Die. That is how I would finish my sentence. Most of my obsessive thoughts have to do with avoiding or averting a perceived threat to my life. I have an irrational fear that the choices that I make will inadvertently lead to my death. Therefore I must be vigilant and careful with my choices and surroundings.
I have searched my memory in an attempt to understand how my thinking got to where it is now. Most kids are fearless, and have little understanding of death, and I was like most kids. Yes, I was always a cautious child, a typical first born, but I wasn’t worried about dying. But then in elementary school, my classmate and his family were in a car accident and his mother and sister were killed. They were just on a family drive to their grandparents and the wind blew the car into a guardrail. That is when I discovered death as a real and scary thing that didn’t just happen to old people.
I also remember an incident a few years later that probably cemented the way that my young brain interpreted those deaths. I was swimming on a small lake with two friends, and I got stuck under water for what was probably about thirty seconds, but felt like minutes. I panicked. I thought I was going to drown because I hadn’t been careful. A friend helped me, get out, but I was left with an overwhelming fear that one moment of impetuousness had almost killed me. At least that is how my young mind saw it. It wasn’t an accident, it was my fault.
From then on I found myself drawn to stories about people surviving unimaginable tragedies, both in my reading and in media. I think I believed that somehow I could learn how to either avoid, or at least develop a strategy for dealing with the inevitable disaster that I was sure was hurtling toward me like a freight train. I couldn’t count on my continued vigilance. The other shoe was going to drop. Sometime.
I didn’t discover a plan or a strategy. Instead, I only fed my worrying, fretting, monkey mind. There were so many possibilities, so many choices to be made all day, every day. Should I choose for others or for me? For long-term or short-term? To get through or go forward? And on and on and on and on it went, spiraling all the way down. The Germans even have a word for this : Zerrissenheit.
Anxiety writer Sarah Wilson, in explaining the philosopher Kierkergaard’s take on choice and anxiety writes: “…even the smallest decisions open us up to the realization the the possibilities are limitless. When we see this limitlessness, we must also face, well, that it all ends soon enough in death.”
What I crave is a still point, a space away from the choices that define me. A space between the chaos and yet among it that is blissful and oh so rewarding. I seek a path for my days that does not spiral, but instead ripples. The stress and anxiety will always be there, but I seek a way to make those battles matter, to feel like they move me forward in my understanding of myself, and ultimately inform better and better choices. And my hope is that along with those better choices comes less anxiety about making choices.
Until then I sit here in a spiral of anxiety, fretting and wondering if one of the choices that I made has finally made that other shoe drop.