February 9, 2013

How I got over my fear of dying.

I’ve had a fear of death and disease since the age of seven when I was convinced I had breast cancer.  Tucked under the covers at night I would give myself breast exams, and with adamant certainty I detected lumps in my pancake-flat chest.  Too worried that admitting the findings to my mom would make the cancer even more real, I kept the fear deep inside.  At 14, when I suffered from daily headaches due to impacted wisdom teeth I was certain at that point that I had a brain tumor.  When I was 21, and experienced mild eye twitching, I was sure I had MS.  To date – knock on wood – I’m thankfully and gratefully currently disease-free, and though I’m a bit of a mild hypochondriac the good of this is that I very seldom take life for granted. 

Ironically, though, I’ve always had a bit of an adventurous streak, even if my daily life doesn’t always indicate as such.  Though I like to push the envelope on occasion, mostly my adventurousness is buried inside my head and in my thoughts, which is probably a good thing since if it's there I stay out of trouble.  Likewise, because I'm an inherently curious person, I have a strong innate desire for new experiences, and that includes traveling, even if financial circumstances (that in-state tuition was more expensive than one would think!) has precluded me from doing as much as I would like, but thankfully that is slowly changing.
Two years ago, I planned a trip to San Francisco -- my first big trip since graduating from college.  While I had made a trans-Atlantic trip to eastern Europe when I was a teenager, this was my first trans-America trip to California.  Though I was predominantly excited about taking my first trip to the west coast, I was blindsided with an unexpected fear of flying, even though I had done it multiple times before.   

But when the flight took off en route to California it occurred to me that being in such a state of vulnerability and fear – and, more importantly, embracing being in such a state – is not a bad thing, because pulling away from all that's safe and secure and comfy is the best ingredient for growing, evolving, and becoming.

When I returned to Maine in one complete piece, I unsurprisingly felt that I was a slightly evolved Sarah, even if only from having been to a place I had never gone to before.  And while I have always valued life because of my fear of death, perhaps for the first time I had fully experienced the lightness of life in its fleeting state, that which makes it more enjoyable to exist in the world, because in a blink of an eye, life not only ends but it continually moves forward, even if from one day to the next.

Now whenever I fly somewhere I fully embrace it, especially the takeoff and landing, so much so that I even find it exhilarating, thrilling, sexy, and empowering, to the point where if I were to die at that moment it would be a great way to go – dramatic, dangerous, and tragic -- and amidst a state of living life to the fullest.  (In case you want to know, Atlantic Starr's "Masterpiece" happens to be my current favorite in-flight song.) 

More importantly, though, flying always makes me self-assess at that point: Am I living enough, exploring enough, loving enough, being true enough, if I were to die right now?  If I’m able to answer yes to each of these questions, I’m doing okay; if not, it’s time to reevaluate. 
Whatever the case, it's flying that got me over my fear of dying. 

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