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30 July 2015 / erikduval

A man’s best friend

Sometimes, I have this vision where I see fear in the eyes of everybody I encounter. When that happens, everybody looks distressed and worried to me. This vision never lasts very long, but the effect always stays with me for much longer: we’re all vulnerable, and we’re all afraid from time to time…

Some fears are a bit silly of course: for instance, I’m somewhat afraid of spiders (probably for sound evolutionary reasons that are really not all that relevant anymore for someone living in a context like mine). Even silly fears can be quite disruptive: I once froze, somewhere very high in one of the towers of the Sagrada Familia because of a fear of heights. Froze. Literally. Couldn’t move. Panicked. Not funny. Took me ages to get to the exit. I still feel uncomfortable when I think of the experience.

F. Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

Some fears are a bit less silly. Last week, we were in London and saw some Francis Bacon paintings at Tate Britain. His art touches me in rather an extreme way: a Bacon painting always scares me. Or confronts me with a fear inside of me that I try to stay on top of. Maybe that is the same thing. I know of no other painters who have that effect on me – with the possible exception of some Hieronymus Bosch paintings. This kind of fear is less silly than a fear of spiders, I think, because it relates to something existential, something related to what it means to be human.

Most of us have a fear of dying, I guess. I know I do – a bit more consciously now that I’m a Patient with a Serious Disease. Yet, it is difficult to confront or discuss that kind of fear: I always feel like I’m behaving hysterically when I mention it, as if I want to draw attention to myself. Most of the time, mentioning fear of dying kills a conversation anyway, and most people react with a “don’t give up, you can beat this disease” type of message. Which is nice, but admitting fear doesn’t mean giving up!

To the contrary, I actually think it’s important to recognise that fear, and to try and live with it in a conscious way. Otherwise, I have the feeling that I’m fooling myself, pretending to live in a Disneyland World where all will always be allright in the end and avoiding the Tough Issues.

I actually had very similar ideas about fear before I became a Patient with a Serious Disease – ever since I realised I would eventually die. I remember exactly when that hit me: I was twelve, sitting in a bus home from school, when the bus turned a corner… A story for some other time.

Maybe, if you can live without being hysterical about your deepest fears and without pretending they aren’t there, maybe then fear can become your best friend…

PS. Fear is also hard to write about, as I just experienced. I’ll write about something positive next time. Promise.



Leave a Comment
  1. Mary Rearick / Jul 30 2015 2:41 pm

    In facing fear and sharing your thoughts about living life fully, even if one is living with a serious illness, you inspire others to do the same, Eric.

  2. JoB / Jul 31 2015 1:23 pm

    Hey Mr. PSD, to me you’re just a Person with a Serious Dotherightthing reflex. No need for promises. JoB

  3. Oana / Aug 5 2015 2:44 pm

    I wish people could talk and benefit from talking with their loved ones about their fears of death and about death in general. I know I would like to be able to talk openly to my partner or my parents about it. I would like to know how they think of it, how do they cope with fear, how do they deal with the idea that one day, any day really, all could end; how would they want me to think about them, do they believe there is any way we could “communicate” even though one of us is gone? I would like to be able to tell them that if I die, it’s ok, and explain to them how I see life and death.
    I imagine that when someone you love (eg a partner) dies suddenly, you are left feeling extremely lonely and somehow betrayed: “you are gone, I am still here, without you, and this was not the plan. What am I to do now? How can I carry on?” Discussing such issues openly could, in my opinion, lighten the burden.

    • erikduval / Aug 8 2015 1:35 pm

      I agree with you, Oana. That is why I believe it is preferable to have time for such discussions rather than to die suddenly. (Many people see that quite differently, and hope to just die suddenly, without realising it’s coming.) Actually, sometimes you can find an opening somehow to start such a conversation with people close to you, even if there is no immediate urgency. Or you can try to write out how ‘you see life and death’ – then it’s there for people to engage with, even after you’re gone?

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