A furry I never met helped me conquer my fear of death.

Video

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Tony Barrett, aka “Dogbomb”

On the morning of April 5th, a beloved, longtime member of the furry community, Tony Barrett, aka “Dogbomb,” who had been diagnosed with ALS ( amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) over a year earlier, made the difficult decision to end his own life via physician assisted suicide (he lives in Arizona, where assisted suicide is legal for sufferers of terminal illnesses).

ALS is 100 percent fatal, and “Dogbomb” (as I will be referring to him here) had been experiencing a rapid decline in his quality of life. He was having difficulty walking, and even breathing and swallowing. ALS is a devastating and disfiguring disease that currently has no cure. It normally kills within a few years (2 to 10 years being average), although in rare cases, it can take much longer (astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was first diagnosed with ALS in 1963, and he didn’t succumb to it for 55 years!)

I never met Dogbomb, but he’s a member of the same furry community my son has been active in since about 2009. He’s evidently hugely popular within the community because of his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such a devastating diagnosis and grim prognosis. Since Dogbomb was first diagnosed in early 2018, he has organized marches and walks to raise funds for ALS research and has become a huge inspiration to people both within and outside of the furry community. He’s older than most of his fellow furries, who tend to be mostly Millennials, and has taken on a kind of older brother or mentoring role to many of them, who are in turn inspired by his love of life, enthusiasm, positive attitude, and passion for activities that help find a cure for ALS.

That’s enough background.  I read Dogbomb’s story on Twitter the other night completely by accident, and then I stumbled on this short animation created by one of Dogbomb’s close friends (“Jib Kodi”), made just after Dogbomb publicly announced he would be ending his life. I don’t think there’s any need to explain what this video means, other than that it’s about the power of friendship and the furry community’s unwavering support as Dogbomb commences his journey out of this world and into the next. Notice the “Run to Fight ALS” shirts some of the characters are wearing.

 

This little animation made me totally lose it for almost an hour. Not just a few tears, but full blown sobbing. This wasn’t actually unpleasant at all, but cathartic. Like a good emotional enema, I felt like my soul had been cleansed.

Later, I tried to figure out why I had reacted so intensely. I didn’t know this man, I never fought ALS or knew anyone who had, I’m not a member of the furry community, and yet…this little video grabbed my heart, turned it inside out, and twisted it hard!

For years I’ve been terrified of dying. Not just the suffering and pain that often precedes death, but a fear of death itself. It’s really a fear of the unknown. No matter how strong one’s faith, no one knows for certain what will happen after they die. I don’t have all that many years left, maybe two or three decades at most. Maybe less than that. My fear of death, rather than dissipating as I grow older as it seems to do for most people, has intensified. This is a real problem, since death isn’t something that I can avoid. I can delay it, but one day it’s going to happen whether I want it to or not.

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Dogbomb’s Twitter icon (artist unknown)

Dogbomb was a man who, though not very old, did not fear death. He stared his own mortality in the face and said fuck you to it, and then grabbed its icy hand and told it some jokes. Dogbomb was a man who I have been told always smiled at everyone, and was always willing to listen to others’ troubles, even when he had much worse problems of his own and knew his illness was terminal.

Rather than sink into self pity, crawl into his bed, and wait for death to take him, he stayed active, organized events and marches to raise funds to find cures and new treatments for the disease that was killing him. He got countless others involved and did a lot of good for sufferers of ALS. At the very least, he gave them hope and inspired them.

And finally, he decided he was going to die his own way, not ALS’s way. He died willingly in a loving and supportive environment among his closest family and friends. If dying joyfully is a thing, Dogbomb did it.

And now, after being so inspired and moved by Dogbomb’s story, I can finally understand those who say that death can be a beautiful and uplifting thing, a beginning rather than an end, the start of a new journey — and not something dark and morbid that we should fear.  For someone with ALS or another painful or physically crippling disease, death also means freedom for a soul that had been  trapped in what had become nothing more than a burdensome flesh prison.

Dogbomb wrote one last tweet on the morning of his death:

“Dogbomb has left the building. I love y’all!”

