True Story: I Have Apeirophobia (the fear of infinity)

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Apeirophobia is also known as:

⊙The fear of infinity

⊙Infinity phobia

⊙The fear of space going on forever

⊙The fear of things that never end

Infinity is a floorless room without walls or ceiling.

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Symptoms:

Shortness of breath or smothering sensation

Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate

Feeling unsteady, dizzy, lightheaded, or faint

“Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time, and sometimes it seemed to me that her abandonment touched that strange mathematical point of endlessness, a point with no width, occupying no space.”
-Graham Greene

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Ever since I was little, I’ve had panic attacks whenever I thought about the fact that when we die (no matter what your beliefs are) the ending is perpetual.

People from church used to try to reassure me by reminding me how wonderful heaven will be, but that’s not the point. The point is that your life never actually ENDS.

I’m not even that afraid of dying because you die and then that part is over.

If I go to heaven, I’ll be in a beautiful place with God and people I love….FOREVER.
If nothing happens, nothing happens…..FOREVER.

There’s no getting out of it. It’s inevitable and it’s forever. And ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…..

The most helpful thing for me has been to bring myself back to the present moment and consider it like a journey.

When you plan for a journey, you have all these preconceived notions but once you are actually there it is so very different from what you expected and you just put one foot in front of the other.

“”I mean, d’you know what eternity is? There’s this big mountain, see, a mile high, at the end of the universe, and once every thousand years there’s this little bird-”

“What little bird?” said Aziraphale suspiciously.

“This little bird I’m talking about. And every thousand years-”

“The same bird every thousand years?”

Crowley hesitated. “Yeah,” he said.

“Bloody ancient bird, then.”

“Okay. And every thousand years this bird flies-”

“-limps-”

“-flies all the way to this mountain and sharpens its beak-”

“Hold on. You can’t do that. Between here and the end of the universe there’s loads of-” The angel waved a hand expansively, if a little unsteadily. “Loads of buggerall, dear boy.”

“But it gets there anyway,” Crowley persevered.

“How?”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“It could use a space ship,” said the angel.

Crowley subsided a bit. “Yeah,” he said. “If you like. Anyway, this bird-”

“Only it is the end of the universe we’re talking about,” said Aziraphale. “So it’d have to be one of those space ships where your descendants are the ones who get out at the other end. You have to tell your descendants, you say, When you get to the Mountain, you’ve got to-” He hesitated. “What have
they got to do?”

“Sharpen its beak on the mountain,” said Crowley. “And then it flies back-”

“-in the space ship-”

“And after a thousand years it goes and does it all again,” said Crowley quickly.

There was a moment of drunken silence.

“Seems a lot of effort just to sharpen a beak,” mused Aziraphale.

“Listen,” said Crowley urgently, “the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right, then-”

Aziraphale opened his mouth. Crowley just knew he was going to make some point about the relative hardness of birds’ beaks and granite mountains, and plunged on quickly.

“-then you still won’t have finished watching The Sound of Music.”

Aziraphale froze.

“And you’ll enjoy it,” Crowley said relentlessly. “You really will.”

“My dear boy-”

“You won’t have a choice.”

“Listen-”

“Heaven has no taste.”

“Now-”

“And not one single sushi restaurant.”

A look of pain crossed the angel’s suddenly very serious face.”

-from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman

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5 thoughts on “True Story: I Have Apeirophobia (the fear of infinity)

  1. I have this too, though I didn’t know it had a name. And I like very much what you say here: “When you plan for a journey, you have all these preconceived notions but once you are actually there it is so very different from what you expected and you just put one foot in front of the other.” There’s a very big difference between what the mind thinks infinity is, and what it actually is.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I have learned to take huge breaths when I feel the panic start to set in. We must keep putting one foot in front of the other :)

  2. I just discovered that this has a name, and have begun to research a bit on it. I posted a long comment on the recent video on The Atlantic website on “The Crippling Fear of Everlasting Life.” I also found the quirky but fascinating apeirophobia.org site. I respect how much meaning he’s made of it. For myself at this point, when it comes, it comes and goes very quickly, kind of like a circuit breaker blowing. I actually can’t really cause the realization of it to happen voluntarily, but it occurs spontaneously or if my mind starts to entertain the subject, I might have a “blow out.” :) But I believe at this point that it holds some very important clues about the nature of things that I want to move closer towards, rather than away from. But gently, maybe through art, writing, we’ll see. Good luck! It’s not bad, just very scary! It seems like the wisest people on the planet are not worried…what appears terrifying when fully understood may turn out to be completely the opposite…:)

    1. I’ll be sure to check out that article and that website! Thank you so much for your insight. I would love to read any writing and see any art related to this fear.
      For me the feeling just washes over me and paralyzes me. That’s why I have to breathe through it and tell myself it’s going to be okay.

  3. Something that helps me — maybe not right in the middle of panic, but before and after — is the understanding that what we’re dealing with is the *mental image* of infinity or eternity, and not the thing-in-itself. That mental image can bring great panic as we try to cognize something that is essentially not cognizable. Mental images are static and so they can’t “hold” something infinite, or more practically, something that continues to increase as the mind tries to grasp it. It’s like walking down a number line and getting a sense it will never end and then running faster and faster but it keeps increasing out in front of you. The mind just calls it quits and freaks out.

    Our actual experience of time is different. We don’t experience past or future, much less an infinite future; we just experience right now. It doesn’t matter whether it was yesterday or what will be 10 years from now, it always feels like right now. And right now isn’t scary in and of itself. It’s actually pretty peaceful, generally.

    Now, this is experientially true to me. Still, if I start to contemplate an infinite future the panic can come on — despite what I know to be true about “now.” This gives me a clue that there’s something about that mental image that is likely false, even as it seems so compellingly true.

    What you already do — breathing, grounding yourself in the present, essentially, getting very *real* and out of the head — is what helps me too. Funny thing is, lately, since I’ve found this funny name apeirophobia and have been researching it a bit, I can’t bring the dang panic on! I’m curious about it and now it’s being shy!

Let me know what you think! Leave a comment :D

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