Confronting death (and other irrational fears)


I awake in the night as the fear swoops down and clutches my chest, breath stolen as they draw closer, words turning to ash in my mouth. Paralysed beneath sheets I am fixated on ephemeral movements in the shadows; they have come for me again. The cold smoke of their limbs wrap around me and the bed slips away, drawing me down into the black much deeper than I have known.

These macabre post-weekend bouts of sleep paralysis, formed out of a brain recovering from toxic shock, may have become a thing of the past but I have lately found my mind turning to death. Not morbidly, but more the cycle of existence: beginning, enduring, ending.

The truth is that until recently it was much easier to go out on a Friday night under the guise of “blowing off steam”, and drown these internal existential musings under rivers of alcohol. Death terrified me, and the thought of non-existence was so overwhelming that the only way I could cope with it’s inevitability was to pretend it didn’t exist.

In the last few months I have been forced to soberly contemplate dying, and from this I’ve started to understand why my thanatophobia progressed in the way it did: It’s part of the generalised anxiety that has come and gone in various waves of severity throughout my life, coupled with my innate fear of confrontation. For is death not the ultimate confrontation we all face in the end?

Confrontation is a necessary process for personal development and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, so what led me to walk on egg shells for such a long time? I grew up in a liberal household where we could openly discuss our problems, and I certainly wasn’t made to stifle any thoughts or opinions. Upon reflection It wasn’t the conversation that I was avoiding specifically but the feelings that proceeded them: I wanted to avoid sadness and in turn everyone else to, so I learnt to avoid confronting my feelings and fears, including my fear of death.

Our cultural relationship with death in the West is part of it too, becoming in the words of French philosopher Philippe Ariès “shameful and forbidden”, a cultural taboo greater than sex. For our ancestors death was an omnipresent force, but as ever improving medical treatments extend our lives beyond their imaginations could comprehend, we find ourselves increasingly far away from it. Death has moved from our homes and into hospitals where it can be hidden away, shielding us from the end of life and altering our perceptions towards it.

Centuries ago the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus pronounced “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”, and it is in these words and other Stoic ideologies that I have found some solace. Life could be infinitely worse than it is now, so why not celebrate this small victory? It turns out that Epictetus may have been on to something, as awareness of your own mortality can be good for you, particularly when thinking of the legacy that you will leave behind in your wake.


As an atheist I have had trouble coming to terms with the notion of non-existence – a concept so utterly bewildering, even more so than existence itself, that it makes my head spin – but spending an increasing amount of time pondering life, death and everything in between appears to be improving (if not completely eradicating) my irrational fear of confronting death. We spend so much time busying ourselves with work, goals, achievements and activity that we often forget to sit in stillness examining ourselves inwardly, and sometimes that is just what is needed.




Falling Back in Love with Books

Reading in Book Store

I sit down in a comfortable chair, book in one hand cup of coffee in the other, intent on assiduously reading it cover to cover, when after ten minutes I find my hand wandering subconsciously toward my mobile phone. Suddenly I am fixated, locked in a tractor beam of artificial glow, index finger flitting in the habitual motion of infinite scrolling.

Until recently this was a Ground Hog Day like occurrence, my ability to concentrate so greatly diminished that I couldn’t make it through ten minutes of reading without getting distracted. Because of this, last year I read a grand total of four books.

Growing up I can remember sitting with my Mum squished between my Sister and I as she read to us the works of Lewis Carroll, C.S Lewis and Enid Blyton. Later we joined in the narration ourselves, and although my sister was the more pro-active reader between us I loved the way the pages transported you to some fantastical realm where childish wonder was free to roam unadulterated. However the older I became the less I read. Having grown up in the boom of the gaming industry my source of entertainment quickly migrated from books to my newly acquired PlayStation 2, and it would be some years before I would find my head back among the pages of Through the Looking Glass.


So was technology to blame for my distracted mind? Quite possibly. Reports show that the amount of time children spend in front of a digital screen has nearly doubled since 1995, quite probably attributed to the growing access to mobile devices, with 66% of 8-12 year olds now owning a smart phone. With this brings a whole host of adverse effects including poor focus, irritability and even inhibiting children’s ability to recognise emotions. It also seems that parents are reading less to their children than ever, particularly Fathers who are 50% less likely to read to their 0-11 month year old than Mothers.

The problems don’t end there however; as we move into our formative teenage years where novels can etch a lasting impression – The feelings of pain, outrage and loss after my first reading of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are still palpable – it appears that we are giving up serious reading altogether. Our brains have become accustomed to snippets of information dispensed like short lived drugs from numerous digital stores, desensitising our brain’s reward system and making it increasingly difficult to concentrate. Government cuts to schools and public services see library doors closing and school classrooms overpopulated, making it more difficult than ever for teachers to inspire young people to read for pleasure.

To combat this we need to lead by example; there is a strong correlation between positive parental encouragement and the frequency a child reads. We need to dispense with the notion that we don’t have time to read and make time for it. It’s likely you will reap the benefits from this as much as they will.


