Why are people afraid of dying

Anxiety: Anxiety Disorder: The horror in the head

Fear of death every day: The story of Anne Fischer shows how an anxiety disorder takes hold of a person - and how difficult it can be to overcome

Maybe today is the day she dies. That makes your heart stop, just like that. Maybe she'll collapse on the S-Bahn, between two stops, in the middle of all the people. Maybe she'll go to sleep tonight and never get up again. Fear chokes her throat, it cuts her breath, pushes her into a corner, with hunched shoulders and pounding heart. Fear, always fear. In the morning the fear of somehow getting through the day. In the evening the fear of the night at the end of which she might not wake up. Fear of death, fear of life. Fear that all of this will never end, that it will never be fine and she will never be who she was again. Fearless. Quite firmly grounded in the facts. No one who is afraid of all reason.

I can't do anything with weak people, she always thought. I'm a strong woman, and that's what I always wanted to be, everyone should like to know, no problem.

For a long time no one suspected anything of the fear that had settled in her head and made her half insane. She didn't want it any other way. It's one of those frosty days that she doesn't like, the cold creeps into her bones and life stands still. She can endure it badly, this paralysis, everything waiting for things to go on. An apartment in an old building in Berlin; the light fades in front of the windows. There are children's pictures on the piano, laundry is drying in front of the bookshelf. Anne Fischer *, 35 years old, is sitting at the dining table and tells how fear took over her life, paralyzing it, and putting it down. The hands, always in motion, brush short strands of hair behind the ears. No hesitation, no sign that she is tormenting herself with the memory. The gaze steady, the sentences purposeful, the tone self-deprecating, until at some point the laughter ceases, the tears run and she takes refuge in the cold on the balcony for a hasty cigarette. Sometimes she is still amazed at how close to the surface the horror sits.

The time in which their world almost falls apart begins two and a half years ago. Fear is gradually creeping into her life this fall. With worries about the two children, about the daughter who should start school next summer. Now it is decided, she believes, what makes her a mother. Now she has to take care of herself, even more than usual, because the future of her child depends on her alone - like so much depends on her, on what lies within her strength. Anne Fischer is one of those people who can never achieve enough. Who do more and more and make everything look easy.

I've always shouldered the responsibility she says. Even more than really has to be.

She thinks it is good when others think that she can do everything easily. Is satisfied with himself when you ask: How does she do it? When her daughter is born, she is doing her A-levels at night school and has also started a junior degree at a university of applied sciences. An exception rule for students with good grades, who can have their achievements credited towards later studies. You can do that, she thinks at first. Learning, studying, household chores, baby, all together. She bites into this trying to get things done. The next housework for studies is pending when her husband says: How do you want to do all of this, you have to decide. Then she breaks off her studies. She passed the Abitur with 1.4. There is always the thought that she wants more, has to do more. A year later, she applied for a place in business communication. But then she becomes pregnant again. Feels trapped after the baby is born, jealous of her husband who goes on a business trip while she is changing diapers.

I was never your typical happy playground mom. Also found these mother topics always totally exhausting. I didn't want to hear what the other children were already able to do.

She looks for a job as soon as possible. Management assistant, responsible for two start-up companies. She is always the one who takes care of everything. In addition to her job, household and children, she also takes on parenting representation in the day care center.

Sometimes she is surprised at how close the horror is to the surface

She sometimes accuses her husband of being so little at home and of naturally relying on her to organize family life. She makes it clear to him that she can do all of this without him. She tells him that she loves him, but not that she needs him, for life, for being. The responsibility is hers alone. And everything that preoccupies her, she defines herself. On an evening in that autumn when worries gradually take up more and more time and space, she is sitting on the sofa when suddenly she is breathless and the circulation sags, she stumbles into the bathroom, lets cold water run over her palms, stands in front of the mirror and thinks what's wrong with you now? This is how it begins that in the evening, when it gets quiet, she can no longer switch off. The thoughts are linked in her head, spinning in circles:

What if something happens to you, a car accident, a heart attack, if you suddenly die? What if the children are suddenly without the one who does everything?

