Overcoming fear
September 20, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

I am afraid to die due to the following causes. 1) Death through cancer 2) Death caused by bodily harm done to me, by people whom i don't get along well. (I do not have intention of harming others) I get afraid/fearful/anxious. 3)Sometimes I feel people are jealous of me......and they will harm me because of that, since i am better off than them... Can people give me some insight. I am normal person, in other ways (able to make a decent living), but neurotic. Getting extremely anxious. I am especially afraid of pain/death. So i am not able to live. I have read lot of books, but it is not helping me. How do you overcome pain ? Is pain really painful ? I am a loner. Don't have close friends after i suffered depression and got hospitalized.
posted by mot123 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you could use a therapist to help you discuss these feelings.
posted by Meagan at 3:37 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Some things that you think will be painful, car accidents and such, are not really. I guess it's the shock. Recovering is more painful, but you get used to it. Pain medications are available. A stubbed toe can be more painful than many serious injuries. I wouldn't worry about pain too much in general.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:53 PM on September 20, 2007

Here's a preview of what you'll read in the next, oh, I don't know how many answers to your question: "I'm not a therapist, but you need therapy, above all, get thee to a therapist!"

But you already know that. And are probably taking steps in that direction, which is good. So there's no need to insult your intelligence about this therapy business, is there?

Also, as you pursue therapy, remember that even patients who spend oodles of insurance money on therapy die. Most before they reach the age of 90, I'm told. Therapy's good at many things, but it sucks at giving immortality. Yep, seems like there's just no way around this death thing, is there? You're depressed, you're going to see a therapist. I'm not going to bother you further about this, and I hope other posters will be respectful not to do so either.

But there is stuff you can do on the mental end. First, why are you so attached to living? Is it all that and a bag of chips? Knowing that you'll die, in a few decades from now -- a mere nanosecond in geologic time -- why not accept that you're already dead and be done with it?

Say it out loud. I'm already dead. I'm a goner. Dead, right now. Dead, dead, dead.

That'll help you become less attached to this rigamarole we call life, which is not a thing that you can point to or put in your pocket, but a collection of memories and beliefs and illusions that make up your mind and your "self."

Even though you know there's nothing substantial to it, there's no "there, there," you continue to feel connected and attached to this thing you call "life." Hey, don't get pissed at yourself. We all do.

But there's stuff that you can do to make you less attached to life. Volunteer work, for example, helping people out and seeing the joy in their lives. Sounds corny, maybe. But their happiness will always be there, even if the "bodily harm" or "death through cancer" that you write about takes place.

You can also take up spiritual practices, like meditation, that teach you to ignore your mind's tendency to say "Me, look at me! Me, me, me!" Our minds are chatterboxes, and always insist on emphasizing attachments to the self that need not exist.

Look into it.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:01 PM on September 20, 2007 [7 favorites]

You don't give yourself enough credit. You can handle a lot of pain and strife, and nothing will ever be worse than the fear you are experiencing right now, it might just last longer. You need some help for this anxiety and possibly a nice sedative.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:02 PM on September 20, 2007

Yes, it would be a good idea to find a therapist/psychiatrist who you like, and have regular meetings to work on these feelings. If they are getting in the way of your everyday life, then you should reach out for help in managing them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2007

If handled correctly, the fear of death can be a powerful force for good in your life. Regardless of the particular pain that will accompany it when it comes, it is coming, and that casts the present moment into a certain light.
But that could be a little trite for you situation, and I think Meagan is right that you may need the help of good counselling.
posted by Abiezer at 4:16 PM on September 20, 2007

Second the suggestion of a therapist. However, since you were hospitalized for depression I suspect that you already have one. My advice is to think about these statistically. The first one is easy. The likelihood of dying of cancer is 1 in 4. So it's much, much more probable you won't die of cancer.

The second involves more guesswork. How many people do you know who've come to bodily harm by other people who didn't get along with them? Personally, I don't know anyone and I doubt you know many. If you divide that number by the total number of people you know personally (I believe the average number is about 200. I got that from The Naked Ape, IIRC) you should find the probability. I'm willing to bet good money that it's 0% or very, very close to that number. So there's little to no chance you'll get beat up by someone you don't get along with.

The third... well... how many people do you think are jealous of you? I know this is hard to gauge. How many people are you jealous of? How many have you harmed because of that? How many people do you know who've been purposefully harmed by others because of jealousy. My guess is that the answer is again close to zero.

