For the past few months, something has been festering in me—something that, though I have felt it and dealt with it before, I have come to experience anew. The very real, very visceral shock and dread that comes with fear has come back, and I feel once more helpless in the face of it.
At its barest, I now have a new fear to contend with—brontophobia, the fear of thunder. While I did not experience it before, the past few months of stormy weather have brought it out of me. The sky gets angry—at me, grumbling with impatience at my inadequacy, and though I know it to be an irrational fear, it remains very real, and very palpable. I jolt in place, scared at the onset of the booming sound, and though it subsides, I remain anxious, awaiting—dreading—the follow-up.
My better self knows it to be harmless—it remains as noise, and I am under no threat—but in my weakness I think otherwise. The sky is cross with me, and I must have done something to set it off. I surrender, knowing that there is nothing I can do to appease it. Even when I cover my ears, palms flat and firm against the sides of my head, I know I cannot escape. Even as I curl up on my bed during a storm, I do not feel safe.
It was a couple of weeks ago that I realized that my experience of fear comes with a certain anxiety that I could channel. My first reaction then to the anxiety was to chatter—to tell someone about what was going through my head. It somehow helped dispel the nervous energy pent up over the course of several cackles of thunder, but I know even now that overcoming the fear itself would be difficult.
My brother once told me that the root of all fear is the fear of death. I would use his argument to rationalize that my fear of heights was actually a fear of falling to my death. When my mother told me that I once had a fear of water, I suppose I had then been afraid of drowning, and since having learned how to swim helped me through that. While I have been struggling with my fear of death—and it has been a long struggle—this newfound fear of thunder feels somehow different.
Death is not obvious in thunder. Thunder to me is a manifestation of the raw power of a storm. It is loud, and it overpowers me. Maybe in that way, it reminds me of death—death will overpower us all—but even that explanation raises a few more questions. Thunder is extreme, and extremes can be dangerous. Maybe in danger, there can be death. On the other hand, I take risks all the time, and I have managed to stay alive this long despite all the danger I have put myself in.
Maybe it could be simpler than that. Maybe this time it is a fear not of death or its eventuality, but a fear of the nature of death. Not all death is slow and drawn-out. Maybe I fear the loudness of death—the loss of sensation, as if death were comparable to going deaf. Maybe I fear the suddenness of death—how the distant rumbling crescendos at the moment and then fades out. Maybe I fear how intangible death could be—overpowering my senses and surpassing description. All along thunder could have been a reminder of death without itself being a cause of death.
It was a couple of days ago that I realized one way to cope. I was in the company of friends, and there was a storm brewing. In my nervous anticipation of the thunder, I started chattering. I flipped out at the first chorus of the storm and proceeded to confide my fear of thunder. By the third chorus, I was calmly huddled on the floor, listening to the unraveling conversation about anything else but the weather. Turns out, while chattering helps me cope with anxiety, so does listening.
I reckon it makes sense. Friends have ways of talking things through with me, of helping me process experiences. In another sense, taking my mind off of the thunder is another way of coping, albeit an indirect one. I hope one day to be rid of this fear, but maybe I am satisfied for now with scratching the surface in understanding it.