Why do we get a thrill out of the things that scare us?
I’ve never been good about going to sleep on time. Even when I was a kid, fatigued from a full day of shifting from buttcheek to buttcheek in the stifling heat of an all- girl’s school, I found that my internal clock was always wired to some anomalous time zone not in sync with the one that I was actually in.
It wasn’t that I was averse to getting that full eight hours in, but something about knowing that I was the only person left awake on my street always made me feel, in some strange way, kind of excited. Like I was in on some cosmic secret.
Staying up, of course, meant developing many a late night activity that I carried out with childlike expertise: reading books by only the dimmest of lights, watching episodes of The Simpsons at barely audible levels, learning which floorboards creaked when I snuck down to eat Doritos, and increasingly, as I got older, finding creepier and creepier things with which to finally lull myself to sleep to. Like most illicit habits I can’t quite recall how the last one started, but I can venture a guess as to what stoked it: the Internet.
To be fair: I’d always been drawn to things that scared me. I loved watching Magandang Gabi Bayan’s Halloween specials every year with my dad as much as I hated the manananggal-fueled nightmares that would inevitably follow. I gleefully sat through episodes of The X-Files even though this meant that I would be paralyzed by the fear that I would be abducted by aliens as I lay in bed (or worse, plucked out of a plane midflight).
The thing about the Internet was that it had every creepy second-hand ghost story or blood-spattered urban legend all at once. It’s a self-replenishing well of dubious photos of ghostly orbs in abandoned buildings, mysterious crop circles, and demonic possessions.
You can argue that there is an infinite amount of stuff to do or see online without ever having to resort to typing the words “mermaid the new evidence real or fake” in your search engine, but also you’re probably wrong. For me at least, the Internet wasn’t created just for Kim Kardashian to break. It was made to house the creepy, the unexplainable, and the weird: to bring them all that much closer to my sleepless fingertips.
It may seem counterintuitive, but in some ways the looming presence of a greater, more abstract unknown can, for a second, dwarf more immediate, real-life horrors. The cavernous loneliness of a break-up or the stabbing anxiety over an impending job interview can feel infinitesimally smaller than, say, whether or not a species of dinosaur still exists somewhere deep in the Congo River basin.
It wasn’t until I started getting older that I realized that I had never outgrown my obsession for seeking out things that scared the sh*t out of me. Going to bed in a terrified stupor has become my constant. Weirder still, it works even better than Nyquil.