Waking Up Is Hard

For me, there has been one major difference between childhood and adulthood.  As a child, I always believed that adults knew what they were doing, and that while I went about my little life, someone, somewhere, was taking care of the world.  When I reached adulthood, I soon realized that no one really knows what’s going on.  Everyone is only human, with flaws and shortcomings just like me, trying to get by in the world.  And I kind of enjoyed that realization, because it meant that I wasn’t the only one stumbling.

But it seems I only thought I had learned that lesson.  Because, yes, I knew intellectually that all people, including those in positions of power, are subject to inadequacies and incompetence, weakness, delusion, bias, ignorance, failure.  And if you had asked me who in the world knows what the hell they’re doing, I would have answered confidently, “No one!”  But judging by the utter shock I am reeling in after this election, it appears I hadn’t learned that lesson completely.

Because upon careful inward reflection, I’m seeing that the overwhelming feeling for me right now is total disillusionment.  It’s this terrifying sense that the ground is crumbling, not just because of specific policies that will be put in place or certain cabinet members who will be appointed (though those are horrific), but because the order and justice that I naively believed ruled my country has completely failed.  Or perhaps, it was never there to begin with.


I knew intellectually that even governments are only as solid as the fallible humans running them.  But I guess I still had this (apparently childish) notion that this country was built in such a way that some semblance of justice and righteousness would always be upheld.  Even if differing political ideologies took turns in the power seat, there were limits to how bad things could get.  I believed, for example, that there were certain things a presidential candidate could do or say that would disqualify them from office, and that they would have to be at least somewhat prepared for the job and display even the most basic human decency.  But we have just elected a president who is neither prepared nor decent (by any stretch of the imagination) and everyone’s pretending this is just business as usual.  I know many people are outraged, but where is the stop on this?  Even the “liberal” media is going along treating this as normal.  (I’m looking at you, NPR.)  Racism and sexism and bigotry are being normalized and legitimized everywhere we look, by the very people I always thought were the grown ups.  The people who, I suppose, I always thought would make sure things would be okay.

I guess I thought there were measures in place to make sure that an ill-informed and fearful public could not be manipulated into voting a monster into office.  And I guess I thought that there was some line we would draw, and when it was crossed, we would say, “Okay, we need to change some things, because we as a society will not let our country (and possibly the world) devolve into shit.”  Apparently, there is no such line.  Or if there is a line, it’s way out in apocalypse territory.

So I guess I’m waking up.  Or growing up.  I guess we all are.  No one is in charge.  (Or at least, no one with any interest in taking care of us is in charge.)  No one is coming to save us.  And I guess no one ever was.

Waking up is hard.

waking up is hard


Life: For When It’s Not Worth Living

Note:  This is an email I wrote to my teenage daughters.  I realized after I did that they’re not the only ones who need to know this.  In case it might reach someone else who needs to hear it, I’m posting it here.  Thanks for reading.


At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, I want to start by saying this email is probably the most important email I’ll ever send you.  Maybe the only important email I’ll ever send you, in the grand scheme of things.  Please, please read it.  Read it carefully and thoroughly.  And then read it again, and read it often.

As you know, depression and mental illness in general run in our family.  Given that, and the fact that suicide has been coming up in various ways in your social circle, I want to tell you something.  (Did I mention this is important?  It’s important.)  This something has two parts.

Part One:  Depression is an illness.  In a very real way, and in every way, it is a sickness.  It is a sickness in that it happens in your body.  It is a sickness in that it is not your fault.  It is a sickness in that it is not a judgment against you or a weakness or a moral or intellectual failure.  It is a (potentially terminal) sickness in that it poses a threat to your well-being, your ability to function and your life.  And it is a sickness in that it can be treated.

Part Two:  While depression is absolutely a sickness, what it feels like is, most often, not being sick.  What it usually feels like is being healthy but in a world that is hopeless, painful, insipid, impossible, meaningless, terrifying and sort of evil.  It feels like you’re living a life that doesn’t matter, that’s not worth living and that hurts too much to tolerate.  But what I want to stress here is that to a depressed person, all that feels real.  It feels like they’re seeing everything totally clearly and that it really is that fucked up.