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Screenshot of Dogbomb riding into the sunset from an animation by Jib Kodi

I can’t say my fear of death is cured, but I’m getting there. Dogbomb’s beautiful life of service to others, and courageous (and joyful) passing has helped me with that.

Here is where you can make a donation to the ALS Association.

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Further reading:

My Son is “Furry” — Got a Problem With That?  (posted 9/20/14)

Fear of Death

The Ultimate Dissociative Experience

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The ultimate dissociative experience.

Death is an uncomfortable subject for most of us, but at some point, we are all going to have to come to terms with it. Here’s a post I wrote a while back describing what that process is like for me.

Lucky Otters Haven

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Death isn’t something I like to think about, much less write about.  In fact, it’s my biggest fear (outside of the death of one of my children).  Oh, I know all the pat arguments and rationalizations that it’s not so bad–death is a part of life, death is nothing to be afraid of, if you’re a good Christian you will go to Heaven and there will be no fear, nothing at all will happen so there will be no fear, even the idea that death is beautiful.

I woke this morning, as I often do, thinking about how much I fear my own death.  I think this is a little obsessive-compulsiveness on my part, and probably something I should talk about more in therapy.   The mental health field has a name for the irrational or excessive fear of death: thanatophobia.    So far I’ve only talked to God…

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Death, Prince, “the void,” and loss of control.

Update on my death phobia.

The ultimate dissociative experience.

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Death isn’t something I like to think about, much less write about.  In fact, it’s my biggest fear (outside of the death of one of my children).  Oh, I know all the pat arguments and rationalizations that it’s not so bad–death is a part of life, death is nothing to be afraid of, if you’re a good Christian you will go to Heaven and there will be no fear, nothing at all will happen so there will be no fear, even the idea that death is beautiful.

I woke this morning, as I often do, thinking about how much I fear my own death.  I think this is a little obsessive-compulsiveness on my part, and probably something I should talk about more in therapy.   The mental health field has a name for the irrational or excessive fear of death: thanatophobia.    So far I’ve only talked to God about my phobia but I feel like He isn’t listening.     People in my age group (50’s) say they’re beginning to come to terms with the prospect of death, but so far, for me, that hasn’t happened.  I get more scared every year.

Maybe death terrifies me because it entails complete ego loss–it’s the ultimate dissociative experience, and as someone who has had massive panic attacks usually instigated by dissociative experiences (feeling out my body, feeling like things are dreamlike or unreal, etc.) it would be natural for me to be afraid of what it might feel like.   It’s like someone who had a bad drug trip and is mentally unstable to begin with being slipped some acid when they’re unaware of it–and never being able to return to reality.

I don’t like to write about death, because even thinking about it too long makes me extremely anxious.  But I need to write about it, and need to talk about it with others, and maybe find comfort in the fact that others have the same sense of trepidation and worry.  Maybe I’m not alone in my fear of death and dying.   So I’m going to plow on. Writing about it surely can’t hurt.

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I’ve been told by many Christians that, if I am strong in my faith, that there is nothing to fear, because I can be sure of my place in Heaven after I die.   But this makes things even worse for me, because I do have doubts in my faith and I am not at certain I am going to Heaven, or even that there is a Heaven.   No matter how much I pray for perfect faith, I can’t seem to make my mind rid itself of its many doubts.   There are just some things about Christianity I can’t make myself believe or at least not question.  Again, maybe it’s my obsessive-compulsiveness.   As someone who is afraid to trust anyone and is hypervigilant, it’s even hard for me to completely trust God and not worry about what will happen to me after I die. I look at others–even narc abuse survivors who should be as hypervigilant as I am–who seem to have attained perfect faith and I marvel at this. How do they do it?

Although it’s hard for me to believe that if I question Christianity or what the Bible says, that God will send me to burn in Hell for eternity even if I’m otherwise a good person (that seems like a terribly cruel, narcissistic God to me), how do I know for sure God isn’t like that?  Maybe God is really that cruel and narcissistic, but in that case, why would I want to even spend eternity in Heaven, trapped there with sanctimonious, self righteous, insufferable believers? (I’m not saying all believers are like that, but I’ve met more than a few who are).  In that case, maybe Heaven would be more like Hell.     But Hell…well, I definitely don’t want to go there.

