Fear, Fever, Thrill

While I was an undergraduate I came to know the most peculiar individual. He existed on the periphery of my social circle; but as a figure of popular discussion, he was legendary. He was known simply as "Bri" (as in "Brian"), and the reason for his fame was actually nothing exceptional. He was an alcoholic, pure and simple. But what made Bri so peculiar was the way he was mythologized. Not only did we tell tales of Bri's spirits-soaked exploits, but we did so within a certain theoretical framework. The peculiarity of all this was that Bri himself provided the framework for his own myth. In Bri's terms, his life was defined by a cycle, and the cycle could be captured in a tripartite conceptual form: the fear, the fever, and the thrill.

The fear is best captured by the period of self-loathing and depression that usually comes on Sunday mornings. The fear is a state of being in which one is wrought with anxiety. One is unable to live in the present, as concerns about the future dominate consciousness.

The fear can last for hours, days, or even weeks. But when it does subside, it transitions into the fever. An illustrative example of the fever is happy hour. All day long one agonizes at one's desk, staring at a computer, completing mundane tasks that no one will ultimately care about. One is painfully aware of one's cosmic impotence, constantly staring out the window thinking, "Shouldn't I be hunting a pig with a spear right now?" But the hours tick away and a light appears at the end of the tunnel. Text messages begin to role in: "Pub @ 5?" One's fear begins to slip away, and a general excitement for the evening hours is awakened in the soul. The seemingly unlimited potential of the night becomes more and more real. The fever has set in.

As the fever reaches its highest pitch, one begins to transition to the thrill. The thrill tends to correlate with intoxication, but it need not. The thrill sets in as the fever subsides, along with the last traces of futural oriented life. All of the agitation caused by thoughts of what might be has slipped away at this point, as a momentary Dionysian form of being takes root. Whereas a cosmic impotence characterized the soul during the fear, and arousal characterized the fever, the thrill is felt as a sort of virility. Each moment seems drenched in significance. Momentary glimpses of infinity abound.

Of course, the thrill gradually dies down. From a burning blaze to glowing embers, the thrill exhausts its fuel as quickly as it is fed. Pure activity gives way more and more to stagnation, paralysis--i.e., the fear.

More and more, I find the fear-fever-thrill cycle applicable to my own life. While it began as a way to characterize the pattern of substance abuse, I have realized that it is suitable for describing other activities. Partaking in sport, for instance, follows a similar pattern for me. Even my reading/writing habits can be made to fit the fear-fever-thrill cycle. But generally speaking, it best describes the waxing and waning of social life: the fear of being alone, the fever of anticipated interaction, the thrill of communion. Furthermore, each stage of the cycle always already contains the seed of the next stage. The fear, characterized by existential dread, conditions the futural thought that becomes exciting during the fever. The fever is exciting precisely because of the thrill which defines its horizon. And while the thrill is the closest one comes to living in the moment, one might argue that it already contains the seeds of its own destruction. In the midst of the thrill, one knows, in the back of one's mind, that this too shall pass. The thrill will end, and the uncertainty of the morrow will return.

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