Looking (My Fear Of) Death In The Face – Pt. 2

“Because I’ve felt since I was about eleven that I’m supposed to be different…I can feel that so strongly. Even when I most doubted myself, what never changed was that I knew that I was different. And I think, death-it, it means that I’m not as important as I think I am…Dying means that my raw ambition, and all of my dreams before they even come close to beginning, aren’t enough to keep me alive…”

(Click here for Part 1)

I stared down at the glass in my hands and turned it. “I’ve tried fixing myself on my own. I know getting past this is a process, and this fear is something I can’t handle by myself.” I felt myself choking up, and cleared my throat, “I’ve been trying ever since this started.”

She nodded, her eyes looking to the floor a moment in thought. “What have you tried to do to fix yourself?”

“Prayed.” I swallowed. “I’ve used a homeopathic calming spray.” I nodded to my purse. “Sometimes, most nights really, when it isn’t so bad I can just distract myself until I fall asleep, just not think about it. But then-” Clear my throat. “Some nights are worse than others. I distract myself until I’m tired enough to sleep.”

“This fear is at night before you sleep?”

“Yes.” I took another sip, “But it’s always with me, the fear. I’ve developed-” I fought of another lump, “A fear of dying. And now every night it hits me. And, and-” That did it. I gripped the glass with one hand and the bridge of my nose with another. My hand started shaking. I shook from gasps and sobs that I didn’t humor by opening my mouth.

“It’s alright.” Olga said soothingly, “Cry. Let yourself cry.”

I shook my head and fought the sobs off by digging my nails into my palm and focusing on what I was saying. Dangit, I had been holding it together since my last attack, why break down now?

“I’ve developed a fear of dying.” I said with as much dignity as I could muster.

Olga looked to my mom and back to me before she continued.

“You study psychology.” She said. I sat upright and leveled my chin defensively, I knew what was coming. “Some people who study these things, they can read about them and see themselves in the books. How did you decide on what you have?”

“How I diagnosed myself?” I clarified.


I looked over to my mother with a fleeting emotion of betrayal before I spoke. “I had not read about anxiety disorders when I had my attack. When I had my first panic attack, I didn’t even know what it was, my mother was the first to suggest it. When it happened, I was so sure– I was convinced I was going to die, I was sure of it. Only when she suggested a panic attack did I know to look in the area of anxiety. I grabbed my DSM and found the anxiety disorders. My symptoms matched perfectly.” I looked Olga pointedly in the eye so I was clear, “I’ve heard of the ‘psychology student’s syndrome’, in which a psychology student will see themselves in every disorder and so diagnose themselves as such. I’ve done what I can to avoid this and I believe I have. I don’t match the criteria to a T, I’ve tried what I can to be objective in my diagnosis, that has always been a goal. I’ve diagnosed myself with mild specific agoraphobia because of my difficulties entering a church sanctuary, but I’ve never decided that I match enough criteria for an actual anxiety disorder, I just know enough to know I’m looking in the right place.” I took a deep breath and looked at her face. She looked surprisingly understanding, but, I hoped, not patronizing.

“And why do you think you have this fear?” She suddenly asked.

I didn’t expect my own response.

“Because…Because I’ve felt since I was about eleven that I’m supposed to be different. I can feel that I am going to fundamentally change psychology. I can feel that so strongly. Even when I most doubted myself, what never changed was that I knew that I was different. And I think, death-it, it means that I’m not as important as I think I am. That I’m just a pawn, I’m not a key player.” My make-up was ruined from tears, but I was coherent. “Dying means that my raw ambition, and all of my dreams before they even come close to beginning, aren’t enough to keep me alive. That my will and my goals and this inherent feeling that I’m someone who is going to change things doesn’t matter.”

I breathed in, and out. And told myself I was breathing in and out. I stared at Olga in a moment of shock. I had just realized in that moment where my fear of dying is rooted in. My prideful entitlement and fear of not having the universe on a string.

“I believe everyone has a telos,” I continued, “A purpose in life. And I feel like this purpose that I feel that I have means nothing because of death. That maybe my purpose is not what I’ve felt in my heart what it is. That in the end it makes no difference. It won’t keep me alive.”

The world can go on if Watson dies, but Sherlock? Maybe I’m not Sherlock after all, not even Watson, or Watson’s brother or brother’s son’s son. Maybe I’m so far off the periphery of the story that you’ll never even hear about me at all. And death once and for all would rip away the success of- no, I don’t care about the success as much as I do the pursuit. Death once and for all would rip away the possibility of the pursuit of my dreams and goals and ambitions. Maybe I’m not important enough, vital enough to the story to not be backspaced from the grand scheme of things.

How could I not have seen this sooner?

“You said you always feel this anxiety?” She asked.

Mom suddenly chimed in, “I had no idea that it was every night. I knew you had your bad days, but…” I didn’t look up at her. I tried clearing the lump in my throat and, for the most part, remained coherent. But my voice was shaking. I feared this would make it even more difficult for Olga to understand me. I wanted to be clear, because after all this time I was spilling everything out into the open.

“She doesn’t know what to do, so I don’t tell her. She doesn’t take me seriously when I tell her. So,” I had started gasping again, “I handle it on my own. But when it gets bad and I br-break down, she listens so I only-” I paused again to breathe and get a grip, “I only come to her when I break down. She only listens then. That’s why sh-she doesn’t know.” I had started taking small gasps involuntarily.

At this point Olga had leaned back with a contemplative look on her face. She leaned forward again and spoke in a tone that suggested sympathy with an odd mixture of admiration.

“I cannot help you.” She said.

I blinked, speechless.

“I cannot help you,” She repeated, “I cannot heal you. Only you can heal yourself. What you’re going through is a blessing, because once you help yourself, you, can help others like you.” She pointed to herself, “I don’t know what you’re going through. I can read a thousand books and will never be able to understand your pain and what it is like.” She turned the manicured nail to me, “But you do. And I don’t know what with heal you, only you will figure out what will heal, but I cannot do that.”

A confused part of me rejected following her logic, but I listened still.

“To heal yourself, you need what I call a key.” She used her right hand to motion turning a key in a lock, “We might have to try two keys, maybe ten. This process might take a few months, maybe a few years. But only you can find your key. Sometimes we will try one and have to say ‘No, it no work’ and try another and another until we find the right one.”

She paused, watching my face for several moments. I realized she must be waiting for a cue and nodded. She continued.

“For first key, I want you to get a notebook, and keep it by your bed.” She said, “This notebook will become most important book you will ever have. And every time you feel this fear and anxiety, I want you to get notebook and, not using it as journal, but to write a novel about yourself. I want you to step outside of yourself and write about yourself as you watch while you feel these things. This will make you objective. Because you cannot be objective about yourself, no one can. But stepping outside of yourself will help you be objective, and see yourself in a new light.” She leaned back in her seat, watching me still, she ended her monologue in a tone of finality. “This will be your first key.”