By Diane Cooke
My 85 year old mum was screamed at because she’d wandered a little too close to a woman in a shop. Who screams at old ladies…unless they’re terrified?
And that’s what we have become, scared for our lives. Covid-19 has turned us inside out and exposed our vulnerability, a weakness most of us can’t bear to think about, our destructibility.
As lockdown is lifted there has been a feeling of relief, a fulfilment of our desperate desire for normality. But who knows if that normal of before will ever return. Will we ever feel less vulnerable than we do right now?
It has often been said that the difference between humans and animals is our awareness that one day we will die. How
wonderful to be blissfully ignorant of that fact. If death didn’t exist in our minds until it happened, what a joyous, fearless existence we could all have.
In fact, humans have four existential fears – Groundlessness, Isolation, Loneliness and Death. This pandemic has presented us with all four in one devastating blow. So it’s no wonder that we’re all reeling with a form of post traumatic stress.
It is in our nature to live, to strive and to create meaning out of this life. We are born with an inherent instinct to survive, so to find out that we could die at any moment induces panic.
But I have another thought, and from personal experience I know this to be true. Until we accept our own demise we will never learn to live our lives without fear.
I was told that by a doctor shortly after being diagnosed with leukaemia, almost six years ago. She advised me to dwell on life and not death and I thought, “pah, easy for you to say,” and I spent a good while railing at the world and asking ”why me?”
The leukaemia I have is incurable, but very slow moving. Some, sadly, die sooner rather than later and others manage to escape. My haematologist can’t say what my future holds.
After diagnosis I woke up every morning gripped with fear, the thoughts, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die’ racing around
my head, like an annoying Kylie tune. At any moment I could feel the terror of a panic attack coming on. ‘I’m going
to die, I’m going to die’. I was fearing fear itself and that fear was turning me inside out. I couldn’t think straight.
So, I undertook a course of hypnotherapy at a cancer centre and learned how to harness those fears. And it was during
one of those deep relaxation sessions that it hit me straight between the eyes.
Yes, I’m going to die, we’re all going to die, me probably sooner than I’d like – but again that’s no guarantee as it’s an
unpredictable disease – so stop fighting it, stop being angry, stop feeling sorry for yourself, kill the negativity and get
on with it. Not dying, but living.
What a light bulb moment that was. Fear of death was stopping me living and there was something I could do about that. I could wake up every morning and throw that annoying Kylie tune out of my head and focus on something amazing – my kids, my life, my memories, my family, my loving relationships, laughter, humour, nature – just anything, but death.
Over time it’s worked its magic. During the Covid pandemic, I should have locked myself away as I was instructed, but I didn’t. I walked miles alone every day without a face mask because I no longer had that fear of death. I was living my life and I would rather feel every minute of that life than hide away in fear in my bedroom.
I don’t want to let life pass me by. I value it too much and that is a beautiful antidote to living in fear.
So in the aftermath of Covid-19, don’t dwell on risk and fear. Re-write the narrative into one of positivity, hope, beauty and all the wonderful things being a human entails. Life can be blown away in an instant, but better to learn how to live
before the chance has gone.