The good thing about Part One is that it means that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Yes, sicknesses can be chronic and fatal.  But depression is one that is highly treatable or at least manageable.  While many cases sadly go untreated or under-treated, there are very few cases that are impossible to treat.  That means depression, or at least all the symptoms of depression including the feelings mentioned in Part Two, can basically go away.

The bad thing about Part Two is that a depressed person often doesn’t give a shit whether there are treatment options, because their depression tells them (in the most convincing way a thing can possibly be told) that what they need is not treatment but out.  That the world is too awful and that their life is too painful for them to stay here, alive.  When depressed people choose suicide, they are not trying to hurt themselves.  They are trying to save themselves.  In the only way they feel they have left, they are taking care of themselves.

So what I want you to do, now and always, is this:

If you ever feel like your life is not worth living or like you’d be better off dead, recognize that as the symptom of an illness that it is, and seek treatment.

(To be clear, my argument here is not that your life is worth living, nor that you wouldn’t be better off dead.  I happen to believe these things, but they’re irrelevant to what I’m telling you here.  And if you’re not depressed, you don’t need me to tell you those things, and if you are depressed, you wouldn’t believe me anyway.)

The trick is in realizing that those feelings (which will feel like totally accurate perceptions to you if you’re depressed) are actually clear signs that, in fact, you are not seeing things clearly.  Because healthy, non-depressed people, barring those in rare circumstances, do not want to die.  It doesn’t make biological sense.  It’s maladaptive.  It’s the symptom of a serious illness.

But the good news is that, with treatment, a depressed person can feel better.  They can even feel like a healthy, non-depressed person.
Now, it’s hard to convince someone who is genuinely suicidal that they should put effort (and sometimes it will be a significant amount of effort) into something that will keep them alive.  If they gave a shit about being alive, we wouldn’t be talking about this in the first place.  That’s the crux here.  And it’s why it’s so, so important that people with depression understand, on a factual basis, what those feelings mean.  You don’t need to believe that your life is worth living or that you wouldn’t be better off dead.  You just have to understand intellectually that those feelings are illusions, neurochemical trickery caused by an illness.

Then, like someone driving forward while looking in the rear-view mirror, you have to act on what you intellectually know is going on, rather than what you’re seeing right before your eyes.  You have to take the steps – and sometimes there will be a lot of steps – toward health, and toward life, in the absence of any desire to do so whatsoever.  You have to tell yourself that it doesn’t have to feel worth it; just keep going.  It doesn’t have to seem possible; just put one foot in front of the other.  Then again.  And again.

The pay off, when you get there, will be a sense of waking up from a horrible dream.  A realization that there is good in the world.  And good in you.  That you want to see what happens tomorrow.  That you do, after all, give a shit.  And it’s the most amazing feeling.

I didn’t mean for this to be this long.  But I need you to hear every word.

I don’t know if there’s a god that answers prayers, but if there is, I ask them to never let you suffer from depression.  One thing I have rock-solid faith in though is the fact that you are strong and smart and brave and caring and good.  So if the heavens can’t protect you from depression, I’m going to ask you to do this one thing.  If you ever feel like you want to die, pour all your strength and smarts and bravery and caring into seeking treatment for depression.  Even if at the expense of everything else.  Give yourself a chance to be well again.  Give yourself a chance to want your life.

How to Travel Back in Time

It’s taken me 35 years, but I finally figured out the secret to time travel.  It’s easier than you think.  Almost too easy.  And it’s every bit as awesome as you’d hope it would be.

Here’s how you do it:

First, think of a person who’s very important to you and a big part of your life.  Take a second to think about how much you care about that person, and imagine their face, the sound of their voice, what it feels like to be around them.

Next, travel forward in time.  Use your imagination for this.  (Obviously, what you imagine may not turn out to be totally, or maybe even remotely, accurate, but as you will see in a moment, that doesn’t actually matter.)  So go on, imagine yourself into the future.


Now, the future is actually extremely predictable when you travel out far enough.  All relationships end the same way, which is to say, they end.  At least in this world, in this life time.  Nothing lasts forever.  The people in your life, even those most important to you, will not last forever.  So it’s really not a fantastical idea to go ahead and, fast forwarding into the future, imagine the day that person ceases to be a part of your life.  Imagine hearing the news that they have died.  If you want, you can imagine details surrounding this event, but you don’t have to.  The important thing is that you imagine how you will feel when you learn you have lost them.

