For those of you reading this post, I want you to know that it isn’t empirical, being based purely on my own subjective experiences. My intention isn’t to devalue the suffering involved in depression or to place blame on anyone experiencing it; I only wish to detail how my revelation contributed to my well-being.
I’ve been obsessed with death since as far back as I could remember. When I was a kid, I frequently asked my mom about dying and where we went after it was all over. Since then, I’ve had an intense yearning to know as much about it as I could; I was terrified of death, and believed that understanding it would help alleviate my anxiety. I became obsessed, acutely focusing on studying various cultures’ afterlives, from The Tibetan Book of the Dead to the Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven and hell. I became an expert in death, and all throughout that period, I missed out on life.
I remember being so deep into it that I virtually stopped caring for myself and my appearance; outside of my existential quest for truth, nothing else mattered. All of it seemed reasonable to me, as I believed that each one of us should be searching for the answers to life’s grandest questions; to me, anything else was a waste of time. My books and my writing became my solace and my sources of comfort; with more questions, produced through new revelations, I was granted the means with which to bludgeon my very existence, in essence, eliminating any real trace of my presence in the world. I was consumed with sadness over my imminent demise, anxiety of my eventual ending, and an obsession with discovering the truth of what it really meant. The notion of death effectively submerged any potential for life, as I was determined to put off living until I fully understood the process of dying. So, my life went by, while I was barricaded in a room, completely unaware of its gradual passage.
As the years passed, and my knowledge grew, I became dissatisfied with the competing, existential worldviews, feeling stuck in a prison of my own making. I became confused, angry, and most importantly, incredibly lonely. I didn’t know why I did what I did then, but I knew that it wasn’t worth it. Several years later, when my sadness evolved into anguish, I met the woman who became my first therapist, Jennifer. For whatever reason, I, mostly, never spoke about my obsession with death with her; maybe, it was an unconscious way of avoiding my real problem. But, something happened one day; I don’t recall exactly what, but I think she asked me what it was about existential philosophy that drew me to it, or something along those lines. I answered, death! Naturally, this engendered a deep discussion of my fear, and obsession, with dying. She asked me profound questions, and really sought to understand why I spent so much time considering it. Then, just as we were about to part, she uttered what was one of the most poignant statements that anyone had ever said to me; she said, “Your fear of death is a convenient cover for your fear of life.” And that was that; she chalked up all of my time and all of my energy to one big, all-encompassing, behavior: avoidance. You can imagine the initial psychological resistance to the idea which followed.
Later, I discussed her interpretation with my friend, and arrived at another profound insight; I realized that my periodic depression was, in itself, another convenient cover for my fear of living. My depression and anxiety went hand in hand, and it seemed that whenever I was faced with a significant juncture in my life, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and disappear. Depression gave me a way out; it allowed me to avoid. I frequently told myself that I couldn’t do something because I was too depressed, and my sadness was much more tolerable than my anxiety, at least then I could attain the sense of comfort associated with my friends and family coming to my rescue, trying desperately to aid me. I felt loved and cared for, remaining content in my self-concocted bubble of avoidance. Through this revelation, I was able to accept my therapist’s.
Depression, like death, had the same end-goal, which comprised of a sense of safety. It absorbed me when I most needed it, during the moments of heightened anxiety, when I was most afraid of decision-making. The human mind is a wonderfully complex tool; it seems to know how to help you when you don’t. Whether the help is adaptive and beneficial is debatable, but it works, nonetheless. Now that I’m aware of how my brain automatically creates depression and obsession to reduce anxiety, I’m able to take tiny steps toward accomplishing long-term goals. Those around me seem to think that I could do anything if I try, but they’d be shocked to discover how long it actually takes me to complete important tasks, especially those with the highest risk of failure.
Together, both death and sadness precluded me from failing, maintaining my safety while keeping me far away from the dangers of rejection. As I now remind myself of my pattern of avoidance, I’m able to slowly take risks that were hitherto impossible, at least in my mind. I’ve granted myself the gift of self-exposure therapy, trying different things in different settings, allowing myself to look silly while attempting to conquer my fears. In the past, death and depression were the antitheses of my life; now, I use both to remind myself of how little time I have left, and how much more there’s left to accomplish. I use depression to recall my avoidance, and to gain insight into the sources of my distress; and, I use death as a catalyst, having discontinued to abuse its existentially mystical power.
I’ve come a long way since that revelation, but I still have a much longer way to go. Of all of my fears, it’s been my fear of closeness that’s hurt me the most, but I’ll continue to fight it, hopefully creating deep connections before taking my final breath.
“Every man dies, but not every man really lives.” -William Wallace