But Christianity is only one way to look at the issue of death.  Let’s face it.   No matter how sure you are in your faith, whatever it is, none of us really knows what’s going to happen after we die.   What if the New Agers are right and what happens is you look back and see yourself lying on the hospital bed, pavement, or whatever, see your own broken, bleeding, or used-up body there, and then watch as they pull the sheet over your head?  What if you are swooshed at light-speed down a long tunnel toward “the light” and meet angels and see otherworldly landscapes and other inexplicable things?   Or what if you float around the earth as a disembodied spirit, revisiting your friends and relatives you left behind?   People who have reported NDE’s (near death experiences) have said that at some point they become aware they have died (that’s usually when they “come back”) and most say it’s very disorienting and even scary at first, because their bodies just aren’t there.   All of these things, no matter how pleasant others have said they are, strike terror in me, because they sound like dissociative experiences that you can never escape from.   I’ve struggled with episodes of dissociation my entire life, but no matter how terrifying they became, I always knew I’d “return” and the experience would probably only last a few minutes.   Does something happen after you die where you’re no longer afraid of such things, or do you just learn to deal with it?

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Maybe this is true, but I wish I could believe it.

What if the atheists and existentialists are right and nothing happens after you die?  What if you simply cease to exist?   While I find that prospect extremely depressing,  it actually causes me the least anxiety.   Eternal sleep and unconsciousness doesn’t seem so bad to me.  If you’re aware of nothing, well, there’s nothing to be afraid of or get depressed about, is there?  But I still don’t like the idea that this life is ultimately meaningless.   What is all the struggle for then?

Reincarnation doesn’t seem so bad, and actually does make some logical sense to my scientifically-leaning brain, but it flies in the face of being a Christian.   I don’t know of any Christians who acknowledge that reincarnation is a possibility after death.  But why couldn’t it be? As a Catholic, we believe in the concept of purgatory, a place of purification (not punishment) after death.  But no one can explain what purgatory might be like.  Maybe living additional lives is what purgatory actually means?   Again…we just don’t know.

'It's not that I'm afraid of dying, Doctor... It's just that I don't want to be there when it happens!'

‘It’s not that I’m afraid of dying, Doctor… It’s just that I don’t want to be there when it happens!’

Maybe we just go back to wherever we were before we were born, and have amnesia for this life. Or maybe it’s like eternal dreaming (that doesn’t sound too bad). Again, we don’t know.

Besides the inevitable experience of death, which seems bad enough, I’m terrified by the prospect of dying.   I’m in my 50’s, and figure I might (realistically) have about another two or three decades of life left.   To someone my age, that doesn’t seem so long.  Twenty years ago was 1996; thirty years ago was 1986.   That means that in that same amount of time, going forward, I will probably be leaving my body permanently, but before that, I may well suffer either unbelievable pain or a few moments of sheer terror.   Few people just die peacefully in their sleep or just suddenly keel over while out on the golf course (that’s the way a 90 year old great uncle of mine died).   Most suffer first, either for months (as in a long illness) or a few seconds (as in an accident).   I’m terrified of both.  I know there’s no way to get out of this life alive, so the inevitable is going to happen, and there’s not a whole lot of time left before it does. Even worse, each year time seems to hurtle forward twice as fast as the year before. What seemed like “a long time ago” to me twenty years ago now seems like the blink of an eye.

As someone who tends to overthink everything,  I probably think about death and dying way too much.  I know I should just stop and enjoy life while I still have it.   But the more I try not to think about it, the more I seem to.   It’s like that game where you try not to think about an elephant.  I pray about this all the time but it hasn’t helped very much.    I just keep feeling guilty because  no matter how hard I try, I can’t embrace my Christianity with perfect faith.   I have no guarantee I’m going to Heaven.   I keep questioning everything and then I worry about going to hell.  Or being eternally dissociated, which to me would be hell.  Or just worrying about the intolerable suffering that will precede my exit from this planet.    Maybe I need to talk to my therapist about this because it seems like it could be a form of undiagnosed OCD.