The experience of grief when a loved one dies is as varied from person to person as faces in a crowd.  But there is a quality of mourning a loss that is very widely reported by those experiencing grief.  It is a wish that you could go back in time.  Not to the best times of your life, but to a time – to any time – when you were with that person.  Often, it’s the simplest and most mundane of times with the loved one that people report missing.

If I could just smell his hair again. 

If I could just hear her breathing next to me. 

If I could just see his socks on the bathroom floor. 

What people experience in grief is very often a realization that they would give just about anything to see that person again.  Even just one more time.

hand over face

It is not guaranteed that you will feel that way about the person you’re thinking about right now in this exercise.  For that matter, it’s not a guarantee that the person you’re thinking about now will even die before you.  Maybe it’s they who will lose you.  But for the sake of this exercise in time travel, go ahead and assume that you are absolutely going to one day in the future feel like you’d give anything to go back and see that person just one more time.

Now travel back in time.  To now.  Bring with you what you learned when you were in the future.  You’re wiser now.  Bring back that longing for one more moment with the person you’re thinking about.  You can still feel it, right?  Remember what it was like to realize you would never see them again?  Now, consider the fact that you get to see them again.

So smell his hair.  Listen to her breathing next to you.  Look at his socks on the bathroom floor.  And rejoice.

hold hands

The last step in the process of traveling back in time is to repeat the above steps with everyone else you know.  Start with the people you love most right now.  Then move on to others who you may not yet know you love.  And those who you maybe have yet to appreciate at all.

When you’ve gone through all the people, repeat the steps with other things in your life.  Animals, plants, places.  Buildings, foods, songs, hobbies.  Just travel forward in time to whenever you first realize that you will never again experience those things.  Let that hit you, then bring it back in time.  To now.  And feel it.


And repeat the steps with yourself.  The you that you are now, with your body and your face, with your abilities and your senses, your mind and your memories.  Travel into the future far enough, and you will find the end to all of those.  Then come back in time, to now, and go look in the mirror.  And put your hand on your heart.  And take a deep breath.

And that’s it.  You’ve successfully traveled back in time.

Those among us who tend toward skepticism will say, “Now wait just a minute.  How do I know any of the future scenarios I imagined will come true?  And therefore, how can I consider any of the stuff I brought back in time to the present reliable?”

See, here’s the thing.  Not all of the scenarios you imagined will come true.  You do not yet know which of the people or things or experiences in your life you will lose in time to miss them.  Even people who you love the most right now could, in some unforeseen turns of events, turn out to be so inconsequential to future you that when you finally lose them, you don’t even care.  And, as mentioned before, maybe they’ll lose you first.

But if you did the exercise correctly, you traveled forward in time to the end of everyone and everything that might matter to you.  (Not necessarily accurately, but you’ll notice I didn’t promise a way to travel forward in time.)  So while you do not yet know which of those people or things will turn out to one day depart from your life, shattering your heart into a million pieces, you have included the ones that will.  And there is no doubt that some will.

The only case in which you will not suffer loss in your future is the case in which you literally have no future.  If you’d like, you may pause for a moment to reflect on that case.  I’m guessing that will feel like a loss.  I’m sorry.

And since some of the future scenarios you imagined will come true, your memories of them are perfectly valid.  Which means that you effectively traveled back in time.


I guess the only way to be sure though is to treat each and every future loss as definite, so you can be certain you’ve accounted for the ones that are.  I think you’ll find there’s no harm in that anyway.  Because hey, you got what you will one day remember, saying “I would give anything for one more moment of that.”

You now have what you will one day want more than anything.  And also, the ability to travel back in time.



Making Meaning

I have a New Year’s tradition of making a vision board for the coming year.  I’ve done this for the past five years or so, often with my daughters.  The idea of a vision board, if you’re new to stuff like creative visualization, is that you put together a visual representation of what you want to manifest in your life.  And then you display it somewhere to help keep your vision fresh in your mind.  That’s the idea anyway.  Depending on who you ask, some will say that you don’t even need to see your vision board for stuff on it to be summoned into your reality.  Like, if done with the right intention, you can just cut out a picture of a mountain, glue it to a piece of paper, stuff it in a drawer and forget about it, and then some time in the future, you’ll realize you’ve started mountain climbing.  (For example.)  And I’ll admit, I’ve had some pretty random and unlikely elements of my vision boards happen to occur later in the year, even when I had forgotten they were on there.  Really!

