Jourden V. Sander is a bookseller, writer and the EIC of lit zine Feminine Inquiry in Austin, TX. She’s been published a few places including The Fem, Five2One, Sea Foam Mag, The Rumpus, Ghost City Press, Maudlin House, the Austin International Poetry Festival 2015 anthology Di-Vêrsé-City, and others. She is usually atheist and always pansexual. She wears a different color lipstick every day of the week and finds you suspicious. She says hello! Follow her on twitter @jourdensander
“I’m feeling apocalyptic,” I tell them.
They know this word to mean the apocalypse. The end of us all. But they don’t know what I mean when I say I feel apocalyptic. It’s a mood, a feeling, a place I go when I try to imagine tomorrow and am not sure it will come. When I try think of the future, and I’m not sure there will be one. It’s a feeling of allness, of ending. A feeling that we will all be here, and then we won’t.
At Zion Lutheran Church in Walberg, Texas, it wasn’t unusual to hear a sermon mention Judgement Day. Those end days talked about in revelation, those days where Christ would come back to Earth and judge us all. In a line, he will run our reel of sins and faults and stamp a label on our head. Labeled and packaged, we’d be sent to our appropriate destination. I remember confiding in my parents my fear in these days. These end days. This judgment. I couldn’t possibly be good enough. I couldn’t possibly believe enough. My parents told me, as long as I believed and loved God, I would be saved. Problem was, I didn’t believe.
As a teen, I’d sit in the pews with my hands in my pockets and daydream about sex during the prayer: sex with boys, sex with girls, sex with people I knew and sex with people I didn’t. I’d press my back into the wood and refuse to sing. I’d wear old t-shirts and ripped jeans while the others wore panty hose and pearls. Quiet rebellions were the only kind I had.
I remember lying in the backseat of my mom’s 2001 expedition, on my side, looking out at the dark sky. I can’t remember where we were driving from, and I can’t remember where we were going. I only know I’ve always slept in cars, but during that drive I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t give her much warning or context for my question. I just quietly asked, “What if I don’t believe in God.” I don’t remember her exact response, but I remember her gaze remaining on the road and mine on the sky.
Sometimes this hazy memory feels like a very specific dream, one I don’t feel my mother would remember. Or maybe she would remember, but wouldn’t admit it. I believe myself to be my mother’s favorite child but I also know myself to be her biggest disappointment. What could be more disappointing than going to hell?
THE FIRST APOCALYPSE
In 2006, I was 12 years and had found myself sitting in a movie theater for a horror film with a friend. I had never seen a scary movie before and was a child ridden with roots of fears that have grown into the phobias I have today. I sat in the large seat and grew nervous as the lights dimmed, but I gripped the arm rest and half-closed my eyes as the trailers began. I held it together until one particular trailer played: The Omen. A reinvented horror classic with religious connotations that would come out on June 6th2006, later that year. Terror took over me as words I knew from church matched the words in this movie, placing horror to a world that I was forced to frequent. From there I learned that a preacher had predicted the world to end on June 6th 2006. And suddenly, my mood was in a constant state of apocalyptic and I couldn’t imagine my life going on past that date.
I didn’t tell anyone for several months and instead began to develop coping mechanisms to handle this fear. Most frequently, I simply distracted myself. I watched less TV—as to avoid the trailer for The Omen. But as we grew closer to the end, I couldn’t distract myself anymore. I broke down to my mom one day, telling her I thought we would be dying. That a crack in the sky would sweep up the saved, and a hole in the ground would break under the damned. She laughed and told me I was being silly. On the day before 6/6/6, I made sure to stay close to my family. I’ve never been like the “doomsday preppers”; the people who fear the apocalypse but plan to fight it, to continue living. Isn’t that the point of fearing the end of the world?—that you won’t go on living anymore? I never thought of plans or strategies to live on, I accepted my apocalypse, I remember standing outside, watching the sky. I always had this strange feeling that, if the world ever did end, the signs would be reflected in the sky. The sun would drop from the horizon, or the clouds would turn black. But the sun didn’t drop, and the clouds remained white and harmless.
And so I survived my first apocalypse.
