Have you ever entertained the fantasy of death, of dying? I’m not saying everyone does this, but come on, I’m sure as hell not the only one who indulges in such melodramatic and unnecessary mental folly. I suppose it’s fear manifesting in some strange combination of fantasy and terror. I don’t know why my mind has this tendency to go to such morbid places, but whenever I sense there is something even slightly wrong with me physically, my imagination is predisposed to jump to the most drastic conclusion possible. The number of times the question “What if I’m dying??” has crossed my mind is shameful to admit.
I don’t know what purpose this rumination serves. I don’t know if it is relaxing or anxiety inducing. I think it must be somehow be both, simultaneously, an almost-even mix—which makes absolutely no logical sense. How can two polarities exist side by side like that? I’ll tell you how: tension. One necessitates the other. In between lies chaos and collapse. Or maybe peace and serenity? I’m sure I’ll never find out. But whatever lies in between generates a force like that of a black hole. No one really knows what it does, but if you get too close, it’s likely to rip you apart (do not background check my knowledge of black holes, the foundation of which is basically Interstellar).
If, like me, you sometimes find yourself engaging in this kind of pointless and potentially dangerous thinking…
How do you picture yourself?
Do you envision yourself as the resilient type who rises up to meet misfortune with a renewed thirst for life and an indefatigable determination to keep going?
I think everyone probably imagines themselves this way.
I mean, that’s how we like to visualize the human spirit: indomitable.
We want to be the hero of our own narrative, of course.
We want to believe we are capable of surmounting all odds.
Well…what if you weren’t that person, truthfully?
What about the people who give up?
Who give in.
Who don’t have it in them to fight because they barely had it in them to be alive in the first place.
No one ever talks about them.
Frankly, it’s uncomfortable, frightening, depressing.
So, we avoid it. We prefer stories of triumphant heroes in capes. Not broken things who crumble to the floor in defeat.
But have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that you might be that type of person?
I’m beginning to worry that’s who I am, really.
When I get right down to it, when I’m being completely honest with myself, when I peer directly into that darkened corner where troublesome truths like to hide….
I start to think I might be the type of person who would just give up and let it happen.
Because if I look back at my past patterns of coping with difficult situations, it’s never been healthy. It’s not good. I generally make a beeline for depression and substance abuse.
So why would I react any differently to an even more serious situation, with more at stake?
What possible reason could I have to believe that I would change that drastically as a person just because the situation did?
I’ve been having some health problems lately. I even ended up in the ER about a week ago (you might know this already if you’ve been following along). Being prone to over the top fits of fancy, the familiar “am I’m dying??” question flitted across my mind as it has so many times before.
Like I said. We all do this. Well, some of us do…those of us more inclined to the melancholy and theatrical do, anyway.
Now, I’ve always imagined that if this dark fantasy of mine were to ever turn into a real scenario in which I was actually dying from some incurable, terminal illness, and I had the time and the foresight to sit with that knowledge, that I would be the type of person who rises to the occasion. Who leaps forward in an admirable and awe-inspiring feat of bravery and heroic effort, who grabs hold of what life is left to me with a fearsome might and vengeance that would cause the very gods to quail for casting such a fate upon me in the first place.
That I would make the very most of my time from that day forward. Chase dreams, follow through, accomplish them, savor every single moment. Learn the true meaning of success and fulfillment. Enjoy myself thoroughly. Be the very picture of vivacity, strength, resilience.
But now that I find myself sitting with a so far undiagnosable ailment, as I watch myself lose my appetite entirely, struggle to eat without feeling nauseated, and lose weight at an alarming rate…now that I’m afraid and confused and uncertain…now that these macabre and dramatic thoughts once again circle my head like carrion crows with an entirely imagined but nonetheless grim and focused intent…
When I really think about it, honestly…
I’m not sure I would be that person.
I think I would just sink right back into the pits of depression
(Like I’m already doing right now)
And do whatever drugs I could get my hands on
And merely allow myself to die.
Perhaps this whole idea of the hero puts too heavy a weight on our shoulders.
Too much pressure.
Maybe we should revise our visions of self to be more reasonable, more manageable.
With ephemeral moments of strength and weakness.
I think it’s vital that we be candid with ourselves. The fine line that exists between confidence and hubris is honesty. Without it, there is only delusion. And if you can’t look at yourself through a crystal-clear lens, then you will never take a step in the right direction. Your field of vision will be distorted by the foggy, paint-smeared lenses you wear to avoid looking directly into your own eyes. Every motion made of guesswork. Every step a misstep.
Am I still talking about the same thing? Or have I veered off course? That’s easy to do in the miasma of self-doubt and self-analysis.
All I’m saying is don’t automatically assume you are the protagonist of your story. Especially if, like me, you are the self-destructive type. I’m not saying you can’t be. But for us, it’s just going to take a lot of work. A lot of will power. A lot of leaving behind your preconceived notions of the self. Assume bias. Assume trickery. Assume that there is someone inside of you who doesn’t give a shit if either of you live or die. A ravenous and reckless thing heedless of its own destruction who is hell-bent on taking you down with them.
Observe as objectively as possible. Take notes. Refer back to them. Make changes here and there, keep yourself in check. Know what you need to do in order to avoid being you, or, the version of you that will likely just give in and fuck it all up. Know that is who you’re working with. Make a strategy from there. Then you have a chance. A chance to approach that heroic imagined self, or at least get near enough to make it out, intact and functional.
Maybe I’m the only one who needs to hear this. Maybe I’m just writing this because I know I do. But just in case anyone else out there, even just one person, needs to hear it, too, here it is.
To quote The Mountain Goats (and so many others–they were certainly not the first to spring this phrase, but theirs is my favorite iteration):
“Just stay alive”.