I walked carefully into a pitch-black room, my eyes straining to see anything in front of me. A single strobe light mounted near the ceiling briefly illuminated clouds of billowing smoke rolling into my vision in flashes of sharp, white light.
Then I saw the outline of… something emerge out of the fog, and my legs cemented my body to the floor. It was human, I think, hunched forward with a white mask spattered in blood which seemed to leap out of the darkness with each flash of the strobe.
It was carrying a bloody axe, head tilted, its gaze locked on mine as it moved closer, and closer, and closer. My heart was slamming against the inside of my rib cage, but I was also laughing nervously with a big smile plastered to my face as I navigated the haunted house.
There are numerous ways to describe the experience of fear, but one of my favorites comes from Frank Herbert’s epic novel, Dune: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
Yet . . . one of my favorite things to do in October is indulge in that little-death at a haunted house (usually while really, really stoned). I dive headfirst into shared human terrors: waking down corridors with bloody, severed limbs hanging from the ceiling; or dodging zombies that spring toward me brandishing ear-splitting chainsaws; or being stuck inside a pitch-black room with rolling fog and a masked, axe-wielding maniac.
Why do we enjoy walking into that total obliteration every Halloween?
Some of it has to do with adrenaline, that warm chemical cocktail that floods the brain and body. But for someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, you would think I would avoid being chased by chainsaw-wielding zombies.
But I love the entire experience, which usually ends stumbling out of a haunted house with a group of friends, laughing inside that cloud of adrenaline fallout, reminding myself I’m still here on this planet—with all my limbs still attached to my body. I’m still alive.
To finish Herbert’s quote from Dune: “I will permit it [fear] to pass over me and through me . . . where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
To a certain degree, the most difficult part of the haunted house is the waiting. There’s the obvious annoyance of standing in long lines in the cold, but the anticipation of facing all those fears can be more anxiety inducing than the actual experience itself.
Life itself often feels like a horror house of lingering traumas or precarious futures which cement thoughts to the skull. Those fears are truly the “mind-killers,” with every conceivable failure hanging over my head like those bloody, severed limbs in that corridor.
But fearing my own fear is often worse than actually engaging in the horrors of social interactions or adult responsibilities. Halloween is a reminder that fear is a just fickle fiend, and whatever terrors manifest in my mind as a result of mental illness, I’ll outlive that fiend on the other side of those seemingly terrifying experiences.