I woke up this morning at 4 am. It was pitch black in the room, and I was alone with my thoughts. I’d had a bad nightmare, woke up breathing hard and scared, although I don’t remember what the dream was. Just this clinging sense that something was wrong. I was also roasting and sweating, feeling sick from getting too hot when I sleep. I was rolling over, trying to find a cooler spot on the bed when I noticed it. My boyfriend was ice cold. Which was odd, as he normally is radiating warmth like a heater. Especially odd when I was roasting and I’m normally the cold one. My senses sharpened and I noticed I couldn’t hear him breathing. I waited and waited. I’m used to him breathing shallowly, where I can’t hear it. But it’s usually only for a breath or two and then he breathes deeper again. But this was more than a breath or two. I put my arm on his chest, and I couldn’t feel it rise. I waited and waited and still nothing. Sirens started screaming in my head and I started to hyperventilate. I shook him a little, and with a sense of relief I heard him breathe and say “What?”
And immediately felt ashamed that I had woken him up because I know how hard it is for him to go back to sleep once he wakes up.
I lay in bed for another hour before I finally succumbed to the fact that I wasn’t falling asleep again. Fortunately, he did go back to sleep and I just lay there listening to him breathe. And in the darkness, my brain started thinking.
The dark of night is when some of my best thinking occurs. There’s no distractions to detract from the process. Some of my best stories have come from dreams. Deep inner thoughts that seem so murky and hazy during the day somehow come into sharp focus in the middle of the night. It just depends on what my mind wants to think about. And this morning apparently it wanted to talk about death.
Living with anxiety and depression, thinking about Death is nothing new. I’m sure it’s not for anybody. But when you live with these diseases, it’s on your brain a lot, because your brain lives in a pretty constant state of darkness and negativity and pessimism. And death as a concept is about as dark and negative as you can get. Especially when you wonder things like ‘if I died, would anyone miss me?’ ‘If I just wasn’t here, would anyone care?’. Or anxiety whispering ‘what’s that pain, is it a tumor, do you have cancer?’ ‘why does your chest hurt, are you having a heart attack?’. Or when I would wake up in a panic attack, sweating and breathing hard and shaking and wondering if I needed to go to the emergency room. If I was dying.
I used to fear Death, because I wasn’t really living. I never really understood why, until I started doing trials and riding horses five years ago. Because before that I was so afraid of Death and consequences that I was paralyzed to do anything. So afraid that I wasn’t living life. It was only after I started actually grasping life and doing things that most people would consider dangerous, that I really started to understand. I still think back to last November, when I fell off the horse and hit my back. For a few moments, I was scared out of my mind. Wondering what in the hell I was doing, risking my life trying to jump on a horse. Then, once I calmed down and the adrenalin of the moment wore off, I brushed myself off and got back up on the horse. And kept riding. Because I loved the challenge and the exhilaration and the feeling of life that it gave me.
Death really doesn’t scare me. My brain is either going to cease functioning, where in I’m not going to perceive the fact that I’m dead, or have the ability to regret that I am. Or I’m going to go to a better place, rejoining the energy of this land. Whether you want to call it heaven or Nirvana or whatever your religion of choice calls it.
What scares me now is still living, without the people that I love. Like my boyfriend. He’s a part of me I never knew was missing. He makes me laugh and smile and fills me with a euphoria that goes beyond any drug. I know I was fine without him, and if something did happen I would be okay living on. But I know it would be like living without a part of myself.
Which is what I think really kept me up this morning. The thought that Death, for all of us, is inevitable. That whole “Death and taxes” saying. It is coming. It is there. Stalking us like a cat in the shadows, waiting with hooded eyes to pounce upon us when we least expect it. The three Fates of Greek mythology, measuring out our string, poised with the shears to cut it off, when we don’t know. Yet we live our lives trying to ignore it. Trying to pretend that it won’t happen. Shocked when we find out the monster has come for us, or someone we care about.