Further Reading:
My Fear of Death

The 7 things narcissists are most afraid of.

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I was actually going to try to post funny search terms again, but alas, they were just not funny, so I nixed that idea.  However, I did find one that inspired me to write this post:

what 6 things are narcissist most scared of

It’s a good question.  Are narcissists afraid of anything? You bet they are, and there are 7 things that scare them silly, not just 6.

1. Abandonment and rejection.

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Narcissists can’t stand being rejected or abandoned.   That’s why they fly into rages and punish and threaten you if you threaten to leave them, and love bomb you if you do manage to get away.  To reject a narcissist means you are rejecting the false self they have so carefully constructed to impress you.  To reject that false self negates their entire reason for existing, since whatever true self they may have left is completely inaccessible to them and the false self cannot survive on its own; it’s completely dependent on the approval and attention of others, who it feeds from like a vampire.  When you reject a narcissist they are forced to confront their own emptiness and nothing scares them more than that.  They will fight tooth and nail to avoid it, even if it means they have to destroy you in the process.

2. Being made fun of.

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Credit: Quacksquared

Narcissists have no sense of humor.  Nada. None. Zero. Zip.  They may laugh cruelly at you when you fall and break your arm, and they may chuckle at the discomfort of someone else (since they have almost no empathy), especially if the discomfort was caused by them (because remember, to them you are not a real person but an object),  but they are completely incapable of ever laughing at themselves.

A few years ago on a forum I posted on, there was a man who became enraged when someone wrote “LOL” at a joke someone else made at his expense (the joke wasn’t very offensive), and from then on he gave both of them the silent treatment.     They take themselves very, very seriously and are very, very sensitive.  But that sensitivity doesn’t extend toward anyone but themselves.   The reason they are so bothered by jokes at their expense and can’t laugh at themselves is because the self they present to the world is a false one that must be propped up and supported at all times by everyone else.   To poke fun at a narcissist is to poke fun at a self that’s as empty inside as a puppet.  It has no substance.     It will fall to pieces and then the narcissist is forced to confront that terrifying emptiness that constantly haunts them.

3. Being disrespected.

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No one likes to be treated with disdain or disrespect, but the narcissist is downright phobic about it.   He or she worries about it all the time and imagines slights and personal attacks even where they don’t exist.  Again, it boils down to the false self which he or she must constantly keep propped up.  It’s your job to puff it up and inflate it constantly lest it collapse into a limp pile of flimsy rubber.    Disrespecting a narcissist is like popping a hole in their balloon-self and they feel like they are going to die.    To avoid this, a narcissist uses every defense mechanism they have in their arsenal–gaslighting, rages, silent treatment, lying, projection, denial, fabricating,  and false affection–to keep you inflating their balloon-self so they don’t have to acknowledge the horror of recognizing they have lost their real one.

4. Being ignored.

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This is a no-brainer.   Ignoring a narcissist means giving them no supply at all, and without narcissistic supply, the narcissist dies a slow death.   Or believes they will.   That’s why some narcissists would even rather be hated than be ignored.  Negative attention is still attention, and at least it provides acknowledgement that they still exist.   When you ignore a narcissist, it’s as frightening to them as being killed.  They’re no longer confident they exist without your attention.

5. Exposure.

Several colorful arrow street signs with words Not Me - His, Her and Their Fault, symbolizing the twisting of the truth and shifting of blame

If you call out a narcissist on their abusive behavior, they will usually become very angry.  Their anger might be expressed in rage or in more covert means such as the silent treatment or gaslighting you. They don’t like to be held accountable for the things they do to others, because that means they have to admit they are less than perfect.   It also means they have to acknowledge the humanity of someone else, which they aren’t capable of doing.  Narcissists are all too aware of their imperfections, but only at the subconscious level, and the way they handle this is to project their own imperfections onto you.  So a narcissist might tell you that YOU are the narcissistic one, or that YOU are the abuser.  They’re also good at getting others to side against you, and those people become their flying monkeys.    They will accuse you of doing things that they themselves have done and everyone believes them and not you.

