Death Anxiety and the Truth About Santa Claus
I had a couple of things in mind to write about today. I decided to go for the thing that gave me a good, long week of anxiety though. It gave me a full-fledged panic attack at one stage as well. It’s a vulnerability but I’ve always found that breaking down the source of anxiety will help you to move passed it. I’m aware that I’m not going to be the only one who feels this way either, as this particular anxiety is the most human feeling you can experience. Last week I had a bad bout of death anxiety, or thanatophobia. This word is derived from the Greek Thanatos, who was personification of death in that mythology. (Also probably where Thanos from the MCU gets his name.)
Anyway, death anxiety is something that we’ll all stare down the barrel of at some point. I skipped around the topic in last week’s post when I talked about believing in an afterlife but the sentiment is similar. If you believe in an afterlife you possibly won’t experience death anxiety to the same degree because you believe that you’ll continue to ‘live’ after you die. In my case, I don’t believe that anything happens after we die. I think we simply stop existing. We no longer continue to be anything. This belief is derived from logic, and although I believe this way of thinking to be the only possibility, I’m open to that being wrong too. I’d like to continue to live on if that were on offer, in fairness.
The anxiety kicks in then, when there’s time to think about this. It’s a type of moth-to-light thought sequence as well. You know full well that the thought will hurt you, and that you shouldn’t go to that place, but it’s extremely hard to resist it. Once you tell yourself not to think about something you inevitably will. To be frank, the thought of not existing scares the fuck out of me. And so I spent a week at my wits end obsessed with the idea that one day, I will no longer exist.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened and it always passes. However, the experience brings with it an understanding as to why some people will turn to religion, and God and the rest. It is of my opinion that a vast majority of religious believe is underpinned by this fear of nonexistence. It is much less anxiety inducing to believe that there’s somewhere good to be going after you die. I’m not sure if it’s useful in the long-run and I know for me, it wouldn’t be honest to force myself to believe it. I often argue that the afterlife is to adults what Santa Claus is to children; if you’re good, you’ll be rewarded at the end. In reality, you’ll know yourself that life doesn’t work that way and Santa Claus isn’t real.
Although death anxiety can stop you in your tracks and be quite scary while you’re in it, it does have its benefits. It forces you to wake up to the notion that nothing can be taken for granted. It makes certain you know that each day you wake up is another day you get to continue to live. The fear of being dead gifts you with gratitude. Small things matter more. Mundane things seem completely miraculous when you understand how unlikely it is that you should be alive at all. And I don’t mean that you have a brief thought about it and it then disappears, I mean when you REALLY think about it in detail, life becomes this impossible thing that you find yourself in. It’s a very humbling experience.
In light of that the world we find ourselves in then, with so many of us complaining about boredom, and things not being fair, and so on and so on, I had a bad week to gain a chunk of perspective. Life may not be the same as it once was, but it’s still exceptional. I still breath, I still see, I’m still safe. Many people can’t even say that much, sadly. If you find yourself moaning online about some trivial first-world-problem then you do need this type of reality check. And I don’t mean that in a scolding way, I mean that in the way that you will feel less claustrophobic if you begin to appreciate the madness that is being alive.
I told my best friends about the panic attack when it happened and I noted that it was weird because the thoughts about death I’m having are the exact opposite of being suicidal. I don’t want to be dead, I’m afraid I might be dead too soon. It gives you a fierce injection of perspective when death anxiety comes knocking. Weather that storm and you’ll be better for it and more motivated to finish the work you’re doing, and that work is rarely finished.
Drink more water,