You may have read in my last post that I’m currently in the midst of a somewhat drastic change in my existential outlook, including focusing more on my mental and physical well-being. After reading about the adverse effects that too much screen time can have on sleep in adults, I decided to drastically decrease the amount of time I spent looking at my digital devices and replace it with reading. The psychological improvement thus far appears to be significant (albeit slightly anecdotal), and best of all my love for books is flourishing again, taking me back to that familiar realm of wonder and freedom I knew as a child.


Books read in 2017: 4
Books read in 2018: 12 (and counting)

Come and find me on Goodreads to see what I’m currently reading!

Also check out the Reading Agency, a charity focused on inspiring people of all ages to read for pleasure and empowerment:





God can not live here amongst the rubble.

They are buried down deep with

The Wives, the Mothers, the Children.

A museum of bones to be studied,

Lost artifacts to be forgotten.

Tilted heads search in vain for answers,

Confirming a vow taken without consent,

Pleas caught adrift in the wind.


A cold blooded hand leads through

Borders etched in ink

Where no welcome is received,

Where this impostor known as God

Speaks in a foreign tongue, and

Surreptitious sideways glances

Cast suspicions on those

Torn from Ancient lands.


All that remains is to dream of

Loved ones tending to eternal gardens,

of being, nothingness and

Inaccessible mysteries.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Spirituality

A Skeptic’s Guide to Spirituality

Can they co-exist?

Wolfe Bullshit

Last week I stumbled upon a Facebook post from David “Avocado” Wolfe. It was a picture of Dr. Otto Warburg, 1931 Nobel Prize winner for cancer physiology, emblazoned with the quote “No disease, including cancer, can exist in an alkaline environment.”

I felt the familiar mix of righteous indignation and disbelief boiling to the surface of my skin. It loaded my larynx with an audible projectile and fired “Bullshit!” from my mouth like a heat-seeking missile. Fundamentally the statement is true, but the purported claim that Wolfe is alluding to, that alkaline based diets can cure cancer, is not. Typical of his methodology it has been extracted from its original context and reconstructed to enforce his bogus, pseudo-scientific agenda.

I am inherently a skeptic; in a post-truth world where facts can be pulled from thin air like magical spells, I find it increasingly necessary to employ skepticism as a defense mechanism. As more young people turn to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for their news, greater action must be taken by the social media giants to prevent the mass spread of misinformation to those without such a filter, (we only have to look at Russian bots to see the dangerous consequences of inaction here.) Skepticism by definition however, is not synonymous with obstinacy.

“Skepticism is not a position that you stake out ahead of time and stick to no matter what.” — Michael Shermer (Publisher of Skeptic Magazine)

This unyielding position is where I had rooted myself regarding maters of spirituality. I was (and still largely remain) an atheist, and regarded anything that could not be explained through scientific theory as dismissible evidence, if not dangerous to the progression of humankind. As a doughy amalgamation of atoms and electrical signals I alone would have to navigate through the obscure maze of existence, without the help of divine intervention or transcendence of being.

Why then with all the certainty of this knowledge did I feel so disillusioned? The coping mechanism for my inflating anxiety, like many others in my generation, was subscribing to various forms of intoxication as a means to escape reality. Friday through Monday was a roller coaster of soaring highs and crashing lows, the latter of which were growing in strength and duration, and just when my mind and body were verging on repair the cycle would begin again. It was only in the resolution of January that I decided to contemplate an alternative.


Drinking, my old crutch, had to go, at least temporarily. I often partook in the seasonal ritual of Dry January but what I needed was a longer period of abstinence. So I settled on a dry quarter, of which I am currently half way through completing. After researching numerous meditation practices, (a task that ironically made me feel anything but Zen), I decided to try yoga as it boasted benefits for both the body and mind. I walked into the first yoga class of my life in January 2018 with that old feeling in tow but I left with a glimpse of inner peace previously unbeknownst, and six weeks later it no longer follows me in. I genuinely feel more emotionally stable and actively engaged in my life than ever before; my anxiety has all but diminished.

Now this isn’t to say that I will begin tying healing crystals around my neck, assiduously searching for meaning in tarot cards, or flying to Peru and embarking on a shamanic healing journey; my inner skeptic still helps guide me towards truth. However learning to let go of my reluctance to embrace things I don’t fully understand is helping me lead a more fulfilling life. And who knows, maybe one day I will finally attune myself to the infinite consciousness they keep telling me about in yoga.


Hiding in Plain Sight

And I think that tonight
I lost something that I will never get back.
But no one will know,
for the smile fools all except the wisest.
Could they hear the glass shatter at my feet?
It echoes in my ears still,
Reverberating through my once thick skull
Now frail and cracked
Insides seeping out like a broken dam
After an eternity of defence against
the elemental powers,
As I attempt to seal it with bare hands
and broken spirits.
But rest assured no one will know,
for silence was heard by the ignorant.
My secrets are safe within
Away from the madness
or at the source of despair
I can’t decide which.

And the worst thing
is I thrive in it,
I beg for it to surround me and
Encompass my world until everything
Teeters on the brink,
Until one foot is on the stool.
For it is in this moment
Seemingly at the end of all things
when the greatest of revelations are found.
When truly
For a moment
I feel.

But no one will know.
No one will know a thing.