When I was in my teens I had a recurring dream. In it I was lying in a casket, recently deceased. My family and friends were gathered around, crying and mourning. You might think this was a nightmare, or at the very least, a very sad dream. But no, it was actually quite peaceful. I finally felt relieved of all expectations and pressure.
It is sort of an odd thing living with chronic anxiety. It is really as though living is the thing you fear most, not dying.
However, a watershed experience in my life helped change my attitude about living.
When I became severely depressed a couple of years into retirement, I needed to be hospitalized. I was having suicidal thoughts, so in desperation I voluntarily committed myself to the psychiatric ward of our local hospital. It was a difficult and humbling experience to say the least. They take the shoelaces out of your shoes so you can’t hang yourself. They watch you shave so you don’t decide to cut yourself. You are on 24 hour lockdown, and your moves are very closely monitored. And the other patients and their unusual and erratic behaviors are extremely unsettling.
The psych ward is a pretty crazy place—no pun intended.
You might conclude that this experience was horrible, and one I am ashamed of and terribly regret. Instead, it was actually a very freeing experience, at least in retrospect. Having fallen so far, and some would say having hit rock bottom, was the best thing that could have happened to me.
When you have severe anxiety, you are always fearing the worst. It is these unspecified fears that are so debilitating. You don’t really know what these bad things are, or could be, but you fear them nonetheless. Having experienced what would be considered the worst of my fears, being institutionalized, and having handled it, I no longer fear much of anything. The boogey man, if you will, presented himself, and he wasn’t so scary after all.
This realization gave me a new lease on life. I am no longer afraid of living. What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing. Now I just do what I think is right and what I like, and let the chips fall where they may.
Living like there’s no worst case scenario, or at least not one that you fear—now that’s real living.