We All Die and Other Lighthearted Things I Thought about While on Break

canstockphoto13220366While on a digital break, I let my mind become an unwieldy toddler, waddling from one idea to another, occasionally drooling on myself.  I have a high level of anxiety these days, for no obvious reason except that I’m not ready to die. I know, I know – who among us is? Death anxiety is not a product of my middle age. Many nights throughout my life, I’ve lain in bed, unable to sleep, thinking about the randomness of some kinds of death and how I’ve lived such a tiny, conservative life.

It would likely help if I believed in religious instruction that told me where I’m going and how to get there. Or maybe if I could get on board with the attitude-of-gratitude-don’t-worry-be-happy crowd. I can be quite jolly, but it usually requires a tankard of beer, a pack of smokes and any dish with sour cream and cheese in it. I’ve given up all those things over the years, so that when I do die, I will also be miserable at the time.

There is likely a drug that would tamp down my death anxiety, but I don’t know if that should be a goal. I tend to be pragmatic – if I’m feeling enough anxiety to trigger a fear of my random death, I need to look around and see what’s happening. What’s happening is a period of transition in my life and in the lives of those around me. Each day I watch as dementia/Alzheimer’s tightens it grip on my mother-in-law. My daughter is transitioning from days of dirty knees and silly rhymes to sex ed and mean girls drama. Friends are struggling with health issues, buying homes or getting divorced. I am standing still in the middle of a swirling eddy.

canstockphoto1654493For myself, years of working from home and caregiving have isolated me. I’m becoming unmoored from structure and pop culture references. I used to pride myself at staying tuned in, able to converse on a wide range of topics, able to fake chitchat and laugh at all the right things. No longer. Snip, snip, each rope is being clipped. Until one day, I imagine just floating away. Unless a driver goes through a stop sign and t-bones me. Or one of those random craters opens up under our house and swallows me whole. Or, after years of healthy living, the cancer gets me.

There’s always a spin, though. That is my life skill. I’m able to take a problem and turn it over and over until it becomes something new, something I can live with, some idea that elevates me. The big picture is that I’m trying to find my creative self. What is more endemic to that process than remembering that our time is finite, our brain power has its limitations and that all of this shall pass? My unmooring is moving me closer to my desire, even if it’s taking a roundabout way of getting there.

I’ve always been a late bloomer, which is fine as far as most milestones go. I never worried that I would die without developing breasts or getting married or finishing a marathon. Now that I have a family, I would not want them to go through the grieving process. I want to type up instructions on how to use the washer and what brands of sunscreen to avoid. But that is what I worry about for others. For myself, I worry that I will never feel any measure of satisfaction as a writer.

The problem is, do I even know what satisfaction looks like for me? I’m restless – dissatisfaction drives much of what I do in my life. If I were truly satisfied, would I stay at rest, gathering mothballs and grinning like a fool? It sounds much like some people’s version of heaven. We sit around, perfect and smiling and strumming our harps, as if we had all overdosed on Zoloft.

Perfection is boring. Nobody would create anything if every aspect of life were perfect and we were all satisfied. Some people take that dissatisfaction and destroy themselves trying to attain perfection. Others do anything to numb the pain of feeling less than. Others create, invent, sing, paint – anything that works those kinks out of their system. Some of us manage a dichotomy of destruction and creation and then numb ourselves to the results.

I see that nothing and everything matters. Most of us will not be remembered beyond a generation or two. If we’re lucky enough to be recognized for our creations when we’re alive, it’s tempered by the fact that we will never be as happy as when we were creating, no matter what our Amazon sales. And we will be expected to do it again. Those of us who create tomorrow’s classics, works that are resented by high school students and lit majors everywhere, will never know that we made it.

Is there an object lesson to be found in all this moroseness? I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like I’m paralyzed and a sadistic intern is poking my toes with a needle. Did you feel that? Did you feel that? Sometimes it wakes me up and I feel that and I know I need to get moving.

And death anxiety? It comes and goes. We all die eventually. Smiles, everyone.

51 Comments on “We All Die and Other Lighthearted Things I Thought about While on Break

  1. What an eye opening post. I hope that writing does work out for you. As for life’s moroseness I feel you’re already doing a good job embracing it without going insane.

    Enjoy the comforts while you can, right? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to think I was a pessimist, but the fact of the matter is that I want to be able to look at the darker facts of life and come out of it wiser. Resiliency, emotional or otherwise is something I value above cheeriness.

      Ironically, writing this post made me laugh a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The truth is the greatest humour as well as the greatest pain. Sometimes both at once. It’s weird cause I do the same thing.

