A month or so ago I tried to write a post about managing anxiety and how I overcame my depression, but I got really side tracked writing about something else and then kinda let it fall to the way side. The truth is, I never got fully “better” from when I really lost it last August. I still obsess over my mortality, all the time. It’s just that the zoloft keeps me from having panic attacks about it.
I take 50mg of Zoloft every night. Since I started taking it I have seen a drastic change in my ability to manage my emotions. It’s not like it makes you delightfully happy—I’d say I’m as capable of the same amount of happiness as I was before—it mostly just helps me not to spiral out of control. I’m really grateful for what it did for me. Before I started taking it I spent two agonizing months breaking down. Getting hysterical in public places. Unable to see the point to anything. It was the lowest I have ever felt, and taking Zoloft really helped me dig my way out of that. But now I feel like I could probably start to ween myself off of it, except for the fact that even with it I still have this unshakeable discomfort with death.
I have talked to a ton of people about death. Every old person I see I want to shout at, “ARE YOU FINE?!” I NEED to know that people are okay with dying. Almost everyone I talk to is. A lot of people don’t think about it. Sometimes I am torn between not wanting to think about it, and leaning in hard. My fear with leaning in was that I’d spiral out of control again, and not find the peace that some people do, because maybe it’s just not in my nature. When I think about how someday I won’t be here I feel this weird sense of urgency to be cool with it, but it’s like time won’t slow down for me to feel that so I feel rushed, pressured and a little crippled by the odd sensation. That was happening earlier today, and I decided I needed to go outside. I barely move during the day and I’ve been trying to move 6 miles because I feel like a fat (I blame society). So I mapped out a 6 mile walk and set off. At first I had my music on but then I thought, “no, you know what? I don’t want to let this discomfort with death control me. I AM going to lean in,” and I searched podcasts about facing your mortality. I ffound a promising one (after accidentally listening to a spooky fictional one) called, “Rethinking Death”. It’s from TED radio hour on NPR.
I wasn’t particularly optimistic, I didn’t think it would upset me but usually the things people say to explain their feelings towards death don’t really help me. For example, I often hear that we should talk more about death because it helps us to realize our lives our finite and we should be living them to the fullest. Nobody has to tell me to live life to the fullest, I do. I have never done anything besides what I wanted to do, and if something is no longer serving me, I get rid of it—even if it takes me a little while. I like most women struggle with body image, but I genuinely do not struggle with self love. Or self care. The self care revolution to me is like, “um yeah of course you should relax and do things for yourself, and absolutely not feel guilty about it.” I travel, I have an amazing home, I prioritize my relationships, I am passionate about my work, I do my best to take care of myself, to continue learning and growing, and be a good human. Truly if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t be like, “BUT WAIT I HAVE SO MUCH LEFT TO DO”. If anything, I’d want to give or contribute more. But I know in my own way I contribute a great deal to my community and the people in my life. It makes me think that part of my problem is I have the recipe for happiness pretty much figured out, and it makes death feel imminent. What else is there to do that will add to my satisfaction? We are programmed to never feel fully satisfied so that we continue to try at life. But I am deeply satisfied in most areas. My issue with death isn’t any of that, it’s just like, death is weird. How can I just not be here one day? Time passes so quickly, it feels like I could wake up tomorrow and be dead and I don’t like that. I find I’m not as panicky about the other questions anymore, like, how does life exist in the first place? That’s just too big of a question that I’m intelligent enough to ask, but not intelligent enough to ever understand. So in general I try not to go down that road.
Anyways. This podcast didn’t disappoint me. It actually made me rethink death in a way that was reassuring, educational, thought provoking, and overall comforting. I’m not going to get into everything that was said but here were my take aways:
We should confront death, we should talk about it, think about it, and view it for what it is. Death IS. It’s a part of an ongoing cycle, a moment in the phenomenon of being alive. We return to the earth and become the nutrients we were nourished by, if we are disposed of properly, which brings me to a section deserving of it’s own subhead, where I am going to get REAL into it.
