It was Thanksgiving and I lay curled up on the bathroom floor. Like a child in a womb, trying to insulate myself from one menacing truth: Someday, I will be dead.
Not “someday I will die.” Because it isn’t the process or the pain I fear. I’m not even scared that it could happen at any moment. When I truly panic — heavy breathing, chest twinges, fetal position — is when I think about simply not existing any more.
For a couple weeks, death tugged at my thoughts intermittently. It was three months after my wedding and I was truly happy for the first time in nearly a decade. The pain of my brother’s death and parents’ divorce subsided and I began to really know who I was and what kind of life I wanted. That also meant I had much more to lose.
I broke down.
The pain became so great I had to miss a day of work just to pacify my fears with a book about death terror called Staring at the Sun. I read it in one sitting.
I began walking around looking at the trees and the stars, even my clothes, in this weird existential way. I started sounding a lot like Solomon in Ecclesiastes: “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
I became obsessed with finding anyone around me who had struggled with the same deep-seated feelings. Some admitted to a season in their lives that came and went in which they pondered their demise. Others claimed these thoughts had never even surfaced.
When I told one person that I’d been struggling with an existential crisis, he replied: “I know man. I’m so busy this week, too.”
The best way I can describe my feelings is by quoting a recent video circulating social media. In it, comedian Louis C.K. talks about our incessant need for connectedness via technology. However, he also addresses a dark place in our hearts.
“Underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty — forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.
And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it.”
Finally, I thought. Someone besides my therapist who could validate my feelings.
Louis went on to say that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and face this innate sadness brings profound beauty and happiness to our human experience.
A year and $960 in therapy sessions later, I think I agree with him. Facing my own death has been incredibly painful but there are often times I also feel blessed to have taken such a raw look at my life.
Many creative people struggle with existentialism as there is a deep place that must be accessed in the name of art. As a storyteller, I think one of the scariest things about death is that I won’t be here to see how it all ends.
But fully knowing it will makes me appreciate my story that much more.