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For the longest time, I thought I had some lingering, weird psychological damage from my cancer experience.
Some nights, when I was falling asleep, I would suddenly become fully awake and feel panicked. Then suddenly, my thoughts would focus on the fact that one day I would be dead. A sinking feeling of dread, terror and resistance would then emerged and wash over me.
I'm not dying tonight, or anytime soon, I'd say to comfort myself, as I tried to calm myself down and get ready to try and go back to sleep.
So naturally, I started thinking that my cancer experience left me with an acute fear of death. After all, it's not hard to image that being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, with death as a possible outcome, as well as knowing fellow patients that died from the same illness, wouldn't make a lasting psychic impression. I guess it's never been hard for me to consider that I might be just a touch crazy after all that trauma.
Plus fear of death isn't uncommon, especially when someone is questioning their spiritual beliefs.
Having cancer shook up the religious foundation from my childhood, an upbringing rooted in Catholic schooling. It pretty much left it looking like the ruins at Ephesus, a place I visited in Turkey in 1990 (see the photo above.) Pre-cancer, I believed in Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Post-cancer, I have no idea what happens when we die. I know I want there to be something and my worst fear is that there is nothing.
So I have gone along with this whole fear of death explanation for my night-time "death realization" episodes all these years. After all, if the shoe fits... Except yesterday I realized that I might just be terrible wrong. I may, in fact, have put the cart in front of the horse.
What I realized yesterday is that my beautiful, logical and poetic explanation failed to take into account my real, tangible and ever-present health problems. I committed the cardinal sin of mental health diagnosis: I didn't rule out physical causes for my symptoms before jumping to psychological ones. I reached a new level of acknowledgment when I recognized that my symptoms of dysautonomia, fibromyalgia and sleep apnea have conspired to create my night-time fear of death.
Now with this new knowledge, I wonder if perhaps I can be saved from my fear.
Stayed tuned! Tomorrow I will talk more about my revelation and what it means for me moving forward...