:: Today, when this fear of death hit me, I realized that I’ve been carrying these thoughts around in the back of my mind for so long that I can’t remember when they started. Perhaps two years of pandemic, of living under a shroud of death, has created this pall.
CW: Thoughts of death; anxiety.
This is an essay about what anxiety looks like. How it grinds a person down with near-truths. How it seems inescapable.
Today, my partner, my spouse, my best friend, my anchor, my love turned 47 years old. And when I saw that number, my heart clenched with fear.
Let me be clear: My fear of aging is not a fear of decrepitude—not yet at any rate. I already have the aches and pains of a life well lived and from living well—banging my knees on moguls when I lived in Colorado in my 20s. Tearing up my ankle playing volleyball in my 30s. Shredding my shoulder when a horse fell on me in my 40s. These scars (and arthritis) tell a story, and I’m okay with that (and the physical therapy).
After all, I’m wearing leather pants today, my reading glasses are cool, and I love my tattoos. if this is 45, I have no complaints.
So why the knifing fear when I saw that number, 47, this morning? My fear of aging is fear of death, the permanent loss of life. Then snuffing out of a light. When I feel this fear, I know why people find solace in their belief in an afterlife. Staring down the end of our existence is terrifying.
And I’m terrified all the time, even when I’m not thinking about it.
I’m not sure when I lost the immortality of the young. I can’t pinpoint it. It was definitely not in my early 30s. Perhaps it came when I gave birth to my children, when I realized that my life mattered more to someone other than me. Perhaps that’s when I had something to live for.
But that something to live for has morphed into terror. My therapist tells me that I overwork (her word is “binge”) so that I don’t have to face my fears. And she’s right. After our talk, I wrote about burnout here, and it made sense at the time.
But the fear I’m feeling now is not a fear of failure as she and I discussed—or at least not the only fear. No. This fear is the fear of dying without a legacy. Of being completely effaced.
But this fear isn’t new. It is the human condition. Memento Mori. We live, we die. And somehow we have to find meaning in between.
This terror is tearing me open today, when my love turns 47. He is not old, but he is one year older, one year closer to the inevitability of death. And as I write this, a voice tells me that we don’t know when we will die; it could be today. Or tomorrow. Death is always there, the only truly unstoppable force.
There aren’t enough books I can publish, enough stories I can write, that can put down this fear. And at moments when I feel like maybe I can, I spiral out to another place where even that work doesn’t matter—because our Earth is dying at human hands, if not from one oncoming storm, then another, or another.
Everything is vanity.
It’s amazing one is able to get out of bed in the morning. The why, the what for of it. If one thinks about it at all, it’s crushing.
Right now, I don’t know how to make these thoughts stop, but obviously I’m going to try. One cannot live like this. Now, in writing about my fear of death, I’ve opened floodgates, but perhaps that’s a good thing.
Today, when this fear of death hit me so strongly, I realized that I’ve been carrying these thoughts around in the back of my mind for so long that I can’t remember when they started. Perhaps two years of pandemic, of living under a shroud of death, has created this pall.
Perhaps during these two years, this fear snuck up on me, and I didn’t notice it until it was too late. One million dead. Death everywhere. How could the fear of death not be hidden in my brain, just waiting to come out and fling me to the ground? Knock the wind clear out of me?
Out of all of us?
Header image credit: tinthumb from Pixabay. Alt-text of header image: A woman in a yellow jacket viewed from the back facing the ocean.
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