We know not the day, nor the hour—but death comes to us all. The Weight of the Inevitable intrigued me. Director Alberto Dalla states that he was compelled to create the short documentary to better understand his condition of thanatophobia, the extreme and pervasive fear of death. But wait—isn’t everyone afraid of death? Apparently, that’s part of the problem. Thanatophobia often goes overlooked and unrecognized because it is co-morbid with intense anxiety and depression, and fear of death is so common that it isn’t identified as the root cause.
The people in the film who live with thanatophobia are all very intent on acknowledging the specificity of the condition. All of them seem to have been widely misunderstood by most of their doctors, who dismissed their fear or didn’t realize the intensity of it. Some describe it as constant intrusive thoughts, from the moment they wake up in the morning–“Let’s get some coffee, you’re gonna die.” Some have been paralyzed with depression for months at a time as a result. Some people are so afraid of dying, they take their own life. It’s the last bit of control they feel they have left over it.
I was fascinated in my conversation with Alberto Dalla by how he described it. In my limited understanding, it’s more of a fear of non-existence than anything else–the great unknown, the weight of the inevitable. We’re all going to die, and the vast uncertainty of that specter looms over all of us.
How do those with thanatophobia cope with this fear—considering we are all, after all, going to die, and nobody can really know what happens then or next? Like most people who live with a mental health condition, those living with thanatophobia take comfort in engaging with others who share their affliction, which is one of the reasons Dalla made the film. There are death cafes—something else I wasn’t aware of—where people talk openly about death. Some people take comfort in planning their own funeral services. An accurate diagnosis seems to be key to finding the right therapies to treat the underlying condition.
My curiosity is always piqued when I learn something about a mental health condition that was previously unknown to me, especially something so common and yet so widely misunderstood as thanatophobia.