I’ve thought a lot about what it means to die.
As someone who struggles with clinical depression, it used to feel a lot like career development. While I couldn’t bring myself to focus for two hours on updating my resume, I had no trouble spending hours at a time gleefully diving into macabre k-holes with the help of Google and Reddit.
“What will the internet tell me about my inevitable demise today?” I’d wonder each time I opened my computer and carefully avoided my e-mail, calendar and anything else that wasn’t directly related to my mortality.
Every #dark article or screwed-up death meditation I came across gave me a sort of sick satisfaction. I learned a number of horrifying (and I mean truly horrifying) facts about death and dying, but they never seemed to scar me then. It seemed in those moments, late at night in my bed with only a WebMD page and an empty box of Goldfish for company–that I was untouchable. No amount of disturbing information could throw me.
Then, one day, all of that haunting information, every dark tidbit and every creepy nugget of information caught up to me. I got scared. Really scared. I was haunted and I’d done it to myself.
I suppose that was probably the same day I started to feel like I wanted to live, or at least stay alive. I met a girl, because that’s the way these stories often play out.
I fell in love with her, and though I don’t think that someone like me–someone who had been relatively determined to die in the near future–deserved it, she loved me too (I think).
She reignited my existence with her breathy laugh and her bright eyes, which danced when she smiled. She was like the opposite of finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real.
I stopped researching death after our third date. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had something to live for. It was really unfortunate that I knew so much about death, really. Monastic burial traditions, catacomb horror stories, nightmarish tales of people buried alive by mistake. Knowledge is power and my fear became very, very powerful.
I spent entire nights awake, staring at the ceiling, too afraid to move. Where I’d once been comforted by the knowledge that death is always right around the corner, I was now suffocating under the weight of that deeply troubling truth. I’d once been lulled into a peaceful sleep by the idea that any number of rare and incurable diseases could be ravaging my body, saving me from having to do the dirty work of actually killing myself. Now, though, I was tortured by the idea that some unknown and unknowable sickness was killing me as I laid in my bed.
I was constantly anxious, convinced that I was wasting what little time I had left laying in bed worrying instead of living. Still, I could not stop the worrying. I was no longer invincible. I lived in total fear. I laid in bed, next to a beautiful girl who had saved my life and the only thing I felt was a fear that completely paralyzed me.
And then she was the one that stepped out in front of a Honda Civic.
The driver was texting, she was crossing the street, and the fear that I’d never even thought to have became a reality. For months after, the only thing I felt was a crushing sense of injustice. My grief, my loneliness, my pain were all shoved out in favor of the dull ache and raw, directionless rage that comes with trying to come to grips with something so totally unfair.
I’d like to say I’ve come to terms, but I haven’t. I’d like to say that I’m not afraid anymore, but I am. I’m anxious and sad and lonely, but I’m alive.
I have no beautiful revelations. I am still depressed. There are still days that make me not want to be alive anymore. But I am alive, and I’m glad. I’m grateful. Even on the bad days, I’m grateful. And God do I wish she was here.
I have no revelations. Just a little perspective.
So in lieu of a revelation, let me try to save you from hundreds of sleepless nights spent paralyzed by fear: if you ever feel the urge to consult google or reddit on the finer points of death, sign up for OK Cupid instead.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned (aside from horrifying statistics on the number of people who die every year in bathrooms), it’s that death is not what you think it is. There’s no way that you can even begin to comprehend the profound finalities of death, no way to understand how far and wide the effects of a passing reach.
At first, researching death will feel like the disturbed equivalent of browsing airline sites for cheap getaway fares, but it will eventually lose its luster. There’s information waiting for you that can never been unseen or unlearned. It will torment you and feed a thousand different internal crises that you don’t want to welcome into the fragile ecosystem that is your mind. There are some things that aren’t worth knowing, things that are better left unknown.
This applies to issues that are not death-related as well: your ex’s Facebook and Twitter; the LinkedIn page of the half-wit that got hired for a job you applied for; your student loan balance. We have to be careful about what we take in, what we let affect us. We are what we internalize. Remember that and choose wisely.
Take it from a reluctant expert: Death is coming. You needn’t to chase it.