You start to feel like you’re living in a hellish world of smoke and mirrors, where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t.   The narcissist has, unconsciously or consciously, set up this elaborate lie as a massive defense mechanism against being exposed as imperfect and flawed just like everyone else, because being forced to acknowledge their shortcomings is to expose their vulnerabilities, and being vulnerable is incredibly terrifying to them.   They blame so they don’t have to feel shame.

6. Loss of the trappings of youth and success. 

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As narcissists age, they often grow even more  abusive (a very few may improve–but they probably weren’t high spectrum to begin with). That’s because aging means a loss of looks, career, health, possibly even a spouse (who provides a narcissist with supply), and in some cases even financial solvency. All these things are proof to a narcissist that they still have value and are still admired and respected.

Somatic narcissists, who are most concerned with their health or physical appearance, have never developed other aspects of themselves that could be fallen back on when those things begin to go; that’s because the false self is a flimsy one-dimensional construct and is incapable of love, true attachment, friendship, and other things that the rest of us can fall back on when we’re old and not in such great physical shape or health anymore.   If someone has spent their entire lives only concerned with their appearance, once that goes, what’s left?

Cerebral narcissists, who are concerned with their intellectual ability or business acumen, may be able to hang onto those assets a bit longer, but eventually, their minds may begin to become less sharp or they may be forced to retire or reduce their hours working.  Having to retire is a huge blow to a narcissist whose entire identity is tied up in his or her career and earning ability.  What is left?

In both cases, a narcissist experiences an almost total loss of supply and to avoid the ensuing depression, they lash out and attack others like angry dogs.  That’s why old narcissists are so often cranky and mean.   They’re also terrified of death, the last thing on the list that terrifies them.

 

7. Death.

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Every narcissist I’ve ever known lives in mortal terror of death.   That’s because death is the ultimate loss of narcissistic supply.  Death means complete annihilation of the ego and there’s nothing more horrifying to a narcissist than that because their ego is all they are.   Personally, I think some also fear hell.  They know on some deep level how badly they’ve treated and exploited others and think they might be held accountable for it in the afterlife.   I’ve seen a lot of narcissists who suddenly become extremely religious in their old age.  I think that’s because they think by being religious, they may be able to ward off any accountability after they die.

Fear of death.

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Fear of death, called Thanatophobia, is a common fear, especially in younger people, who under normal circumstances have their entire lives ahead of them and don’t have to worry about the inevitable event happening any time soon.

Of course, the grim reaper can claim anyone at any time. There are no guarantees in life, and even if you’re a gleaming example of perfect health in your prime and never take dumb risks, a concrete block could crash down on your head while leaving your house tomorrow morning. But the likelihood of sudden (or even protracted) death when you’re young is small, so the young can afford to fear death, as long as their fear isn’t so overpowering it makes it impossible for them to enjoy their time being alive.

It’s been said that the older we get, the less we fear death. In the very old (and those who have been suffering with chronic illness for a long time, including terminally ill children), death is even welcomed and looked forward to. That’s understandable, especially if you believe, as most people do, that the afterlife will be better than this world. Unless you fear going to Hell, you probably shouldn’t be afraid of passing on to the “other side,” whatever it may be. Even if the atheists are right and there’s nothing at all after this life, well, what’s so terrible about that? It’s like an eternal sleep and you won’t be aware of anything so not being able to wake up won’t bother you.

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I think people fear death for three reasons:

1. Fear of the unknown.
Humans have an instinctive fear of the unknown, and no matter how much faith you have that you are going to heaven when you die, the bottom line is, no one really knows what happens. And that’s scary. I think that on a deep level, even the most religious people with the strongest faith still struggle with the knowledge that one day–a day that could be tomorrow or in 50 years–they will pass into something that’s a complete unknown.

Not only that, dying is an act that is always experienced alone. No matter how supportive a family or friends you have, no matter how many people surround you with their love as you prepare to die, no matter how much comfort is given by loved ones to the dying person, they are not going to be joining you on that journey. Other than God and the angels (if you are a believer), you are going to be taking that journey into the unknown all by yourself. Even if you die with others, such as in an accident, your journey to the other side is yours alone. Their journeys may be very different from yours.