If all this sounds ridiculous to you, I can’t say I disagree.  But I’m not yet in a position in my life where I can afford to ignore any possible options for getting what I want, however ridiculous they may sound.  And anyway, I like cut and paste.  And most of my favorite things in this world are pretty ridiculous.  So this all suits me fine.

So a vision board.  I do collage for mine, because I wouldn’t want to look at anything I attempted to paint or draw for a full year.  I gather magazines, usually from my garage on New Year’s Eve.  And I don’t really subscribe to magazines, so the selection is spotty at best.  In the past I’ve used everything from Psychology Today to Maxim to Lands End catalogs.  So I take my random hodge podge of magazines and cut out anything that stands out to me without over-thinking it.  (I read that tip somewhere… overthinking might disrupt the magic!)  And mind you, being that this is on New Year’s Eve, I’m often a couple of hours past my usual bedtime, and a couple of glasses of champagne, into the night.  And the last two years, as a busy mom of four, I didn’t even finish the vision boards completely that first night but instead spent a few minutes here and there on them for the next couple days or weeks, until I had something I could call done and stick in a frame.  (Not sure how that should affect the magic, but you do what you can do, right?)

So between my lame selection of magazines, my refusal to over-think the things I cut out, the sleep deprivation and the champagne, you might imagine (correctly) that at no point in the process am I particularly focused  on what the hell is going on my vision board.  This thing that I, with all my sage-burning, divine-channeling, intention-setting dedication, have handed over my very future to, is never really given my full attention at all.  So there are probably elements of these boards that I never knew were on there.  Again, what can you do?

This brings me to my story about making meaning.  So my vision board for this year has been sitting on a dresser in my room, in a large, glass frame, collecting dust for the past eight months.  And though I probably glance at it at least once a day, my eye sight isn’t great, so I’m not really sure what’s on there.  It’s mostly a blur, except for the really big stuff.  There are a few words or pictures on there that, because of their large size, do get noticed by me fairly often.

vision board

But even some of the big stuff doesn’t get seen, because I have a few things placed on the dresser that block the bottom part of the board, including a beautiful touch-drawing card made for me by a friend when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter.  That card leans up against the vision board, right under the largest word on the whole board.  The word is “Making.”  But because of the touch-drawing card, I can’t see what comes after that.  So, I’ve often found myself sitting across the room on my bed, gazing at my vision board, without the foggiest recollection of what I cut out of those magazines in January, and wondering to myself, “Making what?”

Now, I say that I “wondered”.  But really, I always thought I actually did remember what it said below that, where the touch-drawing card was blocking my view.  It said, “Making meaning.”  I was pretty sure I remembered that.  And that made sense as something I would have chosen to cut out, because a cherished tenet in my life is the idea that meaning is something we make.  Which isn’t to say that meaning isn’t real.  On the contrary, meaning is the only thing that’s real, to us anyway, and what gives life purpose.  It’s everything.  But it’s also created by us, and nothing without our input.  So though I couldn’t be certain, and though I did occasionally pose to my empty room, out loud, “Making what?”, I was pretty confident that the answer to that question was, “meaning.”  My vision board for this year was about making meaning.

Anyway, the other day I was walking past that dresser and got curious.  I reached down to grab the touch-drawing card and moved it out of the way, so I could read, once and for all, what I was supposed to be “Making.”  But it didn’t say anything under that.  No more words.  “Making” was the whole thing.

Making meaning, indeed.

Also, when I moved the touch-drawing card to reveal that blank space, basically shattering my whole understanding of my vision board or my year or my reality, I noticed that something else had shattered.  That damn frame.  The glass was cracked in several directions.

I have no idea how that happened!  And I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of it.  What is the universe trying to tell you when you pour all your intentions for the coming year into a glass frame, and then you find that the frame has mysteriously shattered.  I’m not sure.  But if I learned anything from this vision board, it’s that it’s probably best if I don’t try and guess.


The Answer

“Am I going to die?”

That was the question my 4-year-old asked me today.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, because our family cat just died a couple weeks ago.  And maybe surprise isn’t the right word for how I felt when she asked.  But I definitely felt thrown by it.  And unprepared, even though everyone who knows me would tell you that this kind of question is right up my alley.  I think about death a lot.  I talk about death a lot, to many different kinds of people, including many children.  If anyone would know how to answer that question, it would be me.