        I’ll write something I’m either feeling pain or perspective from and then end up laughing at how my life’s narrative is growing. It’s oddly entertaining.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Don’t underestimate the power of better living through chemicals. Anti-anxiety meds absolutely saved (and changed) my life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Being chemically sensitive has made me resistant to going that route, so I’ve settled with the fact that I’m going to be an inconsistent, moody and occasionally morose bastard – the devil I know. I feel like whenever I write about anxiety or depression, I need to add a caveat about that. Still, I’m glad that it works for so many people.

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  3. Great post! So many things that I can relate to – though I can look at them from the other side of a transition (kids are grown, grand kids are teens, retirement is not as stress free and easy as you’d think…)

    I’ve never had death anxiety though. My plan for death is that I will have a short but decent amount of time between “get your affairs in order” and “we don’t have a pulse” to eat lots of chocolate, carrot cake and Timmies Ice Caps between each and every meal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Death anxiety for me is always intrinsically linked to life anxiety and I just have to remember to figure out what’s actually happening.
      You have a good plan! Mine would include a good whiskey (I’m high class that way), Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and unfiltered cigarettes. Death is not dignified – why not go out drunk, bloated and hacking up a lung?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the idea of death, but in an abstract way. I love it in the way Don Juan talks about it in some of Castaneda’s stories. I do believe if you use the knowledge of death actively in your life, you’ll live a better life. I get that from mountaineering, how ironic to feel so alive when you’re a step away from dying. But thinking about dying while doing that is the easiest way to actually lose it…so the irony that you need to co-exist with death and move in step with it, at least I try to.

    There is so much on alienation and insulation, going inward to tap into one’s creative self. Reminds me of Portrait and the analogy to the labyrinth; it feels like I can get lost in my own construction/mind/labyrinth, and I think Joyce was hinting at that in his book, too.

    It’s real deaths of loved ones in my life that serve as these unexpected milestones in how I go about my own life. That’s one of the observations I had in writing my memoir, how I saw things differently after my father-in-law died, and I was there first-hand to drive him to the ER, to convince him he had to because it seemed he was losing his mind. It was a brain cancer and they operated on him 48 hours later. I effectively dragged him out of the house and he was never to return, and part of him knew it that night. How he talked to me in the car.

    OK – it’s your blog, not mine. But thanks for letting me share, and cracking the door open. Keep the lid ajar to let in some light.

    Bill

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Bill, for the thoughtful comment. Watching a loved one on their inevitable trek through the exit door is tough and painful and revealing of both the person and those around them.

      I think the conversation (or lack thereof) around death is so stilted and that strikes me as strange, since it’s a universal fact of our existence. I just finished reading Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, a character study centered around a death. It likely did not help my ongoing train of thought.

      I’ve been thinking that creating almost requires alienation, just for the sheer need of energy and focus. It’s a bit of a wondrous time, to be as odd as I’ve ever allowed myself to be and to see what grows from that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of my favorite sayings is to let your freak flag fly: fun saying it and good advice I say. Freak it up, you!

        Liked by 3 people

  5. “…writing this post made me laugh a lot.” When I’m sitting thinking deep and woeful thoughts, I can sometimes turn the tide by turning the camera on and laughing at myself, perceiving that I am being melodramatic, and imagining swelling organ music in the background and an arm flung to my forehead. Is that what you meant?

    If I were autopsied, the few wrinkles remaining on the sadly-smoother brain I now possess would be the grooves worn by my repeated revisits to the same tired troughs of unproductive worry or regret, and the etched lines of newly-begun concerns.

    My one remaining wrinkle of wisdom knows that none of those others are productive avenues to explore. It remains a robust and deep channel through constant exercise, developing and implementing strategies to distract fruitless negative thinking instead toward innocent paths.

    Each time your focus turns to your own demise, Michelle, perhaps instead of thinking in such ordinary terms as t-boning or cancer, you could use your creativity and your writing skills to come up with some ACME “S’Long Sucker!” versions of your own end that would cause the corners of your mouth to twitch despite the heavy weight of fate.

    You might be beaned by a falling box of detergent one your next grocery visit.

    “We’re betide ourselves”, says grieving family.

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laughing at my own melodramatic mental wanderings is exactly what I meant. Giving in to those thought processes on occasion strikes me as harmless enough and I think, a requirement to understanding the full breadth of the human experience.

      People talk about a lack of productivity in some of this thinking, but what is considered productive seems subjective. For me, I either learn something new or I have to retrain myself not to stay too long in whatever rut in which I happen to be spinning my tires.

