By: Mar Curran
I have always had a predisposition with death. One of my brothers died when I was young, setting off what I remember as the most depressing time of my life, aka anything after I was 5 up until now. (Just joking, Mom.) The grief surfaced first as raw confusion, morphing into burdensome guilt, and then becoming downright supernatural. I read everything I could find on ghosts, witches, vampires, and the occult. (Not the Twilight kind of shit, more like I can still do some palm reading and can vampire-proof your house.)
It should be no surprise, then, that when my anxiety and depression flare up death is my number-one obsessive thought. It will seep into any moment of my life if I do not keep my brain busy. Listening to a happy song? Guess what, one day I’ll be dead and won’t be able to listen to it, or any of the good music that will be made after my death. Also, Beethoven’s dead, so what was the point of anything I did today. You know who else died? Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. And there’s still racism, and after I die people will still be racist and why did I get out of bed this morning. You get the picture. It’s just a long list of how things suck and then you die.
The part that upsets me the most, I think, is that it’s a waste of life to spend it dreading death until it sidelines me from doing the things I would someday regret not doing when I’m actually about to, you know, die. The second worst part is that I think like Lena Dunham’s exaggerated caricatures of herself, which makes me me feel so predictably white/normative, and then I worry about Childish Gambino breaking up with me.
The problem is my brain is gets trained to think this way when my depression flares up. I have more than once thought to myself, “How do the people I love and admire function on a daily basis knowing that death is coming?” And you know what? Sometimes I can’t think of what that’d be like. Yes, I honestly cannot fathom what it would be like to not think about death so often once I’m in the depths of despair.
Some people might look at me and say I’m the perfect candidate for medication. Well guess what, fools! My therapist is on maternity leave, so we’re free-balling it here for a few months. Rather than self-medicating, I decided to try to calm myself down by being my own mental health professional of sorts.
My first technique was trying to distract myself. Hey, are you imagining the soul-crushing depths of pain you would feel if something bad happened to your sisters? Watch some Bob’s Burgers! Once the lights went out for bedtime, however, no matter what substances I had imbibed, if I didn’t fall right asleep I would spiral quickly. This led to one of my favorite recent panic attacks where I paced around my now-ex’s apartment in the dark for thirty minutes, watched two whole episodes of Game of Thrones, climbed back into bed and did deep meditation to keep myself from snapping the rubber band I felt my mind had become, because I do not want to see what it’s like when I really crack. At the very least, though, I start thinking too much about choking to death in my sleep; every single person, I feel, has one way they’re especially afraid of dying alone where no one would find them until it’s days too late, and this is mine. So, maybe trying to preoccupy myself wasn’t the best idea, because it just leads the dark recesses of my mind to asphyxiation.
The next course of action was to out-logic my brain. Before my recent flare-up of anxiety and depression brought on by my grandfather battling brain cancer and eventually passing away a few weeks ago from it (yeah, explains a lot, right?) I rarely reflected on death because I have a solid belief in it being natural, peaceful, and the beginning of a new journey. Now that I’m dealing with mourning, though, I am flipping all my shits. For a while I though keeping a list of all the things I believe/hope happen in the death process on me to read when panicking would help. However, my anxiety-brain does not operate very logically so this just led to me feeling worse. If lists can’t help me, I thought, then what can?!
The one thing that I remind myself of when I’m freaking out is that freaking out is natural. It’s basically my survival instincts saying, “Oh shit! We forgot, death is coming up! Let’s hit overdrive, y’all.” It somehow comforts me that my anxiety-brain is really just my inner Bear Grylls poking out of Siberia to alert me to protect myself, even if it’s from the only inevitable thing in life.
Around this point in my Grandad mourning process of writing this, I was trying to remember what my therapist had taught me the last time my anxiety got bad. I was dealing with some body trauma and having trouble not freaking out randomly. She taught me to really recognize what my triggers were and internally call them out. So, if I am watching House of Cards and start having a panic attack, I just say to myself, “Well, it would appear you have a fear of being middle aged and looking back on your life with regret, or you’re realizing that your parents are getting older and will someday die and that’ll break your heart. It’s okay to feel that way. Let’s just acknowledge that it’s actually that and not Kevin Spacey making you feel short of breath. How about we go watch some Bob’s Burgers after we have feelings?” See? Much better! Knowing that the feelings had roots in something understandable made me less panicked.
When it comes down to it, just talking about it helps. It may feel weird to call up a friend and say, “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of my body decomposing and my memories vanishing, can we discuss this so I don’t feel like drinking a six-pack alone tonight?” but it may be worthwhile to at least try. Saying the things you’re freaking out about aloud gets it out of your body sometimes; I’m not sure where the universe stores all the anxiety I dispel, but hopefully it’s rerouted into intuition for each person who narrowly escapes a serial killer or something productive.
You know what productive thing some of the anxiety was turned into, though? This piece. This was my way of making the death-fear less big and consuming. The only control I can have in this situation where I will surely die is to confront it head-on. So take that, death! Someday we shall meet and I will ask you if you read this piece; then maybe we’ll ride off into the next universe on Falcor, which is my own personal view of the afterlife. Until then, here’s a piece I wrote about you.