But knowing how to answer it wasn’t the hard part.  It was giving the answer, while every part of my being was begging me to give a different one that was the challenge.  “Just  change the subject!” a voice in my head shouted.  “Tell her why it’s okay!” suggested another.  “Just lie!” they all said.

And it was the fact that I couldn’t do anything about the answer that was a challenge.  And the fact that the answer is absolutely guaranteed to be so, no matter how badly I want it not to be.  And no matter how badly she wants it not to be.   This kid, this sweet, innocent child who I would do anything in my power to protect, will die.  And that’s not subject to debate.

Nor is it frivolous information.  It’s not like it’s something she’s just as well off not knowing.  That’s the kicker.  Even if I was morally okay with lying to her, there’s also the fact that she is a mortal, sentient, conscious being.  And that means that she has only her lifetime to come to terms with her own death.  And she cannot come to terms with something that is hidden from her.  When she asks that question, she deserves an answer.  The answer.  And she critically needs that answer, painful though it may be – for both of us – now.

So what I did what I had to do, and with my whole heart aching and my best attempt at gentleness, I gave her the only answer that belonged at the end of that question.


mama and baby

How to Love Yourself

I realized I’ve been misunderstanding a phrase I’ve heard all my life.  Does that ever happen to you?  Like you realize that all this time, people have been saying “scapegoat,” while you’ve been hearing something about an escape goat?  This happens.

The phrase I’ve been misunderstanding all these years is this one:

“You have to love yourself.”


And the difference between what I thought it meant and what it actually means (or should mean) makes the difference between it being a useless, annoying cliche and it having the power to change lives.

See, the part I was mixed up about was the word “love.”  “Love,” as a verb, can mean two very different things.  One meaning is to feel very fond of something or someone.  That’s the kind of love that I’m going to call “affective love,” because it’s a feeling.  It’s something that happens to you.  You might say you “love pizza”, meaning you really enjoy pizza.  You might love jazz or puppies.  Might you love a person?  Sure!  You can feel very fond of a person, and you can enjoy being around them very much.  You can affectively love them.  You think they’re just wonderful.  And yes, you can affectively love yourself.  You can feel smart and beautiful and proud, and you can think you’re just awesome.  That is loving yourself in the affective sense.

But that’s not what the wise advice, “You have to love yourself,” is saying.  It’s talking about a different kind of love.  It’s what I’ll call “active love.”  This love isn’t something you feel.  It’s something you do.  It’s a choice you make.  It’s a commitment.  It’s the way in which parents love their children.  The way in which an artist loves their craft.  Or a firefighter loves their community.  Often, it’s work.  It’s not passive enjoyment of something.  It’s effort put into something.  It’s deciding that something is worth your love and acting upon that decision in every way you can.

mama and baby

When we actively love someone, we honor them and respect them.  We treat them with care and compassion.  We forgive them.  We hold them in the light, seeing them as worthy of our attention.  We actively love them even during the times when we don’t particularly feel like we affectively love them at all.  Even when they’re at their worst, because we don’t need them to be any certain way to love them actively.  Active love is not dependent on our enjoyment of the one we love.  It’s dependent only on our own commitment to loving them.

So when you hear that you should love yourself, and you’re thinking of it in terms of the affective kind of love, it’s likely you won’t find that very helpful.  Maybe you don’t particularly even like yourself at the moment.  Maybe you made a bad choice.  Or you’re having a bad day.  Or someone you care about it mad at you.  Maybe you’re struggling with depression.  There are a million reasons we might not, at any given moment, love ourselves in the affective sense of the word.  And even when we do, even when we feel like we’re the bees’ knees, the best that will get us is a temporary chance to give ourselves a high five for being awesome.

girl in mirror

But actively loving yourself is different.  It’s something you can do regardless of how you’re feeling about yourself.  It’s a way of relating to yourself as someone who deserves to be cared for and defended and protected and respected.  Not because you like yourself a whole lot or feel smart or funny or beautiful.  But because you are you.  Just like a mother loves her child even when they’re naked and muddy and picking their nose and calling her stupid, you can love yourself simply because you are yours.  And because if there’s one person who’s ever done anything for you, it’s you.  And because there’s no one else who will – or even can – love you as deeply as you (can) love yourself.


