Have you ever felt so close to death that you swear you’ve felt the Grim Reaper himself graze the side of your face gently (perhaps seductively, if you’re into that)? Or, have you ever had that chilling moment when your heart beats so frantically that the sound of blood pumping through your veins is all you can hear?
I have. Every single time that I have to turn off the basement lights.
Once those lights are off and I am left to my own devices, I bolt like a bat out of hell to the safety of my room, so that I can blindly assault the wall with my hands in search for the only thing that can possibly save me: the light switch. When the lights are, on I can breathe again and get tthe sense that I am 100% safe from any person or thing that wishes to dismember me.
And then I have to turn off my bedroom light.
Of course I try to rationalize the screaming anxiety occupying my brain, and talk myself down from this frantic and impulsive fear, but no amount of logical thought has the power to crush my neurotic nerves. I always tell myself that the probability of either a demonic entity lurking in the shadows or a serial killer hiding in my closet is quite low, and that I should probably just chill the fuck out. I repeat this sound logic to myself mentally numerous times, and sometimes it works. Somtimes it doesn’t. I end up sitting upright in my bed with my paranoia eating away precious hours of sleep. The good part of my brain knows that I am in absolutely no danger, while the other part of my brain does not hesitate in telling me that I am about to die a horribly painful death if I don’t turn on those fucking lights right now.
So that is this week’s topic. Why the hell are people so scared of dark? More specifically, is there any way for me to get over this dramatic-as-hell instinct?
Fearing the dark is often written off as an irrational childhood phobia, but a quick Google/online investigation into this topic will tell you that many adults of all ages still experience a profound discomfort when in the dark. On one hand, I am thankful that I’m not the only one nearly shitting my pants every time I have to turn off the lights, but my other hand possesses an annoyed curiosity. Why are so many of our brains hardwired to immediately take the ‘flight’ response once the light disappears? Is there a reason why this instinct overrides the logical part of our brain? And why can’t I just walk to the bathroom at 2 AM like a civilized human being, rather than my usual nervous shuffle across the hall with eyes widened and body soaked in the anticipation of my impending doom?
Some psychologists have suggested that the dark simply provides a platform for our minds to wander to dark places (yes a pun, I’m sorry), which manifests into that abhorrent anxiety some of us feel nightly. You must be familiar with that bothersome train of thought: what if that stupid-ass clown from IT is in my closet? Oh boy, what if he’s under my bed? What if the Axeman of New Orleans relocated to Canada and I’m about to be his first victim? Does being axed to death hurt? I wonder What Mothman is up to right now…? Man, I really miss Robin Williams. Are ghosts real? Is thinking about ghosts going to summon one to my room? Oh god, can ghosts read minds? Dammit, what am I doing with my life? What even is my purpose? Is my life leading up to nothing but extensive disappoint and infinite regrets?
Whoa. I just got the chills.
Other theories include the fact that as children we may have had bad experiences in the dark, such as night terrors or nightmares. It is possible these traumas were carried into adulthood and still keep us on edge. I see a lot of validity in this statement, as I was personally victimized by chronic nightmares as a kid and also experienced all the fun that is sleep paralysis throughout my younger years. If you don’t know what sleep paralysis, click the embedded link above. Nightmares and night terrors can resurface even as you grow older, and manifest into a bit only a phobia of the dark but also dreading sleep. Obviously this in more extreme cases, but these factors can also cause insomnia. I’m sure you’ve all at least had nightmares before, and know that they are anything but a wholesome time. I know my skirmishes with nightmares/sleep paralysis has deeply contributed to my severe distrust of the dark, and for a period of time I actually refused to sleep at night.
I’m sure we have our ancestors to thank for the more timid discomforts in the dark. Back in the days before Wi-Fi, way before that asshole Chris Columbus sailed the ocean blue to fuck shit up (and an entire population over), in the earliest days of Homo Sapiens’ (or perhaps a preceding ancestor’s) existence, being scared of the dark was a survival technique. People during this time couldn’t quite explain, or establish with guns, that they were the top of the food chain. With the threat of nocturnal predators prowling the shadows, early humans developed a completely rational fear of the dark. This instinctive adaptation allowed human ancestors to keep themselves alive and continue down the path of evolution until getting to what we are today. Our fear of the dark stuck around, as well as some wisdom teeth, but we are the newest model of Homo Sapiens–now with flashlights, less hair, and imperfect political systems.
I guess that I can’t be too mad at my very distant ancestors for being instinctively cowardly- they had their reasons. This doesn’t mean I don’t detest the fact that they didn’t just take the evolutionary pathway towards night vision. If cats could do it, why couldn’t we? Makes you wonder who the lesser species really is.
We have come a far way. Take the solar eclipse that happened this year—thousands of years ago, the world being plunged into darkness by a seemingly disappearing sun was a horrific occurrence. Ancient peoples probably went through emotions similar to that of us when the power goes out during a storm and we lose all wireless connections. Complete and utter terror, with discord in the community and screaming in the streets.
They made up explanations for the eclipse, because historically people loved cowering under the forces of unseen gods and mythological creatures.The Norse belief was that a solar eclipse was caused by the wolf siblings, Sköll and Hati, whose favorite pastime included chasing the moon and sun across the sky. The sun’s disappearance was the result of a wolf catching up with the sun and having herself/himself a nutritious treat of hot gas. Ancient culture in China also fancied the idea of large supernatural dog chomping down on our favorite celestial body. Curiously, I found that many ancient cultures’ explanation for the solar eclipse was a supernatural beast eating the sun.
People feared the dark so much that this fear manifested into the thought of giant creatures devouring the sun. Fear disturbing the imaginative minds of people can create truly frightening things. So next time you’re picturing Nosferatu hanging out in your bedroom closet, keep in mind that the human race has been imagining scary shit for as long as we’ve been on the planet.
Anyways, I hope that you enjoyed this dabble with the dark. I also hope that you learned that there is no shame in still being afraid of the dark, no matter how old you are. You are far from the only one, trust me. It’s instinctive, and your brain is just looking out for you in the only way it knows how. So invest in some night vision goggles, or maybe just a night light. Embrace the past by feeling the same unease your ancestors did. And remember, there is no safer place than under your blankets if you suspect that there is a monster in your room.
Before I bid you farewell, here’s a melancholy tune that served as inspiration for this article. Share with your friends if you find any of this remotely entertaining, drop a like, or comment if you’ve had a weird experience you want to share. See you next week, it’ll be bloody.