Working on Fear of Death

I just wrote an update post and thought I had nothing of note to say, but I just realized I was wrong.

A couple years ago, I wrote about my crippling fear of death. The other day, I talked to a counselor about this for the first time, and it actually really helped. But before explaining my counselling session, I should try explaining this bizarre fear again.

Since about 2015, I have had a near-constant fear of death. I can’t explain away the irony that I have been suicidal at times since this began; mental illness is weird. But I am always afraid that I could die any second, and that my life would mean nothing because I haven’t done anything important yet. It ties into an existential anxiety about the reality that everybody dies and the desperation to attach meaning to my temporary existence.

I am aware that statistics suggest I will live for several more decades. I have spent time looking through Stats Canada data to make sure of this. But I just have this overwhelming feeling that I will die young. I find it difficult to plan for my future, because I don’t feel like I will have one. Making plans for later in life feels like deciding what I’ll spend the money on if I win the lottery. Because of this constant fear of death, I never feel safe. I imagine the bus I’m on crashing, or nuclear war breaking out today, or a plane crash-landing onto my house. It’s obviously very distressing.

After speaking with my counselor, I have learned a bit about why I feel this way. For one, I realized that this started around the time I found out that a girl who had gone to my babysitter’s died in a car crash. She was 19. I also spend a lot of time watching the news, where freak accidents are reported on regularly.

These things might play a role in creating my fear of death, but what sustains it? I realized that the thought of letting go of this fear ironically terrifies me. I feel like constantly expecting my death protects me somehow. I can’t handle disappointment and changes of plans, so thinking about a future that nobody is guaranteed is really hard for me. I guess I’m trying to prepare myself in case I do die young. I want to avoid a situation where I’m slowly dying on the ground, thinking about all the things I’ll never be able to do. Like “Joke’s on you death; I knew this was going to happen the whole time.” I also feel like having this fear pushes me to create a legacy NOW. In reality, this is hardly true. Sometimes, I will desperately write in an attempt to get all my thoughts out into the world while I still can. So cool, I have a journal and a blog. But a real legacy is built over decades, and I can’t plan that far in advance.

So I’m going to stop ruminating on these fears, as difficult as it is. And yes, there is a small probability that death sneaks up on me while I’m not expecting me. But there is a much larger probability that I stop living in constant fear long enough to make something of myself. So I guess that’s something?

Sarah

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