I was always a very scared child. I don’t know where my paranoia stemmed from, but I was terrified of every possibility. My father had to check each cupboard before I went to sleep, and the door had to remain open just a crack so that the light of the corridor could inch in. He’d have to promise to check on me at least twice before I’d even consider trying to sleep. I feared strangers, loud noises, scenes on TV and more.
I got older, and I learned how to mask the fear, but it was still always there. I was scared of choosing the wrong path in life, of being rejected in love, of putting myself out there for nothing. I was terrified of not fitting in and used all my efforts to mimic people around me. I was so scared of every possibility, except the one that happened when I was twenty-one.
My father died.
It came after a sudden bout of illness that was marked by repeated cycles of false hope, until suddenly it was actually the end. He was gone, and I had never even thought to prepare for this moment.
The worst thing I had never even imagined had happened… and now what?
At their core, many of our fears revolve around death. When we fear heights, we really fear falling. When we fear aeroplanes, we really fear crashing. I was so scared of the dark because of who could be lurking there to kill me.
You would expect that experiencing death in your vicinity would make you more fearful of it, as you know better than others how real it is. But I’m actually less scared of dying, as it’s no longer this mysterious, faraway thing. It will happen, and I now recognise how pointless it is to outrun it. It could happen anywhere, it could already be happening as your body betrays you, so why fear the inevitable? Instead, death stopped being the boogeyman in my closet, and instead became a simple truth.
I stopped fearing death, and I began to fear life in its place. Or rather, the absence of it. I feared never reaching my potential, never going after my dreams, never leaving an imprint on the world. I didn’t want to spend my life trying to change myself, to never feel comfortable alone, to be limiting how much of myself I show the world. I know death is coming, sooner or later, and I fear not using the time I have until then.
I’m not scared of dying, I’m scared of missing the chance to live.
“I would often say to myself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ I said it so many times until I no longer needed to. Because the worst thing that could happen to me already had - my mum had died - and so that left me with a calculated sense of fearlessness. It gave me a yardstick I would use to make decisions. A lot of the time when you are making a decision you know what the answer is, you just need the courage to follow through on what you already know to be right. My mum gave me that courage, in both her life and her death.” - Conversations on Love, Natasha Lunn
The lessons given to us by our parents don’t end with their death, they continue after. Losing my father taught me that I could take far more than I ever expected. It taught me that my sisters are the most important people in my life. It taught me how precious life is, and that it is a gift that could be snatched back at any moment. I learned that none of us is exempt from death, whether that’s ourselves or the people we love. This is something we believe we know, but we don’t really grasp it until we’re forced to. Through losing my father, he gave me a handful of final lessons.
He was the bravest person I know, and through losing him, I had to adopt a fraction of that courage. I had to stand up in a world that no longer made any sense - for how could everyone continue as normal when this monumental person in my life was gone? How could we all pretend to be fine knowing people can be taken from us at any moment?
It made everything seem so much less important and yet more so. I no longer cared for minute squabbles and keeping up appearances, yet my friends became a core part of who I am. I was too tired to pretend to be anything but who I am, and yet stubbornly resolved to put myself out there.
I had experienced the worst parts of life, and so I now saw the beauty in the small things, as well as how meaningless they could be. But it’s that meaningless nature that makes life so beautiful, as we literally stop to smell the roses. We know that we could die in an hour, a day, a week, a year. Or rather, we don’t know when. And yet, we stop to smell flowers and to enjoy that scent and nothing else, even for a moment.
With grief, the worst has already happened, and yet you remain. You recognise how little fear can do to change things, so instead, you choose to keep moving, as that’s all we can do.
Don’t fear the end, fear the middle, as that’s the part you still have influence over. Live to the fullest extent, whatever that means for you, as you got this chance when others didn’t.
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More on losing someone? Check out how grief if a thief of future joy, and why we grieve the future rather than the past.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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