For most people discovering the secret to eternal life, or reaching heaven and living forever in a blissful afterlife is the ultimate goal, but for some, concepts like life without end and infinity are apparently terrifying to the point where they cannot lead a normal life. These people suffer from a little-known and even less talked-about condition called “apeirophobia”.
You won’t find many scientific or medical information about apeirophobia online. It doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry, and popular medical information websites like Mayo Clinic or WebMD have no mention of it either. But when it comes to anecdotal evidence of its existence, the hundreds of forum threads, social media posts and blog entries by people sharing stories of their struggle with the fear of eternal life or infinite space, and asking for help in coping with anxiety, sleeplessness and depression, are enough to convince anyone that apeirophobia is more than a made-up medical condition.
Unlike other phobias, aperirophobia is a lot harder to explain, which is why most people tend to keep it a secret. It’s one thing to tell that you’re afraid of snakes, or heights, and another that you’re afraid of living forever or of the infinity of the universe. While most people find the fear of death perfectly understandable and even relatable, the fear of infinity and eternity is apparently much harder to grasp.
But apeirophobia sufferers can make some pretty compelling arguments for their fear, especially when it comes to eternal life. Whether it be in this world or in heaven, the thought of being around forever without the possibility of ending their existence is terrifying. The lack of a means of escape, regardless of how joyful and pleasant this eternal life may be creeps these people out, and just thinking about it can trigger a variety of symptoms, from anxiety and panic attacks to depression. Some sufferers describe their experience with apeirophobia as feeling claustrophobic, trapped, or stuck in time.
“I fear that eventually throughout eternity I will eventually reach a point where I have experienced everything, learned everything, done everything, met everyone, and eventually I am gonna be stuck being bored of being in existence, but I’m gonna have no way out no matter how much I want it to be so,” apeirophobia sufferer Paul wrote on Phobia Fear Release. “And even though that would take a very very long time to reach, my reasoning is eventually it will happen, and all that time in the midst of eternity coming up to that point will seem like a blink of an eye, because time is no more then a perception and measurement, an idea that we give to days and so on and so forth.”
“I know for most Christians that idea of eternal life is very reassuring but for me…I just couldn’t deal with it,” Tom told YOMYOMF. “I’d just be lying in bed and start thinking about the eternal life thing and just lose it. I’m sure my wife thought I was crazy. I had a successful career and a great marriage and family–life should’ve been great but this thing was eating away at me.”
But the fear of eternal life is just one side of the coin. Some sufferers have no problem with the idea of living forever, but are terrified by infinity. “I feel that we are all insignificant compared to the universe,” a certain Jane Adkins wrote in a Facebook post. “When I start to think beyond our solar system, it is as if my thoughts automatically stop to protect myself from having some form of a panic attack. The knowledge of black holes will give me nightmares for days. The thought of the distance between galaxies is unbearable.”
You can find hundreds of posts like the ones presented above on the internet, if you look for them. Most of the people who share their experiences are looking for ways of dealing with their apeirophobia, but while medical treatments and behavioral therapy works for some, most are left with just one solution – keeping themselves distracted to keep thoughts of eternity or infinity out of their minds.
We don’t yet have a clear explanation of what causes apeirophobia, but it may have something to do with how are brains process concepts like eternity and infinity. Martin Wiener, assistant professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience: Cognitive Neuroscience, Time Perception, Space Perception at George Mason University, told The Atlantic that the frontal lobe, the part of the brain believed to control long-term planning, is one of the last to develop as we grow.
“In adolescence, there is a dawning realization that occurs where one realizes they will become an adult. I suspect that, in apeirophobia, one comes to the ‘realization’ that after death you will live forever (if you believe this), and in simulating that experience in your mind, one realizes that there is no way to project ahead to ‘forever’—and that experience is, inherently, anxiety-provoking,” Wiener said. “As such, the anxiety that these folks are feeling may not be much different than the fear of growing up, getting old, or death.”