For most of my life I have suffered from crippling fear; fear of death, fear of illness (hypochondriasis), panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder etc… I have always had an active anxiety level to say the least. My only saving grace was that for the most part these fears were totally biased and irrational. In short, I had nothing to fear; I was healthy, in no immediate danger etc… However, that being said, like any human eventually the reality of death set in.
I became really sick about a year ago. After searching for years for a diagnosis, I was eventually told I had a rare genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. (I have talked about this before, so I won’t go into great detail now.) Due to increasing chronic pain I take a few narcotic pain-killers; medicines which help a tremendous deal, and which I wouldn’t stop for anything – not even threat of death. I take these medicines as prescribed (actually far less than what I am prescribed), and have never abused them. This summer, though, I developed Central Sleep Apnea. During the first half an hour-hour of sleep I would constantly wake gasping for breath. And when I awoke in the morning I never felt rested, or as though I got too little sleep – a remedy for chronic pain in and of itself.
My first intuition was that this new symptom was sleep apnea, so I asked my doctor to refer me for an over-night sleep study. In the morning, after my study, the technician said ‘you stop breathing’ – so my fears were real. For the next month until I saw the sleep specialist to go-over my results I held firmly to the belief that my apnea’s were few-and-far-between; that I had a very mild case. After a while I even started to believe that I didn’t have sleep apnea at all, hoping that the tech’s were wrong.
The day was finally here; I was to finally, once and for all, find out what was really going on. After a spirometry, the tech quicly reviewed the lab. She told me that I stop breathing; that I have central sleep apnea. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach; I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. It was hands-down one of the worst moments of my life. I was in a stupor after that; nodding and just walking where I was told to walk. The last doctor I saw was very kind and thoughtful; I think he could tell I wasn’t handling the news well. He reassured me that I have nothing to worry about, and that it’s very common for long-term opiod users to develop Central sleep apnea; he told me my oxygen saturation never drops below 92% and basically that other than my subjective symptoms, there’s nothing to worry about – that this is the usual course this type of Sleep Apnea takes.
As we were about to leave and he was going to write me a prescription for a CPAP study, I asked him if I could ask a ‘stupid question’. In keeping with his collected personality, he said ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’. I asked him if I was going to die in my sleep. Silence. He told me ‘of course not. You are not going to die in your sleep’. I actually started tearing up. It took everything in me to restrain the water works and keep my composure.
Even though both of my doctors reassured me that I wasn’t going to die, and that my life-expectancy was normal, I couldn’t shake the fear. I just knew, deep inside me, that I was going to die. That once my head hit that pillow, I was a goner.
This has been the last four months; crippling fear. All day, every day. I have thought about death in every single capacity, and analyzed it in every single imaginable way. I tried to reconcile my religious convictions; I tried to think of a way to save money for mind-uploading and maybe cryogenic freezing. I tried everything, basically.
Eventually though, the fear subsided. I have effectively ‘shed’ that anxious skin. I no longer fear things with such an intensity; it’s as though my whole software system for dealing with fear-causing-stimuli has been replaced with a tougher, more bad-ass program.
I don’t fear death; I don’t even really think about it. When a new symptom crops up, I’m more angry at it than anything; more frustrated at the inconvenience. I have this new strength and confidence about me; like I can overcome anything.
So, ‘how does one over-come death’. Well, you know the saying ‘stare death in the face’. I don’t necessarily recommend doing that… I say live with death; make death your roommate. When you’re doing the dishes, death should be there drying them off. When you’re eating, Death should annoyingly nag in your ear.
Me and death signed a forty year mortgage. I’m sure as hell he’ll pay up. And I’m oddly okay with that.