THREE COPING MECHANISMS FOR THE APOCALYPSE
Avoidance is a common tactic in dealing with phobia. I’ve learned ways to distract myself, to avoid the fear: watch movies, get drunk, self-harm. But it’s hard to avoid the apocalypse.
Stop avoiding your fear and address it as irrationally as it is. Talk with friends who are unbreakable in their skeptical lens of the world. Feel silly for just a moment.
This is just another form of distraction; the people you love can hold you but can never stop the apocalypse from happening.
THE SECOND APOCALYPSE
There were others in between but the biggest apocalypse was six years later: 2012. I don’t remember how my fear of this particular apocalypse began. As with many things, it was happened slow and then all at the same time.
The year of 2011 I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder while In San Antonio for my first year of college. I was introduced to the years of chest pain and internal fear my father had gone through. I was feeling apocalyptic again, but it was manifesting in different ways: sitting on my chest, palpitating my heart, dripping in sweat, and causing thoughts of terror and doubt to perch on the front of my mind. Mostly, I thought I was dying.
In addition to my anxiety attacks, I was having migraines nearly every day. I was shooting for a 4.0 so I couldn’t afford to be distracted by pain. I saw a neurologist and was prescribed pills that helped until they hurt. I cried a lot that year. Worried a lot, didn’t make friends, but instead, lost friends. I was isolated and unsure what to do with myself. I stopped answering my friend’s phone calls and texts. I took my pills, the ones for my physical pain and the ones for my mental pain. During the week I studied relentlessly and watched TV during my free time. I watched every season of Sex and the City for the first time and felt empty.
One day after class, I stood at the crosswalk. I saw a bus coming, and just for a moment, I considered jumping in front of the bus. When it passed, I felt horrified with myself for having considered—suicide? Looking back now, I don’t know how serious that thought really was. I don’t know that I was clinically depressed. I hold depression on a pedestal, a true show of darkness. Part of me finds it hard to believe I’ve ever been there—and wouldn’t I know if I have?
I told my mother who half-heartedly offered me therapy. I attended a session, but hated it. I hated the beautiful, peaceful paintings and the clinical white walls. I hated the plants, so particularly placed, and the feeling that by sitting in the waiting room I was admitting to having some kind of crazy. I hated answering questions about myself and my family that felt so cliché that I sometimes lied: have you ever thought about hurting yourself? Have you ever done drugs? Have you ever had eating disorders? Does your family have history with depression? With suicide?
So often the answers might have been yes, but I usually said no.
THREE NIGHT TERRORS THAT WAKE ME UP AT NIGHT
I. The Ghost
I’m sleeping soundly when suddenly I sit up straight in bed and panic. From this night terror, I don’t remember much. I wake up staring at the empty, open door, wondering what ghost had been there before I woke up. My husband said he’ll wake up to me sitting rigidly, staring into the darkness, looking afraid, seeing something that he doesn’t see.
I wonder if I’m seeing the ghost of my fears, my anxieties, of myself, standing in the doorway. And it’s just too much for my dream-self to bear.
II. The Stranger
At some point in the night I’ll be holding my husband and I’ll have this uncanny feeling that I’m holding someone else. Or maybe he’s holding me, and I won’t recognize the skin of his hands.
I’ll feel the weight of the stranger next to me and panic.
How did I get here?
Who is this?
Where am I?
III. The Question
I wake up to hearing myself screaming questions to the darkness. Most notably, one question: “What?”
I scream “what” over and over until either my husband or my voice wakes me. Much like The Ghost, I’m sitting straight up in bed, but unlike the silence of The Ghost, I’m desperately screaming questions. I need to know what.
What’s in the darkness?
What’s making me afraid?
What’s the worst that could happen to me?
What happens if I die?
What happens when I wake up?
What happens if I don’t?
As the 2012 apocalypse neared, I got a prescription for Xanax and continued to focus on my school work. As Christmas break approached, I should have been happy to have one semester out of the way, but instead, I was filled with dread. All I could think was that my life had just started. I just fell in love, moved out, started living—and we were going to lose it all.