The thoughts torment them, make them restless. Now when she sits on the sofa in front of the TV in the evening, she gets dizzy, then starts up and looks for something to do, exercise, some housework to be able to breathe again. She begins to observe herself, to listen into her body. In the evening she sits in bed, can no longer concentrate on a book and instead compares symptoms on the Internet: What do you have when it stings here, what do you have when it presses here? She doesn't dare to go to the doctor. She never had more than one cold. Now she's sitting there thinking about dying.

Myocarditis. Really great. You often don't notice that either, and whack, you're gone all at once.

During this time, of all times, the son of an acquaintance of her mother actually dies of an inflammation of the heart muscle. A young man just lies dead in his bed one morning. She finds stories like this everywhere now. Each confirms her fear.

At some point, by then, it is already spring, she finally goes to the doctor. Because she thinks she might not survive the flight to Dubai on Easter vacation. Sitting across from the GP and saying, you know, I'm scared I'm dying. And start crying. There is nothing there, the examination shows, no findings, no danger. Physically healthy, heart okay; the diagnosis should reassure you and yet it doesn't. The doctor will prescribe an anti-anxiety antidepressant. But she doesn't take the drug. For fear of losing control. She finds that days in the pill mist are not an option when you have to work and function. And she thinks of the friend back then in her first years in Berlin, who took drugs for his depression and one day still jumped from the roof of the student dormitory. She finds what comes by itself, has to go again by itself. If you only work hard enough on it. Fear is silent on the flight to Dubai. Even on vacation, without any pills. A few weeks later, she and the children visit their parents in the north. On the way in the car the clutch gets stuck; she has to have it checked in Berlin, she has that in her head as she makes her way home with the children in the back seat. You can travel 30 kilometers.

We die, fear rages in her, we're dying and it's your fault.

In front of her is a car with a trailer, she starts to overtake and at the same time notices how panic rises inside her, how her heart starts racing, how her eyes go black. Get off the freeway, she still thinks. Yells at the children to be quiet. Somehow manages to get to the next exit, brings the car to a stop and calls a friend who lives near her parents and picks them up. Her husband is far away in Berlin. They swap cars, and less than an hour later her car, which her friend is now driving, stops with a defective clutch - as if to prove that her fear of death was justified. After that, the fear keeps coming back. It is as if she were forgetting normality, everything that was taken for granted, piece by piece. She no longer recognizes herself. She used to drive at 200 km / h on the autobahn, make phone calls and smoke. Now 100 meters on the Berlin city motorway, minutes away from home, is enough to make your heart beat faster and your hands get wet with sweat.

She thought she was suffocating on the S-Bahn and had to get off immediately. And then, again and again: take a breath, go on. She cannot excuse herself for fear, but she can endure it. She hopes. She struggles to remain who she always was, at least in the eyes of others. Dragging herself on, caught a cold from moving her office community, doesn't want to take sick leave until she is so bad that she almost collapses on the way to the doctor. That day she thinks she is dying, now and here, on the street, alone. At a construction site, she begs one of the workers to accompany her the last few meters to the practice. A total stranger who is supposed to stop death. She doesn't recognize herself. Never in her life has she bothered to cry out for help. Always found the direction himself, no matter how sad, how angry, how perplexed it was. For the first time in her life, she has no plan. Fear makes them helpless, and helplessness makes fear even greater. Suddenly she can no longer be alone with her children and responsibility.

If you die here, your children are sitting there and somehow they have to move on.

The last remnant of security is lost. Nothing left of their perfect world.

You piss your pants in fear when you get up in the morning, the alarm clock goes off, and you stand in the shower and would like to yell for your mom or your husband so that you are not alone please.

It's time to scream for help.