So... don't worry :)

One thing I've learned from therapy is that when I'm anxious is to write out why I'm anxious and evaluate the reasons. Is what I'm anxious about likely to happen? How likely? Can I think of counterarguments to the source of anxiety? That always works really well to calm me down.
posted by Kattullus at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2007

I can't believe I'm saying this, but you would benefit from studying Buddhism. It will help you get perspective on suffering and worrying about your mortality. Seriously. Pick up a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as soon as you can, and start reading. And if it makes you feel better, use your next question here to ask what to read/watch/listen to next.

Go into this with an open mind and remember that nothing has all the answers. Nobody can accuse me of being a buddhist, but some of the teachings are valuable. I think this would help you greatly, because you don't really need answers. You need perspective.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:24 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

We're all weird and neurotic in one way or another mot123, and if a person's not weird, they're boring.

It sounds like you're an interesting person who is going through some difficult times. That's ok, because difficulty and suffering is what brings texture into our lives and helps us become stronger. So here's my tip for you mot123, and I'll put it in bold text because it's so darn important to being happy:
Always, ALWAYS think positive and be grateful.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” -- Melody Beattie
posted by JaySunSee at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Man, that must have been a hell of a bus ride if a week later you're afraid of cancer and jealous folks killin' you.

"Say it out loud. I'm already dead. I'm a goner. Dead, right now. Dead, dead, dead."

A variation of this helped me when I was getting stressed out: "I am nothing. There is nothing." It's a little nihilistic, but it was handy reminding myself that there was absolutely no chance that any of my screw-ups would be remembered in 1000 years.

Second, to help control that fear of mortality— suicidal thoughts. I mean, while you might not want to admit them without cadging to your (hopefully imminent) psychological professional, I found that when I was overcome with depressive inertia, I could say "Well, I can always kill myself. If I don't want to kill myself now, what's my second-best choice of action?" If you're at the point where you assume that you want to live, which can be a handy thing to conceptualize sometimes, it helps (at least me) come up with plans of action on things that are otherwise overwhelming. ("Christ, I got in a car accident—I'm not going to be able to get to work, my girlfriend will leave me, I'll be evicted… Well, I could always kill myself. But I don't really want to. If I don't kill myself, what should I do?").

To apply that, start thinking like, well, you don't have cancer. You don't want to worry about cancer. What's the next thing on the list of priorities after those two things?
posted by klangklangston at 4:43 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

yeah, a therapist is a good idea, if you haven't already discussed it. you may also benefit from medication, or a change of medication.

being afraid/averse to death, pain, and cancer aren't abnormal at all--but letting those things get in the way of holding a job, having friends, etc. is not a good sign. also, being afraid that people will hurt you because they don't like you or are jealous of you--assuming you are not a famous movie star or notorious mafia boss--is something you'll want to address, especially if that fear starts to drive your behavior.

i do think that positive thinking habits will help you, as will getting out and making friends, but i suspect there is more going on here than you can solve by will alone. with your history of depression, i think it's a good idea to seek the advice of a psychiatrist about how to proceed.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2007

You've never been put to the test, and as such, you have no idea what your limits are, and you are way off in your estimation of them.
Your body can take far more of a pounding than you give it credit for (and if you are fit and healthy, it will be very tough and resiliant). The pain is scarier in anticipation than when you're actually enduring it. When you're actually IN pain, you're used to it, and it's uncomfortable, but tolerable. (Plus, y'know, painkillers, modern care, etc).
You may benefit from something like Outward Bound (a course inspired by elite military training, but with the military stuff stripped out). Among other things, it's designed to push you beyond your limits, because your real limits are miles off, while the limits in your head, build from lack of experience, are very close and are confining you. And you've got to find that out by experience - people (or books) can't just tell you and you'll believe them, you'll just doubt until you've discovered it for yourself.

Other people are much more likely to be envious than jealous - people generally don't hate people for having what they want, they just wish they had it too.

Enough books. Get out, hit a park or beach or playground or forest or mountain, and don't come home until you've skinned a knee, bruised an arm, or collapsed from lack of breath. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:31 PM on September 20, 2007

Oh lord. Death is scary. Screw pain, death is the thing to be scared about. (heh heh, Q: Why does pain have nothing on death? A: because there are painKILLERS! oh, I'm so funny). There is no secret to the paralyzing fear of death, but this is the closest I got: Life is a finite gift, known to be revoked even on delivery, and if you spend every waking hour quaking about death, you are handing your gift back, a sliver at a time. Better to realize that we are all on borrowed time and to push and pull and use it all up. And listen to Nina Simone - she does wonderful things to your mind.
posted by history is a weapon at 6:48 PM on September 20, 2007

One thing that I find helpful in considering pain and death is to remind myself that pain and death are not "things on the other side of some wall" that I need to keep away from myself at all costs. It's all one thing.