      Perhaps I’m too sanguine in my own thought processes. I’m always just a little startled when someone suggests I should try medication or tells me that there is a happier way to be (this happens a lot to me). I like the material I have to work with and am often amused about what emerges.

      And why toss and turn about being beaned with a laundry detergent box? A lady was walking in one of our local parks a few years ago and a tree fell and killed her. I mean, shit, you could hardly make up better stories than reality. I regard all trees with suspicion now.

      And wow, a Shout out for that awful pun of yours!

      Liked by 1 person

      • i have regarded all trees with suspicion ever since the ones in that d#mned Wizard of Oz scared the cr#p out of me. I eat my apple-a-day as a show of defiance, and sometimes, take a toothpick and don’t even use it before–SNAP!–Take that!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I may be reading the book that might answer some of your questions about life, the universe and everything. It’s on kindle: ‘Letting go: the pathway to surrender’ David R Hawkins MD PhD. He contends that the so-called human condition of fearing death, plus all the other negativity, is not our natural condition. We have learned it, and can thus learn how to let it go and be happy. And yes, he admits it too, there is something compelling about sticking with all the dark stuff; it just doesn’t take us anywhere very productive. Just thought I’d pass this on 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve always thought fearing death is a perfectly natural inclination for creatures with imagination and foresight.
      Dr. Hawkins’ philosophy has some similarity to L. Ron Hubbard’s writings, both of which have concepts grounded in Buddhism. It’s funny, after years of reading philosophy and religion books, I find they all start to sound similar. But there is joy in discovering those concepts on one’s own and I’m glad you shared!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe only fearing death when there’s cause to fear it, and not in between, because that can be incapacitating. That’s just a proposition of course.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think the incapacitating part is really key and good reason to seek solutions for oneself, either through therapy/philosophy or medication. For me, my dark thoughts get balanced out by happier moments and tend to be the canary in the mine. I know when I start sinking into them, that I need to make a shift.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey, Michelle. I feel a little like you’re writing about me here. An old friend and I agreed that once our terminal clock is set, we’ll get together and have chocolate-covered-cream-filled doughnuts, port wine, and lots of cigarettes. As it is, I lift a glass of pinot noir this evening and send good thoughts to both of our anxieties. Peace, John

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I respond to some of these comments, I wonder that I have come to accept my anxieties as part and parcel of who I am. I don’t fear them, I recognize them for what they are and I never stay with them for too long. Maybe it’s a middle-aged thing, when we’re not so hellbent on “fixing” ourselves and it becomes a little bit like acceptance (or in the eyes of the young, surrender).
      Let’s just hope we’re not using oxygen tanks at the end, John, with the smoking and all – although, it would be a blast (sorry, Outlier started the bad punnage above).

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  8. My husband is the one person I know who has no fear of leaving this life behind. He’s too busy living/enjoying/working through every moment of every day. The most morose he’s ever been is in saying that we *old* people have to die to make room for the new. I gave him a look filthy enough for two. He was okay with that, too!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It kind of makes you want to kneecap him, doesn’t it? There are some people who are like that and then there are people like me. That’s the joy of the human experience, so I’ve heard – we’re all different. Some people are quite content to be in constant motion and some people (me) think being “too busy living” sounds like someone who is going to die para-sailing or spelunking. Whoa, that humor might be too dark. Sorry.

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  9. I’ve suffered from “death anxiety” for so many years and it’s especially powerful now that I’m a mother… and now that I watch each day pass me by and the feelings of “wasted time” and creative inadequacy build – this was a wonderfully spot-on and humorous post that I really connected with… thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Being a mom really does knock that anxiety into high gear, not just for oneself, but for one’s child as well. You find yourself saying random, incomprehensible things to your children “don’t do this, or else…” and realize that you’re starting to sound a little nutty.
      My only hope is that I don’t pass on my suitcase of anxieties to my daughter. Glad you enjoyed this post – I find that humor is really a cure-all.

      Like

  10. Great song.
    Since I have pretty serious health issues, I veer between not wanting to go and hoping that the will come quickly and not be poop-related. It’s all relative, I think. And changes with the wind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s an irony of my anxiety. I’m relatively healthy, so all my anxieties come from statistically improbable ways to die. Although, I’m with you on it being quick and not poop-related. Or from stupidity. I’d really hate to die because, after years of telling my child to look both ways, I step out in front of a garage truck.
      That song is one of my favorites – it’s the one I like to belt out at the top of my lungs, along with Cry Me a River.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks Michelle for your post. You must be exhausted from all that worry! It was interesting to read so many comments about the fear of death and anxiety.You are not alone there.

