alexandtheweb / blog

The Death Anxiety Diet

The best you can hope for when whacked in the face with existential dread (read: death anxiety) is a level of comfort, of equilibrium. And to that end I’m very grateful that, despite unceasing, obsessive thoughts about the inevitable, I’ve actually not had any more panic attacks. I’ve also been crying significantly less, though still every day. Bizarre, but there it is.

The verdict, then: I’ve been a lot more operational since my last post, if not exactly a huge bundle of fun to be around. I feel wobbly, as if my tether to the earth has been slightly loosened. At the moment I can’t see how it doesn’t keep getting looser and looser from now on.

I’m very grateful to those that have listened, met up with me, etc. I seem to crave human companionship more than I ever have.

But being unable to stop thinking about the one undeniable fact of life is not fun. We’ve just come back from a brief holiday in the south of France, where I mostly managed to hold myself together. I even had small pockets of time where I enjoyed myself. But mostly things went something like this:

I’d look about the ancient churches and castles of Provence whilst my brain screamed: “where the hell are all the people who were here before?”. Museums, once a favourite holiday past time, were almost unbearable.

I’d look about the bucolic beauty of the rolling hills whilst out on a walk or cycle ride and shudder at the absurdity of never seeing this, any of this, again.

I’d think about my grandmother, now two years gone.

We live in an exceptionally cruel age. On one hand, materialism has shrugged away the comforts of religion and told us to accept the end as the end. Our minds are mere matter, we’re told. NDEs and sensed presence phenomena are sad hallucinations. On the other hand, science continues to dangle before us the carrot of ever-lengthening life. Human trials for senolytic drugs are under way. Lab-grown organs are coming soon. Russian billionaires tell us they can upload us into the cloud by 2045. It’s all oh so close – but alas, the carrot is just out of reach. Here’s another celebrity death. Here’s another relative or friend or pet gone. It feels to me like the brutal age between a time when death was accepted and inevitable and holy and an age when cell senescence really is nipped in the bud and we all bumble along forever. No wonder every other person I know has panic attacks.

But it’s not all bad. A few things have helped to make sure I don’t crack. Here they are, in no particular order:

- Remembering that my view on death is not other people’s attitude. Others may be a lot more accepting of what’s to come; more philosophical;

- Call it denial, but I’m 37 and I can still assure myself that in some years’ time, my own attitude to these things will change. Or that science will progress enough to grant us a few more decades or some mercy drugs that will cause us not to care about our demise;

- No laughing but: reading about quantum physics has been incredibly useful. Realising that we may not actually yet understand how the universe or consciousness works is, to me, a huge comfort. The hope of knowing more before my time is up keeps me going.

In more practical terms:

- Exercise. Christ, everything they tell you about exercise is true. Go for a 30 minute walk / run and you’re good as new, if only for a little while;

- Just talking to people. Friends, a therapist, anyone. About anything;

- Shedloads of sleep;

- Exceptionally healthy eating. I swear, I’m going to write a nutrition plan called the Death Anxiety Diet. I’m subsisting on oatmeal, veggies, lentils and oily fish.

Anyway, that’s where things stand. I still feel an incredible amount of anger at the fact that I’ve been handed this… thing in the happiest period of my life. Health, potential, nice job, new home, all put in check by a smug, smirking border guard. You can keep going, he says. But past this barrier there’s another country.

I don’t know what happens past this post.