2. Fear of the process of dying.
I think for many, it’s not so much death they fear, but the way they are going to die. Are they going to get cancer, be hit by a truck, be murdered by a burglar on meth, or suffer a sudden massive heart attack? There really is no pleasant way to die. It’s almost always either quick and terrifying; or long and incredibly painful. If you spend too much time thinking about the fact that one of these two things is going to happen to you before you die and it is not going to be pleasant, you can drive yourself crazy. That’s why it’s much better to focus on living a good, fulfilling life and not think too much about the way you might be leaving earth someday.

Some people think that by choosing the method in which they die, they have some control over the dying process and thereby make it less scary. That’s why right-to-die organizations and assisted suicide exists. If you have terminal cancer and know your death is going to be protracted and painful, why not just take some pills or hang yourself instead? Sure, it won’t be pleasant, but at least it might be quick. While this reasoning is understandable, many religions object to this because suicide, even suicide when you are going to die anyway, is considered a grave sin and God will make you accountable after death. But other people don’t believe this and think that God, if he exists, wouldn’t want them to suffer needlessly. Again, there’s really no sure way to know. I doubt I’d ever do it though, since I’m one of those who thinks God would make me accountable.

3. Fear of Hell.
Most Christians (and people who follow other Abrahamic religions like traditional Judaism and Islam) believe in some form of Hell and that some of us are going there after we die. Some Christians believe that all you need to do is accept Jesus as your personal savior and you are automatically saved and admitted to heaven. Others believe works on earth as well as grace are important. A few liberal Protestant denominations believe Hell is a state of mind (a separation from God) rather than an actual place, or they don’t believe in it at all. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists believe if we are not pleasing to God, we will simply be annihilated after we die (much more palatable, imo, than the concept of eternal torment). I’ve always had problems with the concept of Hell and simply find the idea that God will be sending good Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Unitarians, and liberal Christians (the kind who don’t believe in Hell) to be tortured for all eternity extremely disagreeable. Not everyone, especially skeptical types like me who tend to need concrete evidence before they believe anything, is able to blindly embrace the idea of a savior or the words of the Bible (which can and have been interpreted in different ways) and even if they are willing to believe, some simply can’t. Should they be consigned to eternal torment for not being able to believe something because they think about everything too much?

Let me stop here before this turns into a religious post. That’s not my intent. My point here is that many people are afraid of going to Hell, even those who don’t really believe in in it. But there’s really no way to know if there is one, is there? There’s really no way to know what will happen after we die, or if anything will happen at all.

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How I wish I could have this attitude!

As I stated earlier, as people age, they tend to come to terms with the inevitability of death, even the inevitability of the process of dying, as they become aware they have many more years behind them than they have in front of them.

But what happens if, like me, you’re in your fifties and are still afraid of death? I’m well aware I probably have, at best, another 30 or so years left to live. Forty or fifty more years is highly unlikely though possible. Twenty years isn’t a lot, but for someone my age, that’s far more likely than living another forty or fifty years.

When I think about how short a time 20 or 30 years really is, it fills me with terror. I know I think about death way too much and should be focusing more on living a fulfilling life. It’s a waste of life to dwell on the unpleasant fact that one day I will die and may suffer a horrible, painful death too. How does one come to terms with the fact they are going to die and it isn’t even that long a time away? How does one get to the point of actually looking forward to death? I know some Christians reading this are going to be thinking, “well, if you were really saved [I consider myself to be], you would have no doubt you are going to heaven.” But no matter how much I pray about it, I still have doubts. I don’t think that’s likely to change either, because I’m the type of person who questions everything. Even my faith. The bottom line is, I simply don’t know what’s going to happen when I die, or when it’s going to happen, except that it’s going to happen. As the saying goes, none of us get out of here alive.

Always waiting for the other shoe to drop…

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I think I made a kind of breakthrough in my therapy session tonight. For years one of my problems has been this overwhelming fear that something bad will happen to one of my kids. (I don’t like to even say the D word because I irrationally believe if I say it, I’ll somehow make it happen, by putting it out into the universe or something).

