Nothing Special, Really

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go Crazy? Don't Mind If I Do!

This is Part 2; Part 1 is here.


Several years ago, when I was living in Arizona, I stopped in a Borders bookstore while I was waiting to meet up with some friends at a sushi bar near the ASU campus. At the time, I was still in pursuit of a degree in Philosophy, so being the nerd that I was am, I hung out in that section of the store to pass some time. While there, I stumbled on a book that intrigued me: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. My fascination & problems with dwelling on death were something I was going through back then as well, and I thought maybe this book would help me understand why I was so caught up in the subject. I never made it more than a couple of chapters in the book because reading it conjured up those same thoughts that would freak me out & lead me to purchase the book in the first place.

Back in January, around the same time I was having the panic attacks, I got caught up playing the Wikipedia game and eventually stumbled across the entry for Ernest Becker, which was a really bad idea, kind of on par with going to WebMD to find out why you have a strange cough. Anyways, you can click above for his entry if you're interested. Furthermore, Wikipedia summarizes his book with this line:

"The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of the fact that we are going to die, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism."

Although I've never made it through the whole book, what I have read has been very interesting. I'm not saying whether or not I believe this or not, but it's a fascinating idea nonetheless. Anyways, from that, I continued playing my Wikipedia-degrees-of-separation game, bouncing from link to link, stumbling on other interesting entries such as Terror Management Theory, Existential Psychology, and so on. This probably wasn't the best idea either, considering my mental state, but I couldn't help it. In fact, I was reading these articles the same day that I had my panic attack in the middle of class, so you can probably make the connection.

So the day after attack in class, I tried to shake off what had happened but I couldn't. No matter what I could be doing, my mind kept interrupting me with these interjections of bleakness. At work, in the shower, eating lunch, whatever the case may be, I'd think "what's the point of this" about anything I was doing. The next night, I was trying to watch Broken Flowers with Wac, but couldn't help to think about how insignificant things like movies, our apartment, even love & relationships had become. It was impossible for me to fixate on anything beyond the fact that everything in my life & my life itself was ultimately meaningless. Literally, it felt like I was going crazy. I finally broke down into tears that night and tried my best to explain to Wac what was going on in my mind. Even as I was speaking it, I was trying to laugh at how silly it sounded, but at the same time, I was seriously concerned. I felt myself making some revelations about my life that were downright terrifying. What began as just another panic attack, one like the many I've had over the past several years, had become a slippery slope into an existentialist dilemma that, at the time, felt like it was consuming me.

That emotional release helped me a bit, and I woke up the next morning feeling a little bit better but still pretty unsettled about what I had been through over the past couple of days. What I did know was that I didn't want to keep living my life in the manner that I had the past couple of weeks. I couldn't live life in fear of my own death, nor could I live life under the pretense that it was meaningless because I will die. I lived the past several years of my life with the idea that my death is the end of the line, and I was finally coming to terms with what that belief meant. In terms of Becker's book, I had become aware of my own defense mechanism against death, and over the past couple of weeks, it was like my mind was trying to tear it all down. I had to find someway to build it all back up or continue the path that my mind was leading me down.

Part 3 tomorrow....


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