It's a weird feeling.
Like having nothing and everything to say at the same time. It's been with me for weeks now. No clear words, just... pressure. Building up. I used to release it regularly in my twenties. I'd blog my heart out. Felt good, for the most part.
Now it feels like it doesn't fit with my "personal brand" — wince. I'm a 30+ tech startup CEO in a long-term relationship. I have savings, most of my friends have houses and kids. It wouldn't feel right to spill my guts on a public blog anymore. I'm supposed to be stable and have shit figured out by now. Right?
Maybe. But life's too short to pretend. I've got some shit figured out, sure. Still, the longing to twist and shout on the page remains. Words to wager wonder wander. My soul's got itchy feet. I think I have too much language stuck inside of me.
When I lost my father to suicide in 2001, I was eleven and a half years old. That's supposedly the age where your brain starts migrating from the concrete to the abstract. You begin to understand concepts, like time or metaphors — shit like that.
Cue the reference to my therapist, whom we'll call Ataraxic Bard (AB). He suggests that when the trauma of losing a parent big-banged in my brain, it reacted by searching for solutions intellectually. By thinking more. Thing is, it's a tragically useless pursuit for a young teenager to try and make sense of a broken man's suffering. Of his will to abandon his family and punch out from life.
It overloads the forming mind with challenging concepts: disappearance of a parent, impermanence of life, death, intentional death (suicide), free will, consequences of actions. A sour mouthful to chew on. Some things you lose forever, but nothing lasts forever (including you).
So, yeah, AB thinks that's where my fear of death took hold. I'm not so sure. I think everyone's afraid of death. I'm no exception - I just happen to obsess pathologically over it. Still, he made some parallels in a recent session that I've been reflecting a lot on. He asked me to rephrase how I saw death:
"You, whatever that is, your conscience, sensory input, memories — gone. Emptiness. A vacuum. Something inevitable you can't escape. You have no control over it. You just suffer it. Can't understand it. It robs your existence of meaning."
I've said that shit probably five hundred times now. Be it in therapy sessions or discussions with close friends. That time, though, AB pointed something out:
"What else lacked meaning and left an incomprehensible vacuum in your life? What else made you feel that powerless?"
I mean, the Bard isn't wrong. The parallel is legit. Maybe I'm just afraid "that" will happen again? "That" being the pain of losing my father to suicide. Yet somehow, through decades of reading and learning and talking, I have managed to convince myself that my fear of death is "rational." I read the existentialists, Becker, others. I took comfort in realizing others were as puzzled by death as I was. Afraid and angry, too. I wasn't alone - yes!
(👆 There, you start to see it creeping in. The thinking, the words, the language. The great intellectualization of trauma.)
I even remember looking upon the religious with contempt. I claimed they were fooling themselves because they were too afraid to see the "truth." Yeah, right, like how the fuck could a 17-year-old white boy from Québec Canada actually possess "the truth."
On that note, this tweet is funny AF:
After a while, my contempt morphed into sad envy. I craved the faithful's peace of mind after years of warring with mine.
Later on, I started latching onto transhumanist ideas of curing death. I read pieces on the subject, a book, watched TED talks... Looking back, it's kind of ironic. I was just trying to find something "rational" to have faith in. I didn't truly care about the reverse engineering of the aging process. I just wanted to believe that I could push death away, somehow. Or maybe escape it a while longer, giving me time to figure it out. To think through my fear and solve it somehow. As if.
Ever since I was a teenager, I've written and talked about this existential stuff and the inevitability of death so fucking much. Do you know why? Well, for starters, I'm good at it — writing and talking. Comes naturally. So I talk too much. Again, why? Because language is an illusion of control over reality. And let's just say that the anxious OCD types like me really like that.
A friend once told me: "language was man's true first sin." Or something like that. Came from an obscure Hebrew theological piece, which he couldn't retrieve when I asked for a reference. You get the idea, though. What you name and describe, you think you understand. What you understand and explain, you think you can control. It might sound weird. It probably does, but I believe it to be true, at least for good ol' me.
When you stop and think about it, you realize language has been the number one driver of human evolution, for better or worse. Case in point: we invented words for pieces of metal or paper. We named our currency so we could tell the story of money. This collective fiction created a global value and trading system that catapulted humanity forward. I'll stop here before we get into this meme territory:
I don't know, man. Maybe language influences reality (the ones who tell the stories rule the world, yadda yadda.) The very, very, very strange truth, though? Reality just... is. It's messy, overloaded with information, so we conscious apes strap a layer of language on top of it to make some sense of it. To navigate it slightly better, from dodging that pouncing tiger to colonizing Mars.
Okay, what's my point? Back to that 2001 bereaved boy. His heartbreak, like reality, is — regardless of the words we assign to it. The experience is there to be lived and felt, first and foremost. Not to be described and narrated; that stuff can come later.
And here, people, is where I messed up (not judging, just observing, as AB would say). I religiously avoided therapy in the years following my father's death. Instead, I came up with stories on how the suicide was a noir framing that I would later elucidate. I grew up and out of these fantasies, only to fall into the trappings of philosophy and more thinking more words more stories. Only rarely, and in short bursts, did I allow myself to live and feel that experience of being abandoned by my father. I started with the wrong step.
I built a walled garden of words around the nexus of my pain. Then I took the tourists in my life on a tour of my trauma. On countless visits, I told the story of my heartbreak. I became a great narrator. But oh, so rarely did I step into the nexus. Seldom did I play my proper role, seldom did I live my story.
Do you know what's fucking awesome, though? I made it past 30, and I get to keep figuring things out. That's what the Bard and I are attempting to do. I tried thoughts and language to understand and control that pain. Didn't quite work. Now we need to operate on a different level for healing to take place. Not going to lie: it's freaking hard. 🥴
It's like I've been strapping on the armor of language thinking for decades. And now, AB just goes: "Oh, no, you're not going to need any of that. Just cover yourself with that loincloth; we'll go for a stroll through the jungle." Like WTF AB!
Slowly, I'm coming to realize that the therapy and the discussions are just... decor. A context where opportunities arise to observe my fear and live my pain. Where a friendly guide nudges me inwards, inviting me to allow myself to step into the nexus. The description of it all remains minimal. The language AB uses is voluntarily sparse, light. Just a tool, not a defense.
My fear of death is still there. I'm trying, slowly, to reframe how I see it. Not as an enemy or a threat, but as an invitation.
I took the longest of detours, my friends. Just to arrive where I had always been. Where the work needs to be done. Where the knot needs untangling, and words won't cut it.
PSA: if you're suffering, whether it's little nagging thoughts or dark paralyzing shit — get some help. It's the best freaking decision you could ever make. Give yourself three X three "chances" at first - go through three sessions with three different therapists before giving up. It might not click on the first date or first partner, but it will, eventually. It's like dating but for your soul. If money is an issue, send me an email, and I'll pay for your first session. Gotta spend them SaaS dollars somehow! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