How a 17-year-old Struggled with Thanatophobia and Learned to Accept and Recover
by Sibgha Akbar
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I am a twenty-two-year-old woman. When I was seventeen, I developed a profound fear of “death.” The clinical term for this fear is “thanatophobia.” The fear was so intense that I couldn’t write or read the word “death.” Every day, I would concoct scenarios of my death and imagine people reacting to the news of my death. Despite the overwhelming urge to sleep, I couldn’t close my eyes even at night. I just thought that if I closed my eyes, I wouldn’t open them again.
The days didn’t pass. And I kept thinking all day long about death and that I won’t be a part of this world after some time. I stopped texting my friends and opted for complete loneliness. At that time, I wasn’t comfortable sharing my thoughts with anyone.
The nights were devastating; the days were excruciating. I lost interest in studying, eating, playing, painting, and everything I previously loved. At the start of every month, I just started counting; 40 days till my death. I became a total neurotic. My life was devastated, and it was an end for me. One day, I shared my thoughts with my mother. She patted me with love and gave me a lot of advice to console. But no matter how much reassurance or sympathy she gave me, it was not enough to help me recover.
Not a single piece of advice could bring me out of that condition. My brain’s work constructing elaborate, false death scenarios was exhausting. And then, I felt the real struggle of being thanatophobic who is afraid to disclose her experiences.
Why I Never Visit a Psychologist
At first, when I got all the symptoms, I was afraid to speak. I thought everyone would consider me insane. And, they will laugh at me for sure. You may be wondering why I never visited a psychologist. In 2016, when I was 17 years old, I was incapable of making my own decisions; thus, I needed consent from my parents to go to a psychologist.
Moreover, I was afraid to share my feelings with anyone on Earth. The day I shared my thoughts with my mother was the first and last day I did that. I never shared what I experienced with anyone, not even my best friends. It was because I was afraid to speak up and the social stigma associated with mental disorders and going to a psychiatrist. I thought everyone would say I was out of my mind to do so. Moreover, at that time, I could not pay for those sessions. These circumstances urged me to explore my inner strength and manage this disorder independently.
I Made a Timetable to Think
Continuously negative, overwhelming thoughts are incredibly challenging when you live with any mental illness. A thought disorder is all about pessimistic thoughts. When your thoughts become disorganized, and you start to think of any crap, your mind will be overwhelmed and diseased. I continuously thought about death and scenarios related to my demise. Inside my mind, I was always in a war between “overwhelming thoughts” and “stopping those thoughts.” Since I couldn’t stop the thoughts, I just planned to make a timetable and train my mind to think only within that time.
I planned 10:00am to 10:30am and 7:30pm to 8:30pm. Whenever thoughts came to my mind regarding pessimism, death, demise, etc., I politely told my mind to think within the timetable. I realized that when we ask our mind to stop, or if we try to stop a specific thought, the mind tries harder to rethink it, coming back with a more considerable frequency and mass. So, I just wanted to postpone it. Because of my lousy procrastination habit, I knew that when I postpone a task, I completely forget it, and it never returns. So, I applied that to manage my mental disorder.
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I Understood the Fear of Death
I closely observed myself and my fear. I asked myself questions, “Why do I fear death?,” “I’ve never seen it, so what’s the basic thing that’s increasing this fear?,” “Everyone will experience death, so why is everyone relaxed and I am anxious?”
I was asking those questions that made me a bit clear about my fear. I realized that I fear death because I am afraid of the afterlife, heaven, and hell. If my afterlife involves heaven, then that’s no problem. So, I tried doing some good to make that life on Earth better, hoping to enjoy a pleasant afterlife rather than one to be feared.
I Tried Trying Out New Things
I tried all those things I lost interest in previously, whether I wanted or not. I started painting, writing, and studying. Apart from that, I improved my sleep so my mind could function properly. As Shakespeare said, “you should go to sleep when nothing is right,” I acted on that quote. Whenever I had those types of thoughts, I just went to sleep.
How I Recovered
Carefully managing my thoughts, I started to recover. I spent more time on the activities that kept my mind busy. Moreover, I began to exercise, and my boosted serotonin levels helped me immensely. I followed all the above steps and trained my brain to think logically. No doubt, it was a war, but I am happy that I somehow learned how to manage it. I cannot say I am one hundred percent mentally healthy, but I learned how to be satisfied and less anxious. Sometimes, there are relapses, but now I know how to manage my thoughts, and they are no more causing problems.