(There are spoilers ahead. You have been warned.)
My boyfriend made me watch Tick, Tick...Boom a week before my 30th birthday. So, needless to say, I related Jonathan Larson's 30/90 more than I meant to. And by the time the movie ended, my boyfriend was falling in love with Andrew Garfield and I was crying for the real Jonathan and hyperventilating over my own mortality.
The panic attack that night was fresh, by the paranoia underneath was a decade old.
About ten years ago, over pirated copies and stolen office hours, I began binge-watching Grey's Anatomy. Day in and day out, I would watch a staged, over-dramatic representation of how people come in through the ER doors of a hospital and never make it out alive. Forget bomb blasts and plane crashes; people can die of hiccups!
If you are not already thinking it, I will spell it out for you: I was overreacting to a damn TV show. And the more I reacted to each of its hyper-dramatic portrayals of life's medical tragedies, the more obsessed with death I became.
I have since stopped watching the medical drama (I bid adieu with Patrick Dempsey), but the keen awareness of human mortality that it planted in my head is still festering. It's annoying to say the least, but it's also somewhat poetic how the thought is always sitting upright in the back of my mind: tick-tock, you're getting closer to death.
While bills, deadlines and carpe diem posters keep me distracted in the daytime, it only makes sense that when I'm lying wide awake in the middle of the night, the thanatophobia grows louder and weighs down on my chest. And the more I try to shake it off, the heavier the realisation gets: I'm going to die some day and there's nothing I can do about it.
What I call paranoia, however, is actually more of inexplicable grief. An overwhelming sense of self-pity and regret that there will come a time when your own body will not listen to you and you will just have to surrender and watch the lights go out.
It's not just me, you'll be there too. All those 20, 30, 50, 80 years of your life will be behind, and you will have minutes to look forward to. And then, you will no longer be able to see, hear, speak, smell, breathe, or think again.
Will it really be as simple as falling asleep? Will it hurt? Will we be awake and aware for the whole ride? The body giving up, the lungs failing, the heart slowly slowing down while your mind is racing away. You might want to, or try hard to, hold on to your senses, to someone's hand. But no matter how hard you grab on, you will slip. Everything will grow dark and you will let out your last breath.
Your family, friends, that doctor attending you, that actor you have a crush on, they will all continue to exist. Your favourite shows will go on, new songs will come up, new wars will begin, technology will improve, politics will worsen...your family will grow bigger. Only you won't be there to see any of it. You may be someone who believes in life after death. But still, can that ever be as good as being there in the flesh?
If you are a celebrity, you will be celebrated longer. You get a golden casket if you're Micheal Jackson, constant invocation by fast car fans if you're Paul Walker, and long-deserved recognition posthumously if your Van Gogh, Sukumar Ray or Larson. But if you are an ordinary person, your memory and your life's work last for a generation or two before you are forgotten. Your grave gets buried over, your name is lost in the family tree. Soon, it'll be like you never even existed.
Forgive the dramatics, I'm guilty of loving musicals and Shonda Rhimes dramas. But the fact of the matter remains that you and I are going to die one day, and there is nothing we can do about it. How can you not feel a pinch of sadness about that?
I feel heaps and mounds of it. But that still cannot compare to the crippling, dizzying fear I feel about outliving those I love.
The quieter the night gets, the tighter gets the paranoia around my chest. What if there comes a day when I cannot speak to my mother anymore, when my brother never calls again, when the man I want to leave after every fight is actually not around to love me anymore.
Mortality is such that it too will continue to exist long after you are gone. If by heaven's grace you do get to go first, the people you love will still die. That child you love more than life itself will still cease to exist one day. That right there is the thought that makes my stomach turn each time.
I can rant about my paranoia for hours, but what is that going to solve? At the end of the day, Horace's words stand true.
Carpe Diem. Seize the day. You never know which is your last.