She starts therapy. And finally finds out what's wrong with her: She suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But this realization only makes things worse. Because the conversations with the psychologist touch on things that she never said, never told. The causes of fear. Anne Fischer grew up north of Flensburg, in one of those villages from which nobody seems to ever move away. She lives in a family that is not lacking in love - but in support. As a child, she was often at home alone with her little half-brother; the mother works as a waitress, the stepfather on shifts in a factory. Once, when Anne is seven and her brother three, he suddenly yells with stomach ache, she runs to the neighbors and gets help. At the hospital, the doctors remove one of his kidneys. Perhaps that is when the feeling that will run through your life begins: that you have to bear the responsibility all by yourself. When she was eight years old, her birth father, who lived in the neighborhood and had always been close to her, died. Anne has already learned to keep to herself everything that concerns her, to swallow the tears and the fear.

Her mother, who was only 19 when Anne was born and divorced shortly afterwards, does not have an easy life in the family of her second husband. The mother-in-law wanted another woman for her son. Anne feels the rejection. And weeps in disbelief when the parents decide to move into grandma's house. She is eleven then and knows for a fact that it will not end well with everyone under one roof. It's not going well. The mother tries to evade - the mother-in-law and the feeling of not being welcome. Sometimes she goes straight to the bedroom when she comes home from work, sometimes she numbs herself with alcohol and medication. After she has drunk, she can no longer avoid the argument. Anne fights with her brother, grandmother's darling, until they both cry. She can hardly stand sitting at a table with him. The stepfather endures conflicts in silence, standing in silence between his mother and his wife. Everyone suffers, but each one for himself. Anne doesn't talk to anyone about her problems. Helps with cleaning at home and at the weekend in the restaurant that the parents have taken over. And when she tells her friends about the fight with her grandma, it is in such a way that everyone laughs about it. Only the school eventually becomes indifferent to her. The bad grades never get her into trouble. Perhaps because everyone at home is too busy to weigh the consequences and look to the future. The mother is getting worse and worse, she has panic attacks, can no longer leave the village and sometimes not even the house, drinks more and more and one day she is suddenly gone, for weeks, months in a clinic.

Bit by bit all security is lost. At some point she loses the strength to bear responsibility alone

In the ninth grade, Anne has to leave secondary school. And realizes that it's up to her now what happens to her life. Have a good secondary school diploma and training to become a legal assistant. At the age of 18, after a last violent argument with her grandmother, she moved out of the house. The therapy stirs up all the anger and forlornness from back then. Torn by her relationship with her mother, which was always close and always remained, in spite of everything or precisely because of it.

Damn it, why did I have to take on so much responsibility even though you are the mother and I am the child? Why did you screw it up so badly? Why didn't you take care of school, why wasn't that important to you?

She says none of this to mother. Because she realizes that all of this scares her, that she feels guilty. Once they are standing together in the kitchen and a song is playing on the radio, the lines hang in the space between them: Don't you know how beautiful you are? And mother says: You know, P├╝ppi, whenever I hear that, I have to think of you. I know I did a lot wrong. And you still turned out to be such a great woman. In her early twenties, Anne can no longer stand village life, the interference from all sides, the confinement, the expectation. Every Friday after work she now goes to Berlin, which she only knew from the Love Parade and instantly thought it was great: so huge and anonymous, and nobody cares how you look or what you do. At the weekend she stays in a hotel and sorts apartment advertisements, for months she finds a small apartment on Kurf├╝rstendamm.

She drifts in Berlin. Change jobs, assistant in an expensive management consultancy, kitchen help in a shabby restaurant. She goes out to party, drinks, sometimes does drugs and thinks that at some point you will die anyway, then rather with a bang. Don't want to miss anything, don't miss anything. Only with the birth of the children does she begin to take death seriously. Once a week she talks to the therapist about her fear. After that thinks every time, how can she just let me go now, how am I supposed to get through this week? And then tries again for a whole week not to show anything, to keep up with everyday life. There are days when she sits at home and can't stop crying. Mama, why are you crying? The daughter asks, and she doesn't know an answer. And the six-year-old says: Sometimes that's the way it is, then you cry. In the evening she lies in bed with headphones on and watches old comedy series on her smartphone for hours until she falls asleep. You have to do sport, says her husband once, when the fear is abysmal. That sounds like advice from a therapist, like self-help book advice, to her ears. She sits there and thinks: I'm afraid I'll die, and you think it'll go away with a little exercise? She used to play handball and ice hockey, but now she no longer trusts her body to exert herself. Every minute is wide awake high tension and endless exhaustion at the same time. There is no one there who could understand how she feels. So close to the edge of madness. Even her husband doesn't know how close, she firmly believes. Listen and can't find big words and have no idea how close it all is.

