My Death Anxiety Taught Me How To Live

“I’ll die soon.”

The first sentence on my journal entry titled Read This, in which I wrote my preferred funeral arrangements — from songs to play during memorial service to my wish of cremation.

I’m only twenty-two, and I’m already writing my will. Some people might argue that I still have the rest of my life in front of me and that I’m too morbid for pondering death in such a young age.

Before Sunrise (1995)

What would those people say if I tell them I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.

Ask a person when was the first time he became aware of his mortality, and how he realized it. I bet it would be a story of how a family member, friend or pet died. We learn from. It’s the most natural thing.

Yet, that isn’t the case for me. I’ve been thinking about death for as long as I can remember. Though I can’t pinpoint what triggered me, I am sure that was even before we lost someone in the family.

What I do recall is how I hated a playmate because I am a year older than her and to my small brain that meant I’ll die first.

Not only that I became an insecure kid, it also started my life-long anxiety.

During my mother’s afternoon naps back then, I’d sit beside the bed, watch her chest rising and falling to make sure she’s still breathing. There were times I won’t be able to hold my tears. She would soon be aware of my presence, then would ask what’s wrong with me. Embarrassed of being too dramatic, I’d run outside the house without answering her.

It seems foolish now but that was my reality at the time. Actually, if I’m being honest with you, I never get rid of the anxiety. This time my habits are more subtle. Like trying not to sleep on commutes or road trips because I’m afraid there’ll be a car accident and the dusty seat will be my deathbed.

I stumbled upon an online cartoon that says if you can’t get rid of your fears, learn to live with them. Well, death is something I can’t bargain with so I chose to develop a healthier relationship with it by 1. acknowledgment of its existence and 2. acceptance that I can’t do anything about it. Writing my memorial service requests was a part of that process.

Now I won’t pretend that I am totally at peace with death as I’m still working on it. What I’ve learned so far is how to use my fear of death to keep life moving in difficult times.

I have this five-minute rule. The idea is that I could be dead five minutes from now. Meaning, in a blink, whatever I’m doing or saying might be the last thing I’ll do. This rule allows me to streamline everything. How?

I could die any moment so I’ll let go of the things that I don’t want to run through my head when it finally happens.

It comes surprisingly handy when I’m on the verge of snapping at someone who offended me. I’ll whisper to myself:

If I die now, this shit doesn’t deserve to be in my deathbed speech. So piss off.

It’s passive thinking, I know. But it’s mighty useful for someone who wants to spend their last five minutes on valuable things, and not in sweating the small stuff. Take it from Candy Chang, founder of Before I Die project.

Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about, or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.

So, I’ll die. Everyone will. What now? If this anxiety did me anything good, it made me realize one thing. That I could only ponder death for too long before I forget how to live. It’s like looking pass a beautiful rainbow while in chase of the non-existent pot of gold. It’s futile.

I want to end this with you feeling motivated but I’m not the person to do that (at least not yet) so I’ll let Gary Vaynerchuk do the closing remarks:

 

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