2012 had too many followers, too many believers, to be fake. People were killing themselves, in large groups, to escape this apocalypse. People were building bunkers, collecting food, creating plans. People were killing themselves. I knew humans were gullible and easily charmed by the promise of drama, but how could so many people be wrong about one thing?
On the last moments of the year 2011, I don’t remember what I did, but I remember I was with people I love. Most of my life I’ve shouldered my fear, my anxiety, on my own. But I’ve found that it can ease the pain, the dread, by sharing it with another person. I went to bed that night and prayed to this god-I-didn’t-believe that’d I’d still be alive in the morning. When I woke up, I walked to the window and looked up at the sky, as I always did after the world was supposed to end. I’d woken up too early and the sun was still rising. Everything appeared normal. The sky had begun to pink from the sun’s rays and the world was quiet. I sat on my bed and cried, realizing I had been fearful for over a year for nothing.
And so I survived my second apocalypse.
THE THIRD APOCALYPSE
The time I pictured myself jumping in front of a bus wasn’t an unusual thought. After 2012, I felt exonerated—like I could survive anything. If the world didn’t end on 2012, then surely, all the doomsday crazies, and cult leaders, and fear-mongering pastors were senseless, as I was always told. For several years I didn’t feel apocalyptic. It wasn’t until the year of 2015 that my fear came back in the form of the Blood Moon.
The Blood Moon/Super Moon was something of a strange scientific occurrence, but not entirely out of the ordinary. It had happened before and would happen again in 2033. However, that didn’t stop two pastors from preaching the Blood Moon to mark the end of times. And just like their followers, I bought into their fear-mongering and was easily sucked back into the apocalypse.
FIVE SCENARIOS IN WHICH I IMAGINE DYING
1. The Stabbing
I imagine being stabbed at least once a day. I’m at work when someone comes up behind me and stabs a knife into my back. It’s fast and efficient. I turn around and my attacker is gone.
2. The Hit and Run
I imagine being hit by a car. I imagine this once or twice a week, since I’m rarely in the position of pedestrian. The car hits me and my body flails on the windshield only to tumble back to the asphalt, my face burning on the sun-heated surface.
3. The Wreck
I imagine getting in a car wreck. I imagine this a few times a day. I’m driving when a car drifts into my lane and I swerve. The car might roll, or crash, or explode, but I’ve been in some kind of collision. I wake up to the destruction around me and I’m not sure I can feel my legs.
4. The Unexplained
I imagine this several times a day. I imagine passing out and dying of some unknown illness. I am looking forward when all the sudden I feel a tightness in my chest. A shakiness to my hands. I’m sweating and feel confused. I slowly fall backward until the ceiling is my horizon. I count to ten between breaths, if I’m still breathing anymore.
5. The Random
Any other random way I imagine death.
Oddly enough, an end of the world is never one of them.
What am I more afraid of? Dying and going a hell I don’t believe or dying at the end of the world and understanding it all ends there? And do I really want to die? Does this mean I’m suicidal? I don’t imagine these scenarios in a state of fear—these images do not scare me. In fact, they excite me to some degree. I found myself wanting to be stabbed, to be attacked. But during these images, I’m hovering above myself, watching myself be killed. I’m dead, but I’m still there.
Perhaps this is the difference between my fear of the end of the world and my fantasy of dying: one involves the end of everything, an irreversible conclusion. The other involves an ellipses, a hope of coming back to life after dying.
The Blood Moon passed uneventfully and I am here to live another day. To live through another apocalypse. I still find myself feeling that I will die at the end of the world. At the intersection of my greatest fears, and my darkest fantasies. It’s a feeling that lives inside me, clings to my bones, and still, threatens to take me over.
What is an apocalypse, really? Is it my own, and is it different than yours? Could it be my anxieties that hang above my bed, dripping into my dreams at night, or the night terrors that wake me up? Could it be those scenarios of death I’ve listed in my head, or the knife I feel in my spine? Could it be the sky and how I’ll never stop watching it, because what if it changes and I-know-what-happens-next? Could it just be inside my head, like the anxiety, like the fear? Could we all have our own apocalypse that we’re desperately trying to escape? That we’re trying to live through?
And if we died, wouldn’t the world still keep on, if we were gone.