    I read recently that to be anxious is to be human. Our ancestors, the cavemen worried about life’s basics – food, shelter, sex. They did so in order to survive and reproduce. Modern man now worries about what sort of car to buy, seeking out a job that pays well, keeping up with fashion trends.

    I try to control my anxiety. Worrying about something that may not happen seems a waste of time and energy to me but I do have to admit to having ‘death anxiety’ but the anxiety is for my children. I don’t know how I could live if either of them died before me. I would never be the same person again because they are such a big part of who I am. I worry about them when I know they are going on long trips, or taking risks. (My daughter just bought a motorbike). But I know I have to let them go; I have no control over their lives.
    As for me, I don’t worry about dying. WE WILL ALL DIE ONE DAY. What’s the alternative, to live forever? No thank you!
    I just hope when I fall off the perch, I have my wits about me, still look good in a pair of skinny jeans, have just finished a good meal, a glass of wine or two and have had lots of hugs and kisses from my children and grandchildren (which haven’t arrived yet by the way).
    I think it helps if you can accept you were conceived and entered the world on a particular day, at a certain time. Death is birth in reverse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not worried about dying per se, nor would I choose to live eternally. I’m worried about dying before my child has been raised and before I finish any good writing. Silly, perhaps, but I don’t think anxiety is an expression of rationality.

      On this planet, we live on an uneven playing field. Many of us are incredibly anxious about a whole range of things, while there are people who are anxious about getting food or shelter or staying alive. In the absence of life or death matters, humans seem to manufacture more things to be anxious about – it’s a curious behavior.

      Most of the time my anxiety is fleeting, but that is only because things are relatively stable in my life at the moment. If I had more stressors, then it would likely become a problem. For now, I recognize it for what it is and try to counter it with healthy behaviors. Today, it’s a hike in the woods.

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  12. I’m not sure my Zoloft actually does anything, but I take one every day. I guess the drug’s effectiveness is just one more thing for me to ponder in the wee hours before morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good to hear from you, Dave. Nothing worse than anti-anxiety medication making you anxious about its effectiveness!

      I should say, and perhaps this is the caveat I need to add any time I write about anxiety and depression or make jokes about psychotropic drugs, that I know for many people, these medications make an incredible difference in the quality of their lives. I can barely manage a half dose of ibuprofen without negative side effects, so I have to avoid most drugs if I can.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s funny when I look back at my life and realize I flip flop between being petrified of death and completely accepting of it. For a long, long time my general anxieties took over (along with depression). Now that I’m in my mid-40s I’m finally (!) learning how to transform my old patterns of thinking. I’m entering a new phase in my life and so far it’s mostly peaceful and positive.

    I’m starting to realize I do have good things to offer this world before I go. I can write, I can love, I can help patients at work- it’s all good. The little things I can do every day matter a great deal. Of course, I still have my dark moments. That’s life. But I accept them and embrace these sad moments much like I would a crying child. I finally know how to self-soothe. I go for long walks, I do yoga, I meditate a lot. Meditation has saved me, I swear.

    I suppose it all comes down to what one believes deep in their heart when no one else is watching. What I believe happens to us after we die gives me great comfort and pushes me to continue on. Watching my kids grow up has forced me to live in the moment. They seem so much more intelligent and enlightened than I’ll ever be. My daughter is only eight and one day she grabbed my hand and looked up at me with a smile and said, “Mom, I don’t want you to ever die. But don’t worry, because I’ll always be by your side.” Sent chills up my spine. I mean, she’s eight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I deal with my anxiety in all the usual ways – exercise, writing, being outdoors and hanging out with people who make me laugh. But I doubt I will ever be free of it. I’ve come to terms that it is part and parcel of my experience as a human.

      I had a great conversation with someone yesterday about the fact that happiness, in its Hallmark version, has never been a goal of mine. It sounds weird, but being able to continually learn, to constantly be challenged, sometimes driven by dissatisfaction, that’s my version of happiness.

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t jive well with the current positivity movement of memes and emoticons. It’s an even better reason to cater to my introversion. It keeps me from punching people who tell me to literally or metaphorically “put on a happy face”.

      I’ve had similar exchanges with my daughter about death. Having no belief in a literal afterlife makes those conversations more challenging, but we talk a lot about the cycle of life and that being compost, figurative or literal, for new things to grow is a pretty cool thing to be a part of. We’re a bit science-y in our household, so that’s as romantic a spin as I can put on things. Now that she understands metaphors, our conversations are getting pretty cool.