Of course all parents worry about their adult kids, especially when they know they’re out there somewhere in cars, which we all know are dangerous hunks of metal capable of the most ghastly and gory deaths you can imagine and operated by countless idiots and drunks on the road who can’t drive. I think my apprehension about something bad happening to my adult children edges into OCD-type territory though, because of how overpowering and pervasive these thoughts are, intruding where and when they are not welcome, even though I know that in all likelihood, something bad will NOT happen and even if it does, worrying about it excessively is like living through it twice. I think about my hypothetical reaction to such an event and wonder how I would retain my sanity, if not my will to live. I always marvel at people who have lost a child in a sudden manner like a car accident (a long illness is more bearable because you have time to prepare for it and process it) and wonder how they can still go on with their day to day activities–going shopping, paying bills, working at a job, watching a movie, hell, even having FUN sometimes. I know that wouldn’t be me and I obsess over how I might react.

I’ve been so haunted by the remote possibility of getting THAT life-changing phone call late some night (you know the one), that it’s even been a recurrent theme in my writings. I had a dream over a year ago about losing my son, and wrote a post about it, called Losing Ethan.

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Anyway, I decided to bring up this problem because it doesn’t exactly make my life happier and it annoys the hell out of my kids. The first thing my therapist did was tell me to stop BEING those feelings, but just OWN them. In other words, he’d noticed that when I talk about bad feelings that make me ashamed or anxious, I always use the term “I am….” Instead he told me to practice saying, “I feel…” or “I have…” In this way, you create a bit of a distance between yourself and the bad feeling. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel it, but with a little distance, the emotion can be explored, almost from the viewpoint of a third person. Ironically, what happens is you feel the emotion MORE (I can’t really explain why that works but it does).

His advice was brilliant, because a few minutes later, I made a connection. In 1998, with my then-husband in jail, I was forced to learn to drive his stickshift truck. I had to teach myself and never learned to park the truck properly. So after picking up my kids from their after school program and pulling into our driveway, I set it to Neutral and the truck began to roll downhill–containing both my kids, then ages 5 and 7, straight toward a TREE. The events that played out next are described in this post, called The Tree.

The important thing is, I’d connected this traumatic event in August of 1998 to my current obsessive thoughts about tragedy striking and generally always feeling like I’m about to receive some devastating news–and I knew immediately that these unpleasant thoughts are based on guilt and shame. I started to tell my therapist that I always felt guilty that the truck had rolled and that I *could* have killed them. For about 10 years I couldn’t even talk about it, because any time I did, I’d start feeling very dissociated and anxious. My ex knew how to press all my buttons, and knew this was my biggest one. If he wanted to upset me all he had to do was remind me what a rotten mother I was to almost kill my kids that night because he knows I’m still struggling with guilt over my failure to protect them, my failure to be smart enough to know how to park a stickshift.

I’m always very mindful of my body language, voice and gestures when I’m in session, probably as much as my therapist is. These things can tell you a LOT about yourself, not just about others. And I realized as I was making these connections that my body relaxed and I leaned back but my voice became softer and sadder. I was opening up to him in a way I hadn’t before. He just listened, with what appeared to be a great deal of empathy.

somedays

And at some point I felt tears come to my eyes. My eyes just barely glistening, tears not overflowing, but there, making the backs of my eyelids feel warm. I looked off to my left like I always do when I get deep into stuff, and kept on talking. I felt myself opening up and feeling some kind of generic emotion that wasn’t sadness and wasn’t guilt and wasn’t gratitude or joy but was none of these things and yet all of these things. I wanted to share all this with him. I heard myself speak and my voice became thick and my eyes burned again.

There was more, much more, but I’ll end this here because I’m getting emotional writing this. The important thing is, I almost shed tears in front of my therapist tonight. That might not seem like such a big a deal, but for me it was a huge deal because I haven’t been able to cry in front of another human being in about 15 years–which I realized is when THAT happened. (It might have been longer than that though–my memories of the time I was in my horrible marriage are gray, shadowy and even have yawning gaps in places).

What happened tonight is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg–I was seriously fucked up for a very, very, VERY long time, at least since age 4 or 5–but it’s significant because it means the wall in my head that prevents me from really being able to connect to my emotions is developing a few weak spots.