I'm afraid of dying.
I always have been, even before my father killed himself.
Therapists often asked:
"Are you scared of doing the same thing your father did?"
A little—suicide survivors are dealt a bad hand. But that's not quite it.
"Are you worried about leaving behind grieving loved ones?"
I guess. Though they'll manage, I'm sure.
"Do you feel like there won't be enough time to reach your goals?"
Nope, I'm okay with that. I'm afraid of something—nothing—else.
That notion of finality, full stop. Blackness. Goodbye, sensory input and consciousness. No control. You stop existing. It freaks me the fuck out.
When I turned eighteen, my fear of death mutated into an obsession. At twenty-three, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I finally caved in and started taking pills. I committed to therapy. I stopped drinking.
Years went by without panic attacks or depressive thoughts. I fooled myself into believing I was cured. My macho ego woke up, requesting I trade cheap pills for cheap thrills. A fool, I obliged.
Got off my meds, started drinking again, and went to fucking Thailand. Couple of months in, anxiety was back with a vengeance. I swung between panic attacks and emotional breakdowns.
Flew back home, only to be greeted by the roughest depression I've ever had—tough luck. I started having panic attacks where I'd hit myself. Maybe I was trying to force my brain into thinking about something else. Maybe I was punishing myself for failing to shake off these death-related anxieties. I don't know. What I do know is that I still wince every time I talk about these.
The violent attacks were sporadic. Most of the time, I'd be crying, sleeping, watching sitcoms. Rinse and repeat. When showering, I'd often end up curled up in a ball, with paralyzing violence in my guts.
It's so strange writing about this today. The pain feels alien and familiar at the same time.
This period was my lowest point ever. I even Googled "best pills to die without pain". Not my proudest moment. It's a good thing I was crying rivers when I did: I couldn't even read the search results!
Good news is when you reach the bottom, your options are clear cut: you either stay there and die, or use the floor and your legs to spring the fuck back up.
I chose the latter. But man, there was nothing springy about that climb. Wasn't a straight line either. It took me at least six months to get out of that hole. I didn't do it alone. I reluctantly accepted all the help I could get: health professionals, colleagues, friends, family.
I got back on my meds. I went on a daily meditation streak for 180 days. Included physical exercise in my weekly habits. I started a seven weeks group therapy program at a local mental health center.
The latter was pivotal. First, it forced me to accept my condition in front of other people. Second, it introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy and journaling, which fucking changed my life. Third, it showed me I wasn't the only one suffering. That helps break the loneliness story you're spinning in your head when depressed.
Meds and therapy aside, the one thing that helped me the most was an idea. I heard it in a Headspace meditation course. It invited you to include others in your healing process. To remind yourself that it is also for the ones you hold dear that you're trying to get better. Not just for you.
Sounds simple, but it injected a healthy dose of motivation into my healing efforts. To this day, every time I meditate, I think:
"I'm doing this to be a calmer, happier presence for myself and others, especially the ones I love."
Today I'm better. I've made peace with my condition. I keep reminding myself to draw satisfaction and pride from imperfect, good situations. I accept that, on some days, anxiety will get the better of me. But the balance I've built, with habits and relationships, enables me to deploy a much better version of myself.
I still see my therapist frequently. We do progressive exposition therapy to tame my fear of dying. Since I'm able to write all of this, she'd probably tell you it's working.
It's funny how discussing death always loops back to life. To echo the wonderful documentary Flight from Death:
The question isn't "What are we to do with death?" but rather "What are we to do with life?"
Can't spend that precious alive time worrying about death! So I try my best not to.
I have a challenging and successful career.
I have a funny, warm family I can spend time with.
I have colorful, wise friends I can hang out with.
I have a beautiful, smart girlfriend who understands and loves me for who I am.
Most importantly, I can have dinner with my Mom and see how proud she is of the man her son is becoming.
I'll be thirty soon. I didn't think I'd make it, but I did.
The rest is just gravy.