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      • That’s wonderful you guys talk about it. yeah, for me positivity doesn’t mean smiling or being happy. It’s more of a general acceptance of all my parts, the good, bad and ugly. Kind of a zen approach to things in a way. What I feel, I let myself feel. I struggle a lot but I learn a lot and the challenge does make me keep going. I wonder, I worry, I laugh, I cry, I love, I fear. It’s all normal and part of being human I suppose.

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  14. I love this. Especially because death anxiety is not one I deal with. I’ve wanted to die so many times—worked for it, begged for it—that I really can’t imagine being afraid of it. And I’m an atheist, so I have no expectation of going anywhere except as dust on my old family farm.

    But, you’re in good company, girlfriend. Who would have remembered Nietzche without his Existential angst? This may just be your bliss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My anxieties tend to be of the garden variety and I do believe we end up as compost. Wow, that might cover my gardening metaphors for the day. I’m having a tougher time shaking them this week, but transitions will do that to a person.

      I never considered myself a person who thrives on misery, but angst – that might be a different thing altogether. Wrestling with difficult emotions and concepts holds appeal for me. Maybe anxiety is a way of getting to those things when there really isn’t much drama in my life, I don’t know. It sounds like something I need to be exorcising in a book, so back to the #$%@ novel this morning.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. You probably won’t be the least bit surprised to hear that I find this post uplifting. It’s the duality, the ambiguity, the friction, the frisson—that’s the stuff that keeps life exciting and scary and scintillating. That’s what makes me ambitious to live and Do, when nothing else can. I thoroughly enjoyed your maundering, meandering, and ultimately, meaningful take on it.
    xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kathryn. My meandering sometimes takes me far afield. Lately, my posts seem to be doing that as well. I look back on past blog posts, and I seem a tad angsty! Taking a small break – must go out in the world and broaden my perspective a bit – it gets a little crowded in my brain. Hope your summer is going well.

      Like

  16. Creativity unleashed may actually be the thing that offsets your anxiety and helps balance out the dark spots. Hope you find it.
    By the way , i LOVE LOVE LOVE that pic of the skeleton hand on the mouse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That, I think, is the crux of the matter. Having spent so many years in a structured life makes embracing the creative life challenging, but much needed. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. So much of what you’ve written resonates with what I’m thinking when I’m sometimes sitting with a cup of coffee in the weekend and staring away into nothingness. My favourite is line is
    ” I used to pride myself at staying tuned in, able to converse on a wide range of topics, able to fake chitchat and laugh at all the right things. No longer. Snip, snip, each rope is being clipped. Until one day, I imagine just floating away.”

    Technology doesn’t make it any easier, if anything, it aggravates the fear of missing out, and heightens my anxiety. Maybe I should do a digital detox soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lately, the need for digital detox is arising more frequently for me. Part of that is spring and part of it is the realization that it is draining and anxiety-inducing. You’d think information would add to one’s life, but because we have to sort through so much dreck on the internet to get to it, it’s exhausting. I do love blogging, but I also find that taking breaks improves my writing and perspective. Plus we have baby bunnies hopping about in our yard – how can a person look at a monitor when they’re just outside the window?

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment – hopefully you will find some digital relief in your future!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Beautiful post. Not one typo – and so easy to read. Except that you use the word that a bit much. That aside though – acknowledging one’s fear of death is a good thing. Probably no death is worse than death by hatred. Fear feeds hatred and vica-versa. So validating our emotions — even the negative ones — doesn’t necessarily hasten nor delay the inevitable. It helps us to work the process in real time.
    I’ve been very near to death twice. Both times, I left the ICU amazed by how much love one suddenly develops for everyone and everything in the immediate vicinity. I occurred to me most physically a week later. Taking a short walk, the shock wore off, like a wave of release. That’s when you really know.
    Is it any wonder we turn to love even if only during the final moments?
    If we weren’t here to express love, then certainly we’d have had to be mad about dying.
    And that indeed would be a very scary thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words and critique about the post. I think that (I used it again!) acknowledging the full breadth of emotions from the human experience, including fear of dying, must be healthier than not. And even if we acknowledge those feelings, it doesn’t mean that they need to take hold of us. I like the Buddhist meditation idea of simply observing our feelings without trying to reshape them, just a tip of the hat and then we move on.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. My only near-death experiences occurred when I didn’t realize that I was near death, so nothing emerged from them. Still, I think an awareness of our mortality can be a reminder to walk steady and to not waste so much time or emotions on the trivial.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Your blog is awesome i love it, and i just wrote my first article it would be great if you have a little bit of time to check it out 🙂 thank you and have a great day

    Liked by 1 person

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