Anxiety and the Fear of Death

Illustration by Rika Otsuka
By That Anxious Dude
July 20, 2020
· 5 min read

very time I visualise my fears, an image of a House of horrors pops up in my head.

It looks exactly how you’d think it would look; it's a decrepit little shack sitting in the middle of an abandoned theme park, with nothing but eerie silence permeating the stillness of it’s rusty rides.

Everything about the scene screams bad news and yet, I can’t look away.

The place lights up and in a blink of an eye I’m inside, taking an involuntary ride through the dark corners of everything I'm afraid of…

There’s the fear of getting old and infirm, causing paralysis and preventing me to step forward every time I start thinking about my future.

There’s the fear of being alone and abandoned, a nasty internal wound forcing me to trace its lineage back to my early childhood.

There’s the fear of getting judged by others, a hypersensitivity infecting the heart, causing shame and regret before an interaction even took place.

There’s the fear of losing loved ones, a shattering scene during which I receive a phone call that turns my life upside down, causing immense grief for years to come.

There’s big fears, there’s small fears, there’s fears that seem like an afterthought, there’s a couple of silly ones that almost make me laugh, and then there’s some that tear me up inside like a killer parasite. It’s a poisoned garden rich in expression, imaginative in variety...

But all of these fears, as menacing as they are, ultimately have to bow down to the final attraction of the House of horrors, the big darkness occupying the pit of my consciousness – the fear of death.

For the longest time I believed that my fear of death preceded all my other fears, that it sat at the heart of my depressive episodes, my bouts of hypochondria, my periods of melancholy. I was convinced it was the primary mover of my anxieties and the spinning wheel of my misfortune.

At least a part of this overly respectful belief stemmed from the fact that it always existed in so many different forms, which just made it seem even more powerful.

One moment it took the shape of a simple, prickly question (“what does being dead feel like?”), at other times it shapeshifted into a physical symptom, feeling like cold fluid slowly running down my veins until it settled in the stomach, causing shadowy discomfort for an extended period of time.

It could also appear as an emotion, a subtle type of anger, or an internal scream directed at the general unfairness of mortality itself…

I never really had a problem imagining that everybody on this planet sometimes contemplates their eventual demise. Being aware of our own expiration date is such a defining human trait it’s been written about to death (see what I did there).

The real problem arises when fear of death becomes your it did mine.

Because make no mistake – my fear of death had the ability to stop me in my tracks, to make me leave an event and to immediately seek safety wherever I was. It had the ability to make me renounce all of my plans, rendering me unable to leave my house in the first place. It loved nothing more than to make me crawl into a corner and contemplate my misery.

Ironically, by lulling me into this sense of security (which was nothing more than a big puddle of passivity), my fear of death turned me away from life. It scared me into relinquishing my control of the steering wheel, and voluntarily move onto the driver’s seat.

Which, of course, only made me feel worse.

Because what is all that, if not complete surrender?

It took exactly one, well measured sentence to shatter all my preconceived notions about “my complicated relationship” with the fear of death.

It was a chilly autumn afternoon when I was sitting in the comfortable chair of my psychotherapist’s office, still going on about the intricate specifics of my dread, when I suddenly realised I’ve been spinning in circles for the better part of an hour.

My therapist, patiently listening to my monologue without interjecting, waited for me to finish, then finally said:

“You know, I don’t think you’re afraid of death. I think what you’re really afraid of is life.”

And just like that I was out of his office, boiling in angry confusion.

“Afraid of life? What does that mean? And how the fuck is it supposed to help me? What gibberish. Utter nonsense…”

By the time I got home an hour later, I managed to calm down a bit. A tiny, but persistent voice began making its way up to the surface of my consciousness, urging me to reappraise what I’ve heard.

It didn’t take long for me to realise I got upset precisely because I recognised a stinging truth in my therapist’s words.

He was right.

My fear of death is many things but it isn’t the cause of my anxiety.

It’s just a vehicle for it, a handy masking device, an enabler allowing me to continue giving up on life.

Which is why it’s time to stop treating it with such respect.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the House of horrors again...

Anybody got a match?


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H1 Reglar

at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside. If you were just a random person walking by, you would have seen two mates comfortably sharing a bottle, drinking out of paper cups, chatting away and laughing. It would all look like an uplifting scene from a European indie film.

The truth however, is different. Laurie is my friend, yes, and what’s coming out of my mouth is real laughter, but the unpleasant feeling bouncing around my skull is one of deep discomfort. The truth is I’d rather be anywhere else right now. It’s not that anything bad happened between the two of us, like a pissing contest’s gone sour just moments ago… I’ve known Laurie for almost 5 years and during that time we’ve never even had as much as a disagreement.

H2 Capital

at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.

Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside.


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