I was afraid to sleep for most of my teenage years. I wasn't afraid of the dark or of burglars or a fire starting in my room or a million ways that I could die lying blissfully unaware in my own bed, but of sleep itself. I would get into bed, slow my breathing, close my eyes and think. And then I would think about not thinking. I would think about being immobile and unthinking. I would feel my breath go in and out, and then consider the absence of it. I would feel the blanket on my toes and then wonder how it would be if I couldn't feel. These things scared me, but it was the loss of thought that terrified me. I was afraid to sleep at 16 years old, because I was facing an eternity of death.
Realizing you're an atheist is scary, for a lot of reasons. Mortality, for me, being the main one; I don't see how it couldn't be. Somewhere in that bed I had to learn that I was mortal, that I was not going to be around forever. It looks so easy as I type it, but I had to earn that knowledge through years of thought and fear. I had known that I couldn't look back, either. Once I opened the door, there was no closing it, no re-dos. If I was scared, I couldn't revert to Christianity and expect my courage to suddenly return.
There were other things, of course. Telling my peers was difficult. I've been called names, of course, and there's no need to go into that. The worst is when I'm expected to be invisible, when I'm not allowed to share my view in the company of others who freely share theirs. Being without a holiday or a credo is difficult, especially when faced with pressing questions and especially around the holiday season. Telling my family was hard. Having to continually remind everybody is too.
Eventually, I got through it. The fear of death became a love of life and of learning, to do everything better and not waste any time. It's beautiful, and it feels me with strength knowing that myself and my peers are the successors of a long line of brilliant humans, able to accomplish things their ancestors couldn't even imagine.
I could go on and on about both the difficulties and joys of atheism, but I'll end here. Everyone has their own hardship story and their own savior story; I won't bore you with mine. The reason I wanted to share that is that I came across these two videos (First and Second) about a young girl coming to terms with her atheism. Even in her youtube videos she looks scared and confused, but determined. I wonder if she understands the burden that's just been put on her, that people will soon hate her for a choice her brain made of its own volition, that her family will try to hide her, that there will not be a place for her in America from now on. My heart goes out to her, and I can only hope she stays strong.