The Infinity Burial Suit
We SHOULD NOT be cremated or buried in the traditional way. The former blew my mind. Cremation is bad for the environment, like 5,000 lbs of mercury a year bad. I literally had never thought of that before. I just was like “decaying bodies are weird, please just burn me.” But also, I kind of hate the idea of being on fire. I can’t believe my cat was burned into ashes. A thing that I loved, that I held, that was alive—just burnt up and put into a box. Bizarre. But then, the artist who was explaining this went on to further explain that our bodies themselves are full of toxins, 219 pollutants to be exact, and that if we are just buried even without a casket we are harming the environment. Like we hadn’t damaged it enough while we were alive. Add all the chemicals and things we do to bodies to make them seem alive at funerals + a casket, and it’s even worse. Thankfully she had a solution. A mushroom burial suit, designed by Jae Rhim.
This suit, also known as the infinity burial suit is available for purchase through her company Coeio. It does the following:
Cleanses the body and soil of toxins that would otherwise seep into the environment.
Delivers nutrients from body to surrounding plant roots efficiently
Restarts life around the body faster than normal
On top of leaving the environment better-off, Infinity Burial products:
Are made of all natural, biodegradable material
Use no harsh chemicals, preservatives, or processing
Reunite the body with the earth and the ongoing cycle of life
You could just watch her Ted Talk but here were some of the most important take aways (to me):
We are both responsible for and the victims of our own pollution. Our bodies are filters and store houses for environmental toxins. So what happens to all these toxins when we die? The short answer is: They return to the environment in one way or another, continuing the cycle of toxicity. But our current funeral practices make the situation much worse. If you’re cremated, all those toxins I mentioned are released into the atmosphere. And this includes 5,000 pounds of mercury from our dental fillings alone every year.
And in a traditional American funeral, a dead body is covered with fillers and cosmetics to make it look alive. It’s then pumped with toxic formaldehyde to slow decomposition—a practice which causes respiratory problems and cancer in funeral personnel. So by trying to preserve our dead bodies, we deny death, poison the living and further harm the environment. Green or natural burials, which don’t use embalming, are a step in the right direction, but they don’t address the existing toxins in our bodies. I think there’s a better solution.
And most important for helping me rethink death:
I realize this is not the kind of relationship that we usually aspire to have with our food.We want to eat, not be eaten by, our food. But as I watch the mushrooms grow and digest my body, I imagine the Infinity Mushroom as a symbol of a new way of thinking about death and the relationship between my body and the environment. See for me, cultivating the Infinity Mushroom is more than just scientific experimentation or gardening or raising a pet, it’s a step towards accepting the fact that someday I will die and decay. It’s also a step towards taking responsibility for my own burden on the planet.
Oh my god. How cool. The idea that there is a safe way for me to decompose and become a part of the earth in a safe and nourishing way. When I pause in the woods and think how much comfort I feel from being there, how vital and alive it all feels, I can’t help but think, “it would not be so bad to be at this stage in circle of life”.
What I also realized, is that planning my death is actually appealing to me. A lot of people avoid it, and by avoiding it you have no control in the ultimate unknown circumstance. I do everything else with so much care and pride, why not plan my death in the same way? I keep my apartment clean when I travel so that if anyone robs it they’ll be like, “omg, she keeps such a tidy home.” So imagine the pride I’d feel when they open up my death plan, a beautifully designed, perfect bound book I’d imagine, with photos and a sound track, and say “goddamn, did she have her shit together.” My grampa left the world this way. He thought of everything, so none of us would have to. I imagine one day he was like “ah, all done, now I can die.” And felt the same measure of rest I feel when I actually manage to deep clean my apartment to my satisfaction (it takes five days, haven’t done it in years).