Here are some rules you can follow to better love yourself:

  1.  Do not stand for meanness.  Not from other people, but also (and especially) not from yourself.  If the words you choose to describe yourself are words you wouldn’t use to describe a friend, don’t use them.  “I’m so stupid.”  “I’m hideous.”  “I hate myself.”  None of that is acceptable, even in the privacy of your own mind.
  2.  Forgive yourself.  When you make a mistake, take extra care to say nice things to yourself.  Don’t deny the mistake, or you’ll never learn anything.  But don’t judge yourself for it.  Acknowledge it, plan what you’ll do different next time, and tell yourself it’s okay.  You know your friends are more than their bad choices.  Remind yourself that you are too.
  3.  Nurture yourself.  Pay attention to what you need and insist that you are worthy of getting your needs met.  Hungry?  Eat.  Tired?  Rest.  Is your life structured such that those things aren’t always possible?  Maybe you need to make some changes.  Or at the very least, prioritize your needs such that you will make those changes as soon as reasonably possible.  Yes, life it busy.  Yes, there’s not enough time in the day.  But if you can make time for anything at all, let it be self-care.
  4. Be authentic.  Let yourself be you.  If you act like someone you’re not, the message you send yourself is that the real you is not good enough.  If you lie about yourself and/or to yourself, you’re reinforcing your inadequate image.  Convincing yourself that you really are brilliant and talented and beautiful might be hard but luckily that’s not what you need to do.  What you need to do is get real with yourself, seeing yourself as who you really are – nothing more, nothing less.  You might be surprised at how much better it can feel to be flawed and real than perfect and fake.  And the key message that sends , to yourself and to the world, is that yes, you are just fine, just the way you are.
  5.  In all of these, use the Best Friend Test.  Or if you don’t have a best friend who you think the world of, think of someone you love dearly – a child, a spouse, etc. – and substitute them in where it says “best friend.”  This is the Best Friend Test:  If you wouldn’t say something to or about your best friend, don’t say it to or about yourself.  If you wouldn’t judge your best friend harshly for doing a particular thing, don’t judge yourself any more harshly.  And if you wouldn’t want your best friend to go without nourishment, don’t withhold it from yourself if you can help it.*

*If you have a hard time comparing yourself to your best friend, you need to spend some time recognizing all that you’ve done for you over the course of your life and have a little appreciation.  Then repeat the above suggestions until you see it.


The best part about actively loving yourself is that over time, doing so will lead to more experiences of affectively loving yourself.  The better you treat yourself (when done authentically), the better you’ll feel about yourself.  So not only will you be lovingly cared for by the person with the most access to you (you!), you’ll also find you enjoy yourself more than you ever have.  Win, win!

If this all sounds crazy or impossible to you, I challenge you to try it for awhile and see what a difference it can make.  It’s free, and it might change your life.



How Death Helps, Part 1

It’s not that I’m obsessed with death.  Okay, maybe it started that way.  I’ve been thinking an awful lot about death ever since I first learned that it’s a thing.  At times, my interest wasn’t exactly healthy.  I spent most of my childhood fantasizing about death, because I was hurting and the thought of an end to that pain comforted me.  That’s not good, but it’s where I was.  I guess, yes, obsessed.

I wouldn’t wish that early part of my journey on anyone, but I also wouldn’t trade it.  Those dark years I spent fixated on death, though painful, were what positioned me on a path toward eventual unimaginable happiness.  It was death that put me on that path.  It’s been death that’s led me down that path.  And it’s death I will follow to its end.  If my level of happiness (by which I mean a sense of excitement, inspiration, reverence, purpose and peace) continues to increase at the same rate it has been on this first part of my life, I believe I will meet my end by vibrating from pure joy progressively until the cells of my body dissipate into a cloud of giggles and glitter.  I mean, a person can only be so happy, right?


I wasn’t always happy.  Far from it, I remember the first time I ever felt anything I’d describe as happiness, and I was 15 years old at the time.  But now, I truly feel like I’ve found the secret to life, and wouldn’t you know, it was death all long.