One evening in November, when she's been living with fear for a year, she has to make up her mind. The children are already asleep when she measures their blood pressure, which she now checks several times a day. That evening the value shot up, she couldn't breathe, felt a stabbing pain and yelled at her husband, he should call the emergency doctor now. The paramedics give them a choice: stay or go. In the end, she doesn't go to the psychiatric clinic. Because your children are not supposed to experience what they have experienced themselves: that all of a sudden mom is gone. Instead, she sits with her family doctor the next day. You're finally taking the pills, he says. And then it's like a release when the effect sets in. When she can sleep again and sit still and distance herself in thought:

Okay, Anne, now you make a plan, now you go about it, and do it sensibly and in such a way that it gets better again.

Gradually she initiates others. Friends, the boss.But you always do everything, many say. Yes, she says, but I'm not doing well with it. In December, after the last therapy session, she goes to a self-help group for the first time. Two hours on Friday evening, all different people with similar problems, some have been coming for five years or ten. Exercises, lectures, role plays. They talk about the fear that every individual carries around with them. Fear of people and things, of life and death. She finds the beginning infinitely exhausting, wants to tell herself and never stop, and yet can hardly stand the stories of the others. She sits there crying for a whole meeting. Friday evening, and I, young woman, sit here and should actually be doing completely different things, I should be out with friends and have fun or sit in the cinema or be with my family, but no, I'm sitting here and have to worry about this crap, I want this to stop Actually, she says to everyone, it should be the goal of everyone here that they no longer need to come here. Your goal is that, immovable.

Today she thinks it takes luck to suppress fear, but so does want. Her luck, she says, was that people were at her side, always there at the right time. She takes two friends with her for a run. Just a test, at first, more walking than running. When it is over, she is so relieved that tears come to her. Soon after, she starts training for a half marathon. Counter the fear that your heart will freeze with the will to challenge your body. It's about trusting that it is good when your heart beats faster. As a symbol that fits, she thinks: to run away from everything that has slowed her down.

It's an effort that I only make for myself and for no one else. Because nobody else benefits from it. Just me.

Maybe, she thinks, this was how it all had to happen, inevitably. Maybe she inherited the fear. From her mother and hers again. Almost casually, her own grandmother told her on the phone that many years ago she was also unable to breathe on the bus and had to take medication. Perhaps they have carried the fear on for generations. Maybe she took the fear from childhood with her, maybe the stress she brought into her life dissolved into fear at some point, maybe it was a combination of everything. Now she is taking the place of fear in her life, piece by piece. She thinks she knows where her limits are. Now thinks it's okay to say frankly that I can't. Don't have to grow beyond yourself. She works less, doesn't read e-mails on weekends, and is no longer constantly on the alert. Learn to be satisfied with spending an afternoon at home with the children on the couch in front of the television, not always having demands on yourself and what you have to achieve. That is the compromise, your admission to fear: There can be no further as always. Some things in your life have to change in order to get better. So that she can leave the fear behind at some point. But it is still there. As before, not a day goes by without the fear not flashing at some point. Only once did she drive on the autobahn again, last summer, a few hundred meters only to the next exit, and on the back seat the children cheered: Yes, mom, you can drive on the autobahn again! Yes, she called back, but it's still not nice, silence! And the children stayed quiet and were only happy afterwards when it was done. For a long time she did not understand these sayings: Learn to live with fear. Nobody wants that, then you don't want to live with it either. She's got it now, she says. You have to think about fear from the end: Right now you are afraid. But it will go away again.

* Name changed by the editor

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