I used to think about dying a lot. I could say, “more than most people,” but I have no idea how often most people think about dying. “How often do you think about dying?” is not typically one of my go-to “get to know you” questions. I did ask it once at a speed dating event. Just kidding. It’s pretty much a given that the only thing people are thinking about at speed dating events is, “How on earth did I get to this place in my life?”
But, I digress.
One of the results of always thinking out dying – about me dying and my friends dying and my family dying – and working myself into a giant, weepy, anxious, insomnia-inducing mess – was that I was constantly telling myself that I “shouldn’t take life for granted” and I should “live in the moment” and “life is short” so I should “live it to its fullest.”
I’d always had a hard time doing all those things. Ever since I was a kid I struggled with enjoying what was happening because I was always trying so hard to ENJOY WHAT WAS HAPPENING. If I hadn’t slept the night before, all I could focus on during the brief visit with an aunt and cousin who I rarely see was how I’d ruined this potentially magical day by being tired. Every time my grandparents came to visit, my thoughts would be focused on the fact that this might be the last time I see them before they die. Every time I went home for Christmas, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t enjoy our fun, family traditions because, in the back of my mind, I was always wondering if it would be our last one together.
Not only did I ruin every moment by thinking about the shitty things that could happen or how it could be better, but I also extra ruined it by constantly telling myself to stop thinking those thoughts, and then beating myself up when I couldn’t. By the time the moment was over, I was exhausted.
The good news is, I rarely think about death like that anymore and, when I do, I have enough tricks in my toolbox to divert my thoughts elsewhere. Looking back on when I was a kid, I can now see that self-sabotaging in times when I should have been enjoying things came from anxiety and depression, both of which I have since learned to manage. I mean, I’m no Eckhart Tolle, but I have learned to, for the most part, really experience happy times for what they are. Mostly because I’m not thinking, “THIS IS A HAPPY TIME! WHY AREN’T YOU ENJOYING IT?” over and over again. Who knew?
My desperate need to constantly LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST, however, took a bit longer to figure out. It took finally realizing what living life to its fullest actually means. To ME. And understanding that what it does mean and what I thought it should mean are different things. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t mean being in my forties and binge drinking and partying until 3am.