Death and Fear

Hi Steph.
The questions I would love to hear your thoughts on regard death and fear. It may be you have been asked and already answered a question like mine before, though I wanted to reach out regardless.
Last July my father died at age 56 in a strange motorcycle wreck. He was an excellent rider; cruising anything with two wheels since middle school, always wearing proper safety gear and keeping aware of everyone else he shared the road with. There were no other vehicles nor persons reported in the accident. Just him. Found on the side of some poorly managed roads, tangled in a bizarre position in front of his bike, on what would have been just his usual weekly Sunday afternoon ride.
Aside from all of the common feeling surrounding loss of a loved one (and especially the biggest hero in my life), and the pain/confusion that none of us really understands what happened out there in the lonely canyon hills, there is something that troubles me almost more on the daily.
I am scared. I am scared all the time.
I am scared of the physical consequences of the activities I love and even the normal everyday activities, like walking down the street near cars. I am scared for myself, but even more so am terrified for all the people in my life I care so much about.
I never used to be this way. If I saw proper safety mechanisms in place, then the fear of what could happen, what may go wrong, hardly phased me. Seeing and feeling the consequences of mortality so close and personal has changed me.
I love to climb, highline, mountain bike, run rivers, cliff jump, and so much more.
Now it is immensely difficult to do all of these things. I have started taking to very mild versions of them (not that I was even too radically extreme to begin with.)
Significantly, I was top roping an easy climb over last Halloween and became frozen half way up with fear. I stayed there for so long and hated it so much. Hated the climb, though it was well within my ability. Hated my friends word of encouragement, though I know they care and wanted to help. Hated the immobilizing fear that glued me into place.
I have not even tried to go near any highlines since my fathers death.
I get scared every time my boyfriend leaves for a trip, thinking, “What if he doesn’t come back from this?” Similarly, I fear for losing anyone I love in my life now to a point that I feel is too much fear.
I am not the first person to lose a loved one. I won’t be the last. But how can I move past this paralyzing fear that myself, or my loved ones, will be fatally wounded? How can I start climbing and highlining again and get back to enjoying it? How do I take all of this big feelings and turn them into something positive?
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.
All the best,
Nichole

Dear Nichole,
I am so sorry for your loss. I know how it feels to be totally confused and lost when the person you imagined was invincible suddenly disappears, while doing something you never even thought to be worried about.

Before your father died, you probably assumed that if you do things in a careful, intelligent manner, you would be safe. Now you know life doesn’t work that way. Losing your dad on a bike, with his history, experience and approach–when he’d been riding safely for years, with no way for you to ever understand what happened, makes it impossible to trust anything anymore. Including yourself… which right now makes it impossible to do anything that requires you to perform in situations that are exposed or intimidating. It also makes it impossible to assume that anyone who goes away from you is going to come back, because unfortunately now you know that they may not. It’s totally understandable that you feel a lot of anxiety about all of these things–it wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t. The hardest thing is rebuilding trust in yourself: once you can get that back, everything will be much easier.

I know for myself, the only thing I do trust is myself, because I understand that I am truly all I have in this life. Sometimes when I say this to people they find it shocking or sad, and suggest I “should” work on “trusting others”, but I don’t find it sad at all. This is a simple and true reality of life. It doesn’t need to make you feel sad or worried, in fact quite the opposite. Everyone and everything around you may disappear at any time, because that’s how life works. But you are the one thing you can count on to be here with you in this world. Having this mentality has led me to become very self reliant, and to understand that life is really about letting go, and actually, I find it very comforting. Once you understand how completely you can and should trust yourself, a lot of that fear you’re talking about simply goes away. Not necessarily all of it, but a lot of it.

A couple of years ago my boyfriend Ian went on a trip to China for a wingsuit event that I wasn’t going to, and I fully assumed when he left Moab that I would never see him again. But he did come back. We don’t lose our scars, but they fade, very slowly.

The one thing I’ve learned through loss is that we don’t decide what happens in life. We can’t control anything. Nothing is guaranteed except for the fact that we will eventually die, and we don’t know when or how. This understanding can make you so anxious you can’t leave the house, or it can give you freedom because you realize that we really have no choice but to let go.

Another thing I’ve come to understand is that every time something goes away, something else comes. That’s the flow of nature and the flow of life.

I will say, it’s easier when you can go through life without the awareness of how finite it truly is: ignorance is bliss. But once the box has been opened, you can’t go back to that blissful ignorance and you have to choose every day how you want to feel and how you want your life to be. I know for myself, after Mario died, I was crushed by hopelessness and many of the feelings you’re talking about. But once I decided that I wanted to live and I also wanted to be happy, just the simple act of deciding those things caused me to start on the slow path to getting there. Life isn’t fair and we can’t control it. You know that now, and over time you will be able to accept it.

On a practical note, there are a few things you can do physically right now that could help. I think most of us don’t naturally like letting go of things, so we have to train for it–I do this in a pretty simplistic way at home by constantly looking through cabinets and closets to pull things I don’t need or use that much, even if I really like them, and then give them away or sell them. It sounds like a weird thing to do. But the more I do it, the easier it is, and the more I like letting things go–we humans are creatures of habit, and when we do something over and over we get better at it and we even start to like it. And, I think changing your approach to holding onto things in your daily physical life can carry over to your emotional outlook. So it’s worth a try–at the very least, you’ll have a cleaner house, and that always makes you feel better 🙂

Another thing you can do is try CBDs, which are known to help with anxiety. There are times when I am more affected by feelings of stress or anxiety, and during those times I’ve found that taking a CW Hemp Simply Hemp capsule in the morning makes a noticeable difference in stopping those feelings, and I also always take a half dropper of Everyday Plus right before bed, primarily because it helps me sleep well. But I feel sure the benefits carry over to the next day, even when only taking it in the evenings. I definitely think it’s worth trying. Sometimes you need to do something to break the cycle of emotion you’re in, because we are creatures of habit, and we can also get used to feeling a certain way and just keep on feeling like that simply because we’re used to it. So you have to do something to make yourself feel a different way. For the same reason, and even more simple, you can try smiling when you’re in one of those situations that’s throwing you back into bad feelings. It really does help, and that can be enough to change your emotional state.

Above all, remember that healing takes time, whether physical or emotional. Don’t beat yourself up too much about not feeling the way you want to. You will feel differently over time, just because you want to. Even the fact that you wrote to me and verbalized these feelings has been a part, or maybe even the start, of your path forward and is shaping your thoughts and feelings. You’ve made a choice, which has led to action, and that’s why things are going to change. It may be slow, but you will get there.
Steph


  • Nichole DePaolo

    Thank you Steph

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