We are all going to die. Like, actually. I’m not just being morbid (though I am also definitely intending to be morbid). The denim threads of our human fate grow ever more delicate and precarious as the thighs of existence chafe through our youthful vivacity. Our bodies are slowly decaying as we follow a routine-laced funeral procession towards an inevitable abyss; and woefully, the things which bring us momentary corporeal relief all but hasten our race to the grave. Everything is finite and nothing matters — and that is so comforting.
I have anxiety. I obsess over nearly everything. I’ve found myself obsessing over obsessing, like some kind of manic chicken-or-egg scenario that only ends in tears or a trip to the bar or both. If there were a competition for over-thinking, I wouldn’t win because I’d be so caught up in a thought spiral about losing that I’d crack under the pressure and just stay home. But it’s social interaction that really pushes me over the edge. Two hours without a text back and I turn into the Nancy Drew of self doubt, reading through months of messages in search of my mistakes. Finding an email in my inbox devoid of exclamation points or smiley faces immediately affirms my irrational schema that even those closest to me are indifferent to my existence. I’ve pet dogs and then spent the rest of the day worrying that I pet them too hard and now they are dead.
This is what anxiety feels like: you’re in a small florescent-lit room filled with tiny invisible people with even tinier fingers intermittently poking your body from all angles. You can’t figure out where they’re going to poke next or how to get them to stop. You’re filled with angry bees. Your mouth is a window that you can open to release them but they sting you on their way out. You know there’s a piano hovering over your head, waiting to crush you Looney Tunes style, but every time you look up there’s nothing there. At the same time, you’re floating mid-air, suspended by a single wire that you’re expecting to snap at any moment. (I guess if we’re thinking spatially, you’re about equidistant between the piano and the ground.) You’re made of TV static and you can’t change the channel. The laugh track from Friends intermittently cuts in and out and you can’t change the goddamn channel. You’re attached to the earth by an elastic tether that sometimes gives you slack and other times gets reeled in tight — too tight to breathe and move. You can only choose one: breathing or moving. Anxiety is your brain protecting your body from something it has convinced itself is definitely there, despite your eyes, nose, ears, hands repeatedly proving otherwise.
But with the understanding that nothing matters and that death will eventually take us all into its unfeeling clutches, it is much easier to dispel my obsessions. It allows me to ask myself the important questions, namely: “would I prefer to pass my fleeting time on this floating chicken nugget recounting that time I cursed in front of a child in a very public place? Or would I rather move on and instead focus on the things that matter just a little bit more, but certainly not more than death itself?” Nihilism lets me do that. If it sounds freeing, that’s because it is. It allows awkward moments and questionable decisions to dissolve into the detritus catch-all that is life, bringing them down to the same emotional plane as, say, eating a bagel.
Google defines nihilism as “extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence,” adding that “life is meaningless.” Barring any religious or emotional hangups — perhaps over the fact that futility abounds and this magic hovering ball of dirt and skin cells will eventually be eaten by the sun — nihilism is actually pretty practical.
Devoid of humans, the Earth is meaningless. Humans are the sole scribes of significance; the more significance we determine something possesses in relation to ourselves, the more significant it becomes in an absolute sense. Without our interpretations of it, the world just is. It would be an even better is without us, honestly. (Right now it’s rapidly heading towards an isn’t.) Trees and flowers would grow without inspiring paintings and bad tattoos; sunrises and sunsets would signify neither beginning nor end, instead simply punctuating the endless passage of time.
We have the power to decide what possesses value and what doesn’t. The anxious brain cares about everything to more or less an equal extent, that extent being the absolute brink of insanity. It instinctively inflates the magnitude of things from daily minutia (e.g. leaving the house) to big life events (e.g. leaving the house). This makes the simple act of living an exhausting and emotionally disheartening experience.
Removing some or most of the gravity I’ve placed on these over-thought mundanities gives me back the power to view situations objectively. It allows me to pluck myself from inside my own head where I am constantly entangled in a mess of frazzled neural connections. Now, instead of thinking about everything all at once, I just think about everything all at once and also my mortality. It really puts things in perspective.
So the next time you find yourself thinking about that time you stood up on the train and happened to catch sight of the perfect, sweaty butt print you left on the plastic seat, just remember: nothing matters. Focus on slowing down the dying process or finishing your novel. Or both. Some may say “live every day like it’s your last,” but I prefer “every day is your last; live to spite the human condition.”