I used to live in fear of Death. Fear of the knowledge that it was stalking me. Fear that it was coming at any moment. It was this huge monster, lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch me up. It filled me with so much fear, I spent so much time trying to run from it, that I actually forgot to live.
Life is not without risk, and I think because we live so long now, we have forgotten that. I read a lot of history, and we live longer now than man has ever lived before. A ‘long life’ in ancient times was thirty, maybe forty if you were pushing it. So people had to live fast. Live large. Live for the moment. Because Death was always closer than you wanted it to be.
We are so afraid to take risks now, because we live so long. “You have so much life ahead of you”. Yes, we do. But I spent the first thirty years of my life afraid to live because I was so afraid of Death. Afraid of the consequences. Afraid that I would do something to hurt myself or injure myself so badly that I wouldn’t live to a ‘ripe old age’.
Not that I’m advocating going out and doing stupid stunts and being reckless. Not at all. I do dangerous things, but I always wear my gear and I know my limits. But I feel like I’ve lived more in the last five years than I’ve lived in the first thirty. I’ve ridden motorcycles. I’ve crashed. I have scars. I ride horses over jumps, and not slowly either. I’ve explored mountains and rivers and caves. I seek out new adventures, new places. I’m not afraid anymore of seizing life. Of seeing what is out there. In trying new things. Meeting new people. In falling down and making mistakes and making bad decisions, but in getting up and walking forward and learning.
My boyfriend amazes me, and has taught me so much about life. He used to road race on motorcycles, long before I met him. He’s crashed at high speed and broken multiple bones in his body. He got in a bad crash in a car where he was paralyzed from the neck down and the doctor’s said he wouldn’t walk again, but here he is, walking. He couldn’t walk for two years after falling off a cliff on his trials bike and breaking his leg. Yet he still rides. Some of you might think he’s crazy. But to me he’s amazing. Because he lives every day to the fullest he can. He doesn’t live in fear. He gets up and tries even though his body hurts and he’s used it up. It’s one of the things that drew us together, because we both have the same life quote.
“Life is not meant to be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving in a well-preserved body, but of sliding in sideways in a cloud of smoke, bruised and bloody, screaming “Wow, what a ride!’.” – Hunter S. Thompson
I finally realized this morning that Death is not something to fear. It is scary for me still, mostly just scared that it will take the people that I care about. But I can’t let that stop me from opening my heart to people. To loving them. To going out and living a life and making memories with them that I will keep with me forever. If you are going to live, you are going to have to open yourself up to being hurt. And that has been the hardest lesson I have ever learned. But it’s the best one I can ever share.
In today’s world we try to shelter everyone from pain and hurt. We act like skinning a knee or bruising yourself is the worst thing in the world. Well, I wouldn’t trade one of my scars or bruises or pains for all of the safety in the world. Not anymore. I wear every one of them with pride. Because I can tell you how I got them. Of the fun I had doing it and the people I met and the experiences I got to have. Which brings me to my second favorite quote.
“Scars are just tattoos that tell better stories.”
Fall down. Try things. Get a scrape or two. Live!
I can tell you this because I was afraid of life. Afraid of Death. Afraid to the point that I barely left my house. And I was miserable.
Death is inevitable. And even though it still stalks my brain in the middle of the night now, trying to torment me, I’m not afraid anymore. It does not paralyze me. I may not like it, but I’m not afraid. Because I live now, and I’m happy. I cherish every day. I’m thankful for the loving people that I have in my life. And I’m going to keep trying new things, no matter if people think I’m too old or too frail or too whatever to do it. I was thirty before I even touched my first motorcycle. I was 27 before I started really riding horses all the time. I’ve been kicked and bit and fallen down hills and onto trees and rocks and yes, even been to the emergency room.
But I love all the stories I can now tell.
Don’t let Death stop you from doing something. Don’t let people stop you from trying something new. Don’t let the fear of falling and hurting yourself keep you from actually living. Because a life not lived really isn’t a life worth living.