If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
And the dead shall outnumber the living!
~The Descent of Ishtar (Gilgamesh)
If you’re feeling like you’re living out the opening montage of a post-apocolyptic thriller right now, you’re not alone. Humans have a tendency to look for patterns, especially when they’re afraid. And the hopeless outbreak plot line is one that we have repeated over and over again in popular fiction, right back to Mesopotamia.
But even back in Mesopotamia, the zombies themselves were never more than a symbol of a larger fear. Something to fight when the thing you’re afraid of is invisible, ever-present.
Sometimes that fear was gods and their unknowable tempers, or magic and its mysterious ways, monsters or extra-terrestrials, with their alien desires. Things that could change the people we loved into something unrecognizable. Something that could change us, if we weren’t careful. Then, we learned to be afraid of things like radiation, bacteria, sleeper spies, or viruses. Subtroped within each of these fears was the certainty we’d doom ourselves by flying too close to the sun. We’d try to bring back the dead in experiments gone terribly wrong, a miraculous cure for disease would backfire, our meddling with nature would do us in somehow.
But the thing about horror stories is they’re designed to be exercises in thought. A way to let our brains work out the what-ifs, to follow our fears to the worst possible conclusion and put down the book, safe and sound. Unfortunately, when a similar enough situation plays out in real life, your mind is going to grab on to that repeated pattern and follow it to the conclusion. So if you’re feeling a slow, creeping fear of the inevitable right now, there’s a chance you’re reacting one of the following ways.
Denial. Everyone is overreacting. Nothing is wrong. I’m going to prove it. See, look at me, out and about.
Depression. We’re all infected, what’s the point?
Panic. If you don’t have all the things, how will you and your family survive?
Anxiety. Gotta keep those eyes glued to the screen, because if you don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know how to react.
If you’re finding yourself feeling like any combination of the above, do yourself a favor and engage in activities that aren’t plot worthy. Turn off the news. Stop reading articles. Don’t watch or read anything in the disaster genre. I get that intellectually, you know you’re not actually in a zombie movie, but subconsciously, your brain may not be convinced. The more normal (while maintaining social isolation) things you do, the less this feels like a plot line. The less this feels like a predictable plot line, the less your brain will grip that pattern.