If I Die Before You Wake

Photo Credit: Me- the tree referenced in this story that I was laying underneath in my backyard

I was laying on the grass in my backyard looking up through the trees. Colorful, thick branches shook like puppets in the wind and patches of grass were warmed by the glow of sunlight that managed to seep through the cracks. I watched a red leaf as it danced its way down, landing within arms reach of me.

I rolled on my side and picked it up. It felt hardy beneath my fingertips, still moist and sturdy. It wasn’t quite time for it to fall — had it not been for the wind.

I laid there thinking about all the failures I’ve had in my life though somehow in the future they seemed to guide me. It’s a miraculous gift from the universe when something that once had you feeling so poorly about yourself now brings you hope.

I thought about the mistakes I’ve made and the heartbreaks I’ve survived, each charring me with pain, each a reminder not to choose that path again.

I’ve habitually done my best to do what I believed was the right thing. It doesn’t always work out in our favor though, does it?

I’ve continually been intrigued by the idea that everything changes. Even if I were to sit in the same spot and refuse to change everything around me would still change. It all changes, for better or for worse, ready or not.

I woke this morning at 3:00 AM gasping for air. I was relieved I was alive but scared I was going to die. I sat up and looked at my husband sleeping next to me. My heart sunk.

I got up, walked the has and peeked through my son’s bedroom doorway. It was dark but I could hear his sleeping sounds. My eyes welled with tears.

I sat down in the spot where I stood. Thoughts of what my world would be like without me in it down-spiraled. I was catastrophizing. This specific and intrusive thought, it’s normal for me to fear I will die. Though what feels normal for me isn’t necessarily normal at all.

That night, I couldn’t shake the fear of death.

The sun will still rise and life will go on. Eventually I will be a lost thought. A mere memory someone rehashes at a holiday dinner.

It hurts when I think about this.

There’s so many different and unique ideas of the after life. How could anyone know? We can’t truly know until we are there. What will happen to my family? I have questions that have no answers. Is it the same as when you go to sleep? The darkness and the warmth and the way my body twitches when I drift.

Maybe it’s the unknown that I’m frightened of?

When I experience this phobia I have many curiosities. Will you remember me? Will you be proud of me? Will you always love me? Will I be replaced by another?

There has been no amount of therapy or type of medication that’s rid me of this fear. The medication keeps me stable. The therapy helps me process. Even the effects of Klonopin are fleeting.

My therapist once asked me what I thought would happen when I die.

I’ll be dead, I said.

At one point during my treatment I was consistently having panic attacks. He asked me, why do you try to stop yourself from panicking? What harm is there in allowing yourself the space to panic and then moving on?

This made sense to me. After that day I stopped panicking about panicking and the panic attacks eventually stopped.

But still, dying is dead, and I’m scared.

I think about all the things I haven’t done that I’m desperate to do but the depression oftentimes is crippling and instead I do nothing. I hide behind these words and read obsessively so in turn I can live vicariously through the words of others.

I want to believe that we all experience a sense of gratitude, that we take nothing for granted, we love passionately and in some way leave a footprint that will help others grow.

More than anything I want to believe I’m not the same as the red leaf. I won’t dance before my time. I am resilient to the wind.

The thing about intrusive thoughts is that they appear out of nowhere, catching you off guard and preying on your weaknesses. Although I have an awareness of this, I still can’t help but to submit to its power.

Because dying is dead, and I’m scared.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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