Case Study: Karissa’s Fear Of Death
It had been a good day, so I was totally caught off guard when I was overcome with death anxiety in the middle of the night. I wrestled with this anxiety all through the night.
I’m not prone to this type of anxiety, but I have experienced it once or twice over the past six months – only between the hours of 12 A.M. to 6 A.M. I have never felt or contemplated this fear or its related topics during the daytime.
The fear of death is not of my own, but of the death of my mother and two older sisters, specifically. These fearful thoughts are accompanied by anxieties about aging and panic about time passing too quickly.
On the most recent occasion, the anxiety was much more extreme than any I’ve ever experienced.
I spent much of the night trying to control my thoughts—to stop the thoughts by telling myself they were irrational, to do breathing exercises, to do energy work—but my anxiety was so extreme that none of this helped much.
So I switched my approach from trying to manage the symptoms to trying to understand what I was actually afraid of. When I peeled back the layers of my fear, I realized that I wasn’t actually afraid of the physical death of my family members, as much as I was afraid of change.
My perception of myself and my family is frozen in time. My family ages extremely well, and in my mind, none of us has aged at all in 20 years.
But during this recent anxiety episode, I kept thinking about the fact that one day I will no longer be able to maintain this point of view, and that one day my mother will be old, wrinkled, less mobile, and more dependent, and that my sisters will no longer feel eternally 35 years-old (the age I happen to be right now).
Interestingly enough, 22 years ago (when I was 13 years-old) our house was foreclosed on and we were homeless – an experience that was much more traumatizing than I’d realized. Since then, I have never had a stable place to live (neither has my mother or my sisters), and my life has been chaotic in terms of feeling physically secure.
So in lieu of physical security, I’ve held on to the idea that though my life is constantly changing in ways that seem out of my control, my family has remained the same, and in some way this has made me feel safe. But now that time is encroaching upon this mental security more and more, I now face the risk of losing the only thing that has made me feel secure—my mind’s ability to suspend and bend time so that I’d have at least one thing in my life that I wouldn’t lose.
So it’s like part of my mind has been stuck in my teenage perception, because that’s the last time I felt like things were somewhat okay.
I have dealt with a lot of loss in my life, almost constantly, it feels, and I am often in this state of grief, which is really just sadness—my core emotional wound.
Once I realized what I was really afraid of, I was able to deal with it in a much better way.
Practices and techniques are less effective if you aren’t applying them to the real issue. What was creating this fear of death were really feelings of uncertainty and insecurity.
So instead of trying to control my thoughts or push them away, I replaced my fearful thoughts with the truth—that only the present is real and that my past experiences don’t have to define my future.
I did an energy healing treatment on myself while repeating the statement, “you are safe.” I did breathing exercises, focused on exhaling all of my memories of loss. I placed my focus on what was immediately around me – the whir of the ceiling fan, the coldness on my skin, the freedom of existing in only that moment. And I fell peacefully to sleep after hours of resistance.
For days after this episode, and until I am finally free of this deep-seated fear, I continue to do the work of tackling the real culprit—recognizing that it not only shows up in the middle of the night, but during the day too, under many other guises.