Life is not separate from death. Life is not separate from pain.

Pain and death are things are as inextricably a part of life as your heartbeat, your breath and your awareness.

I tell myself maybe there shouldn't even be separate words - pain/death/life....Just one - life.

But in regards to your very specific fears, yeah, they are like weeds, and you have set up conditions in how you live your life right now that allow these weeds to grow instead of your goodself to thrive.

I agree with others above - shake it up, challenge yourself to do totally new things, these new things will help starve the weeds.
posted by extrabox at 7:02 PM on September 20, 2007

pain and death don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. you can have one without the other.
posted by brandz at 7:23 PM on September 20, 2007

You know that nightmare senario you have in your head. The one that when it pops up you suppress it as quickly as you can. I've spent about 4 months living mine, another 1 year living a lesser version of it, and I am still not entirely out of it but I will be soon.

You get used to it and after a while it doesn't hurt so bad anymore. You also learn the ways in which it could have been worse.

Whatever your fear, even death, you'll learn to cope with it when you have to face it.
posted by 517 at 7:59 PM on September 20, 2007

Natural Stress Relief Meditation has helped me deal with anxiety. Here is a messageboard to get more information about the technique.
Other things that have helped:
-A Healthier Diet
-Regular Exercise
-A Great Girlfriend
If none of those help, or if it's hard to overcome inertia, perhaps therapy and/or medication.
posted by brevator at 8:00 PM on September 20, 2007

The most important thing I learned about dealing with compulsive thoughts about negative possibilities was to consistently assert to myself that whatever I am thinking about is not happening. It is simply a thought, imagination. I try to focus on the present moment. I know it sounds simplistic, but it works. But it takes a lot of practice.

Your belief that people are going to harm you, though, sounds more like something pathological that requires ongoing professional treatment.
posted by nanojath at 9:25 PM on September 20, 2007

Pain is bad, but fear of pain is helluva lot worse. So, I recommend you do activities that hurt, routinely. Not things that are genuinely self-destructive, but contact sports, martial arts, hard physical work, etc. Facing pain, and learning that you can function, that you can master your will to accomplishment in the face of your body's immediate protest, is vastly important to living the complete adult life.

So what if you just smashed a thumb shingling a roof? Are you not going to finish shingling the roof?

People that can't mentally manage pain are on the cusp of dying, at first significant injury.
posted by paulsc at 9:30 PM on September 20, 2007

Death is us. It's our future. It's what we avoid.

Accepting death is the problem. We are what we are. The facts are laid before us all. We are born. We will die.

You are not special. You are not different. You are one of us.

We are life. We are living. Now.

The moment is a gift. Time is a gift. This day is a gift.

I honestly believe that all fear comes from anger.

You need to find the solution to your fear by asking yourself what makes you angry.

Death fears have chased me. I've been in your shoes. It hurts. There is no quick remedy.

The problem is that you know the truth. Dawkins is right.

The best advice I can give you.... Wisdom from my great grandfather

"Everyday above ground, be happy"
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:49 PM on September 20, 2007

mot123, it sounds like you are in pain right now. you say:

"Sometimes I feel people are jealous of me......and they will harm me because of that, since i am better off than them... [...] Getting extremely anxious. I am especially afraid of pain/death. So i am not able to live. [...] I am a loner. Don't have close friends."

Maybe there's something else--more tangible, more personal, more painful--that's being masked by your fears of pain and death. Or maybe your fears are symptoms of something else--but my point is that perhaps getting over the fear of death is not the cure-all you think.

This is definitely something you should talk to a therapist about.
posted by chelseagirl at 9:57 PM on September 20, 2007

Your last two sentences explain all the previous sentences. Humans, for better or worse, simply aren't meant to be alone (for a long period of time...for short periods, hell yes, but long periods...no). I don't know your particulars at all, but your life will certainly change for the better once you have a circle of friends and *joy* a love life.

Perhaps the best route to take towards that life is to speak to a therapist/psychiatrist. If you don't know where to start, you can ask your family doctor. Or even open up the yellow pages. Best of luck to you!
posted by zardoz at 11:35 PM on September 20, 2007

This sounds like a classic OCD symptom. Please see a therapist to be diagnosed - medication and/or therapy may help with this.
posted by agregoli at 8:14 AM on September 21, 2007

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