It’s true that my interest in death started because I knew it could end me.  And sadly, I felt like someone who need to end.  But by luck and happenstance, I did not end then.  I went on.  And as I found other, healthier ways to deal with my pain, death lost its appeal.  But it did not lose its familiarity.  It was something I was already accustomed to thinking about.  A lot.  And something I had always thought of as something that could help me.  That was my gift.  Because while I was wrong about the way in which death would help me, I was absolutely right that it would.

How does death help me?  In so, so many ways.  Every day, all the time.  It’s rare that a day goes by now that I don’t notice a way in which death is helping me, in totally healthy, joyful ways.  This might sound weird.  Most people don’t usually think of death as a happy thing to think about.  And I realize that my relationship with death is a bit of a luxury, one that I paid for as a child.  It’s only after spending decades giving heavy thought to death that I now enjoy these rich benefits.  And I’m not sure it’s possible for someone to experience them without having put in the time, without having sat with death and with the necessary pain that accompanies death, for quite some time.

But maybe the benefits can be learned.  Maybe one can befriend death without spending years in pain first.  Maybe if someone knew what to look for, they could skip right to the good stuff!  Maybe that someone is reading this.

I guess before you can determine whether you can experience these benefits from thinking about death, I should tell you what they are.  There are really more ways death helps me than I can list, but I’ll start with a few.

For one thing, death makes food taste better.


This was the first clear benefit of thinking about death that I remember consciously noticing – the way in which attention to death could bring out rich flavors in my food.  Now I use it kind of like seasoning.  Whenever I think of it, while I’m eating, I take a moment before a bite to think about death.  Not just any death, but MY death.  My real and certain and final death.  I imagine it as if it were about to happen right now.  Then I breathe and take a bite.

I don’t know why this works, but wow, you’ve never tasted anything so amazing as a bite of food flavored by death.  It almost doesn’t even matter what food it is.  I first noticed it with a strawberry but have since tried it on everything from plain bread to salad to cake.  And I actually don’t notice the ecstatic effect any more with cake than I do with salad.  Whatever I’m eating, when I call my death into the front of my mind, will be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Want another one?   Death helps improve body image.  There’s nothing that will make you love your body quite like acknowledging that it’s not for keeps.  Holding death close in mind, I’m reminded of all that my body has done, and continues to do, for me.  And how extraordinary it is that it’s mine, that I can move it and feel it and inhabit it like this.  Looking at myself in the mirror, right in my eyes, and seeing myself as someone who will die, I see a light in my eyes and a warm softness in my face, and I feel beautiful.  I even appear visibly more beautiful to myself when I look in this way.

girl in mirror

And not only does it make me feel better about my body, it also motivates me to take better care of my body.  Often those two things – feeling happy with how you look and feeling motivated to get in shape – don’t go together.  We either feel good about how we look now or we feel compelled to get in better shape.  But reflecting on my mortality, I actually feel both.  Recognizing that I am temporary, I see myself as precious, and therefore I both love myself as I am and want to take care of myself.  This is good for my body image now and a good sign for my body image in the future.

A third way death helps me is with gratitude.  If you haven’t heard of the many benefits (link) enjoyed by people who regularly practice gratitude, you should look into it.  There are too many to list here.  But it seems there is almost nothing that can’t be helped by a healthy dose of gratitude.  It makes you happier, healthier, more successful and effective, more likable.


But life is often hard and annoying and mundane and stressful.  So gratitude isn’t always the most obvious reaction to what life’s offering.  Even when I can remember to try and feel grateful, sometimes the feeling just doesn’t come.  No, I’m not grateful.  I’m tired, and the house is messy, and my kids are whining at me, and I have a headache.  I can’t force it!

Enter death.  In almost any situation, no matter how stressful or annoying or uncomfortable, a quick pause to reflect on death gives me the perspective I need to count my blessings.  Because none of this is a given.  Not my messy house nor my whining children nor my head that sometimes hurts.  These are all gifts.  The very moment in which I am experiencing those things is a gift.  That I can and will die means these moments are limited and therefore precious.  But I have them.  I am rich in reality, and in life.  Gratitude.

Those are three examples of ways death helps me on a regular basis, and I’m not exaggerating when I say there are at least dozens more.  Stay tuned.  I’ll be back to share some of them.  Until then, may your life feel as rich and vibrant and miraculous to you as mine does to me when I’m thinking about death.





Ready for anything under the sky…