the theist on the other hand, if they don’t exclusively believe in heaven, that is, if they also believe in hell, then their worldview produces the ultimate fear of death because of the uncertainty of where your “soul” is going to go after you die. They may say “I know where I’m going”, but many theists in a number of different religions say the same thing, believing in different gods, and so forth. Unless they’re all correct and all those different religion’s members are all going to heaven, then it would be more likely that the majority of them are not going to heaven. Furthermore, any particular religious believer will never know with 100% certainty that they’ve met the arbitrary obligations of their god in order to be granted eternal paradise. They may say so, but they’d have to have the knowledge of their God in order to know this for a fact.

      Since theism and supernaturalism are ultimately unsupported, the safest bet is to assume naturalism since it has a plethora of empirical and rational support. Therefore, there is most likely nothing at all to worry about after death, and therefore the fear of death is easier to overcome from an atheist’s perspective than a theist’s.

      1. That was a very thorough response to my comment. Thank you. I have no fear of death and have no problem with the understanding that there is no afterlife. Unless, of course, one is buried, in which case the body combines with the earth and may potentially contribute to new life forms. In fact, that concept is much more satisfying to me than the mystical promises of religions. Regardless, I don’t really care what happens after I die except to the extent that people who love me might care.

      2. Oops … at the risk of being labelled ‘troll’ … I am an atheist and have no fear of death. But if I find I’m wrong and allowed—even momentarily—to confront ‘God’ or Jesus, I’d spit in the Royal eye. Why is this, do you think?

        (Don’t answer—it would take over an innocent blog and neither of us would convince the other.)

      3. The correctness of the viewpoint. Religion is the worst topic for discussion—in short, it cannot be discussed.

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