I’ve mentioned to some people in the last few years that I don’t mind the thought of death as much as I used to. Given that I used to struggle with suicidal thoughts and intentions, this has worried my family a bit, but I am not suicidal. That’s not what I mean when I say I’m not as opposed to death as I could be. But let us start at the beginning.
When I was 13, I came very close to death. My spleen simply grew in the wrong shape, twisted and ruptured without even any physical trauma to set it off. That’s closer to death than a 13 year old can handle, and possibly also closer than most older people would handle well. I remember when my psychologist came to visit me, just to encourage me, I had a terrible fear that he would thrust his hands into my healing incision from the surgery and rip it apart, killing me. It was a graphic thought, and I didn’t know where it came from. I had no actual intellectual belief that he would ever do this, but the fear was very real. (It is worth mentioning that that psychologist was a very positive influence in my life and I appreciated and trusted him). Later, when I walked about outside, I had a fear that I would be shot by a sniper. I tried to stay inside as much as I could because I was afraid of being shot. Again, I cerebrally knew that this would never happen, but the fear was there. It was embarrassing with its disconnect with reality, but mostly it was terrifying.
I had found my religion at around that time, and when I told my friends who were also religious of my fear of death, they told me it made little sense, given that I would go to heaven as a believer (We were evangelicals, a section of Christianity that believes entrance into heaven is awarded solely for belief). This made logical sense to me at the time, (if death only brings pleasant things, why fear it?) but it did nothing to stay my fear.
A few years later, shortly after my 16th birthday, I was, for the first time, truly suicidal. I had always struggled with depression, but when I was fifteen it got worse, and now I had decided to die. Now, one might think that a suicidal person would not be afraid of death, for the obvious reason that they are seeking it. In my experience, that isn’t true. I was still terrified of death. Even as I walked down the stairs toward my intended weapon, I mourned my death as a horrible tragedy and did not look forward to it, despite the fact that I would have been the one effecting it.
Obviously, I lived. In the end, I chickened out, due to the pain. It wouldn’t be the last time that I lived solely because I didn’t like physical pain. I struggled greatly with fear of death throughout this. An important note about the nature of being suicidal is that, in my experience, it is true madness. I don’t like that word, but I always use it to describe being suicidal. There is nothing sane about those thoughts. At least not for me. Many see it as an escape of some sort, but I had never thought about it like that. I just seemed to get thoughts of death and want it for no concrete reason. All this time, I was terrified of it, largely because I had used to be an Atheist and had always had a hard time truly believing in the afterlife.
The first help I ever had with death was learning the skill called Radical Acceptance. It’s a Buddhist skill that has become rather popular in the mental health field in the States. Even though I am no Buddhist, I think they got this part right. The idea is to give up the struggle against reality. We all seem to will things that are untrue to be true. Radical Acceptance is to stop doing that. It doesn’t make pain disappear, but it makes it far less acute.
This helped to an extent, but Radical Acceptance is more of a way of tolerating horrible things than it is a solution. It actually goes far deeper than what I just stated, but I didn’t know that at the time and the deep route that I’ve taken it (also bringing it into Christianity) is worth its own post.
So now I was terribly afraid of death, but I could handle it by not fighting against the reality that I will eventually die. Then something amazing happened.
I started working a few years ago for my friend, Mike. He runs an amazing place called Recovery Academy here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mike taught me the skills I needed to succeed in the workplace and eventually I moved on to work for other places and advance my career. In the process I helped innumerable people recover and get their lives back after years and sometimes decades of suffering. A lot of young people want to change the whole world. Working in mental health taught me that it is more important to change individual people’s worlds. I realized that that was in large part what Jesus Himself did. Jesus did change the world as a whole, but He also radically transformed many individual lives so that those individuals could work together and form something great. In my work, I was united with Christ.
I then found something rather odd. I didn’t mind the idea of death. I don’t want to die or anything. Not at all. I’m having a blast here on earth doing what I do. But I’m less attached to it. I don’t fully understand it, but I think we just need to have done something that mattered before we’re ready to go. I’ve done something that really mattered. Now, I’m pretty young still. I probably have a lot of time to do more, but it’s OK, if I don’t. I have something to show for my time.
In a way, it’s almost odd that I’m still alive. My time working as a Peer Support came to an end and in a lot of ways, I have a fresh start. It’s like I have a second life to go play with. I think in this one, I’ll work with computers. I’m currently learning how to fix all the hardware issues and I’d also like to learn how to program them. I’m actually typing this while waiting for Visual Studio to install and I’m going to learn what I can about C#.
What makes all this thought about life and death even more interesting is that I’m no longer an evangelical. I think there’s more to being saved than just acknowledging a truth and moving on. According to my new beliefs, I cannot be 100% sure that death will lead to wonderful things for me. As always, however, my view of the afterlife doesn’t really affect how I feel about death.
So what’s the point of this long story? I suppose it helps to know that when I say I don’t fear death, I really think that means the opposite of being suicidal. But for others, I encourage you to do something with your life. It doesn’t have to be something that other people understand or value. Just something that matters. You’ll know when you’ve done it. And maybe, like me, you won’t be afraid anymore.