‘The universal feature of night terrors is inconsolability, very similar to that of a panic attack…they will often scream…sweat. There is a sense that the individuals are trying to escape.’
My first time experiencing a night terror was when I was awoken by overwhelming thoughts of creatures of unimaginable size next to me. I was six, and as unusual as this may be compared to what a child normally fears, I woke up to these thoughts kicking and screaming. I still remember sitting with my dad in his room; hardly able to breathe under the sheer, inexplicable mass that my brain was creating in my tiny, aching head. These infinite creatures that I was conjuring in my mind were suffocating me in the real world. This was the first and last time that these thoughts would affect me like this. After that, nothing similar ever happened again and I got over my ‘nightmare phase’ of childhood.
As I grew up a couple of years, few things really frightened me. I was always fascinated by the destructive nature of the Daleks in Doctor Who that sent past generations hiding behind their couches, and when I first heard of the Final Destination movies at the tender age of 11, I was all over them like a morbidly curious rash. I suppose I have Scooby Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang to thank for always fighting the creatures, showing me that monsters aren’t real, and that fear is just a bad guy wearing a mask. And, though I wasn’t bothered by the things that went bump in the night, there was still this invisible, nameless force that occasionally sent me dizzy at the thought of it. This force eventually manifested itself into the form of Great White Sharks. After watching Jaws and other sea creature antagonist movies, I decided that the menacing face of a shark, with its angry black eyes and never-ending serrated mouth was the source of my fear – and for good reason:
It was only a few years ago when I made this realisation, but it still didn’t answer questions in my life that I kept a little more private. I realised this fear was irrational, not because I have, and probably will never interact with one, but because I couldn’t do certain, (admittedly laughable) things because of it – I could never get into a bath without the image of a massive ocean dwelling creature, shark or otherwise, entering my thoughts. In fact, I didn’t like being in any body of water alone, for I was exactly that – alone.
From that point onwards, I labelled it as ‘a fear of big things in water’. As silly as it sounded, that was the only thing I could call it because that fear obviously didn’t exist anywhere else…
I was discussing this fear with a flatmate a few months back, when I decided to see if there was such thing as a ‘fear of big things in water’; when I was greeted with these images:
Seeing these pictures made my heart feel like it had stopped and I nearly passed out on my poor, unknowing flatmate with whom I was just trying to acquaint myself. Maybe it was seeing my nameless, faceless fear right in front of me so suddenly, or maybe it was the revelation that it did indeed have a name, but this was something that had been waiting my entire life to make itself known.
Later on that night, I researched my new-found psychological companion and I realised that it encompasses a whole branch of similar phobias.
From that point onwards, things began to make sense in my life. Firstly, it rationalised my once ludicrous anxieties about water. How couldn’t I be distressed by the infinite span and vastness of the ocean? Of what could live within it? Of what doesn’t. The miles of emptiness. The sun-deprived world of silence.
It also brought to life the images of my night terror as a child. Seeing such colossal creatures on these pictures brought me back to the breathlessness and powerlessness that I felt over a decade ago. And it reminded how small I really am in this physical world of mechanical titans and natural giants; a thought that could keep anyone up at night.
I could hide from my fear no longer, for I knew its name.