Worries about aging, death and suffering
I’m writing here ’cause I have to do something about it, even if it’s just writing. Here’s the situation : I’m living life, normal, happy or just in peace about everything, thinking about stuff I want to do during the day or the next trip to plan, movies and books, etc… and suddenly I run into something that makes me depressed – a tragic historic movie (like 12 Years of Slavery), pessimist reading, bad news on TV, or anything that brings me bad memories and reminds me of aging, death and difficult questions of life. I just feel the sensation in the gut, overwhelming my upper body, and instantly think: “shit, it’s gonna start all over again.” And I preview days of anguish and questions and draining circular thoughts about death ( MAINLY of my parents – who now are divorced to make it worse; though my dad lives in my city, and pretty close, it’s not at home) and about the fact that my parents and the people around are getting older, which I can do NOTHING to change. I feel drained, tired, and my eyes burn after crying a lot, but I don’t want to worry my mother by telling her one more time about these worries. I’ve been in “extended vacation” since november of the past year, till the next semester when the college starts. Am I thinking about all these things because I’m not “learning” something, meeting new people or occupying the mind with interesting stuff? Will it get better when the college classes start? (what I’ll tell below happened when I was not in vacation, though) Well, going on…
The first time I realized the “reality of life” was 5 years ago, when I was 12; I became aware that “my truth” was actually one among many ways to see life. This I was going to realize sooner or later, but the trigger was my history teacher, whose classes were full of mind-provoking ideas about religion, bible and many of the things I have been taught in childhood. I also clearly remember listening to a song that mentioned “elders”, and the awareness of getting older dawned on me. My dad had left home too (it use to happen from time to time, before the official divorce). My world was falling apart, like I didn’t have a ground under my feet anymore; I researched like hell about evolutionism vs. creationism, meaning of life, supposed biblical contradictions, etc. and used to beg God to exist. Of course, nowadays I see that experience with different eyes, it was a normal process and even good for personal development, but at that time it was terrible, lasted several months, involved suicidal thoughts (not because I hated life or something alike, but by curiosity – what happens afterwards? If I killed myself, would God still be in control? – the famous omnipotence/omniscience topic.
Well, that was the first crisis, and other have came since then, never too bad as the first one, but nevertheless depressing. And what I’ve been through the last days has to do just with the worry about the aging and death of my mom (she’s not sick or anything like that) and my dad, and my grandmas, and my sister… I just can’t stand the certainty of their death. That’s unspeakably distressing if I start digging deep in the thought, and it’s a natural fact. A fact. I really feel like I can’t afford it sometimes (now and even less when it happens) I wonder HOW will I deal with that and how’s gonna be life, if I will ever get to be happy after their death, and though it may seem strange I get to think I’d rather have already lost someone (my close family is “there” since I was born, wich is great!, but can you see my point? The feeling of a constant invisible threath inside, exactly like the sword-over-the-head metaphor?
Also I can’t change the cruelty in this world, can’t do nothing about what happened to slaves or to anyone who really suffered in the past thousand years of human history, can’t do nothing about MOST of the cruelty and wars and injustice that happens NOWADAYS around this earth, can’t stop who I love from getting older and dying, can’t avoid myself from dying… All of this makes me wonder how much worth knowledge really is, when the worst things that happen you just can’t change. I really wonder, and wish I could just be dumb and smiley, or live in the now (I do can practice awareness, but I end up afraid of becoming egoistic with time and then regretting not to have loved them as much as I could, as if love and hopeless worry were attached to each other. Or end up having the impression that I’m just postponing the problems, running away from them, being dishonest, “not facing reality”.
Well, it already was therapeutical to write that all down, and I’m sorry for the long text.
But finally I wanted to ask: have someone here lost one or both parents? Is it worse than you thought it would be? Is there really some hiding inner strength you didn’t know to exist that appears to help you?
Is there happiness after those events or you feel sad and anguished for the rest of your life?
That’s the main question I have, (and also if anybody else have “attacks” and episodes like that…) Sometimes I think it’s some kind of depression, other times I wonder if it’s the culture we live in that’s obsessed about joy/happiness/well-being; if those worries have been enphasized throughout history in our human minds, in a non-natural way… other times I feel like life’s just a crazy and confuse dream, or some kind of test, and should be lived lightly… many, many thoughts. Thanks if you read this, I know it’s not easy subject. Please comment if you’ve got something to say or any experience to tell. (and sorry about any “english writing” mistakes)
In my opinion it’s important to realize if you’re afraid of your own death and suffering or of others’ more. I tend to think our fear of seeing a beloved suffer is a worse tragedy but at the same time I have little to no empathy towards a person who decided to self-destruct, no matter if they’re my blood or close. The reason for this is their lack of empathy for my suffering through theirs. Simple, right? I remember my grandfather passing away in our house. I was busy doing an “important” homework and had to consider if I should even torture myself doing it, but the last time we saw each other he smiled at me without saying a word, which is a good memory of him. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to react in situations of losing a close person. Anything can go through your head and if there is some kind of a rule to follow it will be downright incorrect and dehumanizing. I worry about those things as well, but try not to concern myself with my own pain and try not giving it importance. I’d ask the same of the people I love if something happened to me, because suffering isn’t the way I’d want to see them if I could. So I live by this and believe they wouldn’t want me to die by this. I hope that helps. My humble beliefs.
This is a good way to start, the realization about what frightens you the most. And yes, if something happened to me I also wouldn’t want them to live suffering.
Strangely my anguish was decreased, as if the huge weight had been transferred to the words and my brain could “breathe” again, exactly a catharsis.
And I appreciate your reply a lot, thank you. It did help.
This is pretty normal, this is just anxiety, we all have it. Just as we all have depression, ADD, bipolar disorder, OCD. We’ve all got them, the difference is just in degrees of severity.
The psychological aspect of this is – the worse you think this is, the worse its going to be. If you start to fear it, and think of it as damaging, so it will be. Its up to you to be able to think to yourself that this isn’t negative at all, and this is normal, that we all have this. I can’t say that is an easy task, but you’re completely capable of knowing these feelings are normal, and then benefiting as a whole from that.
The less-psychological side of this and the more topical is that the fear of death, and loneliness, is/are the ultimate fear. We are social animals, and as such, the fear of being alone can consume us, can paralyze us. College is a great place – and I believe it was Bill McKibben that said:
“The irony of college is that its a very social place. You are surrounded with people, forced to work together in close proximity, you are forced to make friends and have fun and so forth. All the while, you are learning how to not live like this in the future.”
What he means is that college – probably the most social stage in life for so many of us, actually preps you in how to get a job where you’ll be successful, mostly by working hard (and alone) in a cubicle, or in a lab, or in a small room. The irony is striking.
So – remember that friendship, companionship, and happy company is a cure-all to any ailment. Spend time with your parents, too.
thanks for the advice and the ideas. it’s doesn’t feel so bad when I know it’s normal to be anxious about these things… also last sunday I had – coincidence or not – a totally unexpected experience about companionship, and that was before I read your reply. And at the time I said once again to myself “don’t underestimate life; things happen when you least expect it”, which has become kind of a life philosophy. well JonH, thank you one more time!