That was something else I was pleased to have confirmed from the NPR talk. Another guest who is an EMT and often with people in their last moments said that pretty much everyone accepted their deaths when he told them there was nothing more he could do for them. THAT IS REASSURING.
This anecdote I’m about to tell will seem disconnected, but it isn’t, just bear with me.
I remember when I was like 18 and I was terrified of what would happen if my boyfriend at the time moved to Seattle like he said he was going to do. I’d think about it all the time, because I knew I wasn’t invited (before you judge me, remember we were EIGHTEEN, I couldn’t spot red flags in a relationship that had my virginity, gimme a break). Anyways, one of my co-workers, said “dump him, just break up with him now, there’s no point if he’s just going to move”. I remember not being ready to hear that. So I just fretted about it every time he mentioned that goal for a solid two years instead, and you know what? He never moved to Seattle. And we broke up anyways. I often imagine swooping in on little 18 yr old bebe Heid and being like, “oh dear, if you knew that this wasn’t even going to happen you’d realize how silly it is to be worrying! Stop wasting that energy!”
Worrying is awful, it means you are experiencing the thing you’re worrying about every time you worry about it. Still, easier to know it’s foolish to worry, than to actually stop doing it. But I want to remind myself that old Heidi would probably smack current Heidi and tell her not to worry, because like most things we dread, death is not as awful or frightening as I’m imagining—it’s just that I’m not ready for it yet. I do actually have things left to do, like figure out how to stop blocking myself from orgasming lately (I also blame Zoloft for this, but that’s a different blog). And I haven’t even been to Europe. I have 4 more continents to check out. I want to have a drink with Clem on her 21st birthday, and with Josie on her’s. I want to meet Savannah’s kids. I want to fully embrace my status as the “cool aunt, not like other aunts”. I have a lot of tattoos left to get actually. And other stuff I’m sure. Who knows, I’m losing steam.
So I guess what I’m rambling on and on about is that this podcast did help me rethink death. It helped me to realize I should plan my own, that I can leave a nourishing mark on the world, that by not worrying so much I could embrace life better and not feel a sense of urgency that it’s finite, but still take full advantage of the magic of existing at all. I was lucky enough to be born into privilege, I have money, security, a home, I live in a mostly free country, I can do pretty much whatever I want. It would be pretty stupid to continue to dread what’s next, rather than embrace that as well. After all, “to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” —Dumbledore, obviously.
P.S. to whom it may concern,
DEATH PLAN SO FAR
Infinity burial suit, I think I maybe have to train mushrooms to eat me also.
I don’t know where these are allowed to be buried yet, so…location Tbd
I do NOT want to die in a hospital, hopefully there will be some cool modern assisted living/hospice where I can die in my home, and my body won’t be rushed out and everyone will cover me in flowers or something. Or greens. I like eucalyptus and rosemary. And cilantro. and herbal essences shampoo.
I want annie to bake a pie and eat it beside my body while she cries. No one else can have any pie. It’s my death pie.
I want to be buried with my baby blanket.
I want all my equipment to be donated to hopeful designers/photographers who can’t afford their own.
I want all my possessions to be either claimed or disposed of in an environmentally safe way.
I’d like someone to keep a small suit case with things that smell like me so they can smell me when they miss me like I do with my grandparents. Probably savannah, if she even knows what I smell like, and if she outlives me.
I want everyone effected by my death to plan a small trip, one they wouldn’t normally take because of X, Y, Z. When they are on that trip I want them to eat a good meal, have a good cocktail and get a pedicure.
People always say “I want everyone to party at my funeral!” I think that’s probably not realistic, but I do want everyone to have good cocktails, good food, and look at a slide show of the images I captured in my travels. Maybe that’s narcissistic, but they’re special to me, I’m proud of them, and I hope they’ll inspire some of those people to get out there.
That’s all I can think of for now, I’d write letters. Maybe I should do that every 10 years, because who knows when I’m going to get run over on my bike.