The End of The World And Coping With My Mental Health

Content Warning for mentions of suicidal ideation.

I think about the end of the world a lot. Metaphorically and somewhat literally, in pretty much every way either one of those could be applied to “the end of the world.” Everything from nuclear winter, climate change destroying humanity’s ability to survive in retaliation for humanity destroying the ecosystem, and societal collapse due to any number of factors, to the somewhat more mundane and personal end of my existence, the end of something I can’t live without, and the ordinary, everyday endings as possibilities collapse in the single path that makes up my lived experience. It is a constant thought on my mind, even if it isn’t always framed as the calamatous occurence most people associate with the phrase.

It can make it a bit easier for me to handle all my anxiety when I consider the idea that the world might end a thousand times in a single day, so maybe world-ending isn’t as bad as my mind makes it out to be. It also makes it a bit easier to handle the fears and concerns around the larger, more wide-ranging potential ends to the world, too, if you’ve managed to remove the sensationalism around the phrase “the end of the world.” This is the core of most of my processing and healthier coping mechanisms, after all. I mean, I’ve known for a long time that taking all the potential symbolism, the messaging, and the unspoken point out of an act can make it seem a lot less appealing, thanks to the way I’ve handled my own suicidal ideation over the years.

The first thing you learn about handling intrusive thoughts (the backbone of the C in OCD) is that you have to accept that they’re there. If you deny them space in your mind, they’re just going to keep pushing against whatever you used to try boxing them out. If, like me, your intrusive thoughts are about all the ways you could die or actively kill yourself in any given scenario, the prospect can seem a little scary. Those thoughts all feel so aggressive, so dangerous to not just myself and the people around me, but to the “me” that exists beyond my physical body. The most intimate, “self”-ish parts of what makes up the entity writing this feel threatened by those thoughts in ways that almost nothing else can manage. After all, what is more thoroughly annihilating than something removing itself from existence?

In reality, most intrusive thoughts are just there. They don’t require action, they just suggest it (in a way that frequently feels like a demand). They aren’t a reflection of who I am, but a reflexive mechanism meant ultimately to help me survive. My mind doesn’t consider ways to die because it wants to cease to be, but because it wants to be prepared for whatever happens. If my world is going to end, it is easier to accept and process that end if I can see it coming. Better to be aware and have tried something than to be caught completely unawares. At least, you know, according to those parts of my mind.

When you grow up considering how your world might end, or at least how your participation in it might, it gets pretty easy to frame everything in that manner. It makes it easier to work through difficult stuff if you see it that broadly, too. The world where I got this job I applied for ended. The world where I am in contact with my parents ended. The world in which I kept my identity to myself ended. The world in which I ate name-brand cereal for breakfast this morning has ended. The world ends all the time. There’s just plenty more going on, so maybe I shouldn’t focus too much on any one world that ended. All of this is stuff I considered and accepted by the time I was seven. I only remember it this precisely because I recall considering what my mother had been teaching me about heaven and how I didn’t like it that much (which felt heretical and is why I remember all this) since I couldn’t understand how something that never ended could be good. It would take me over a decade longer to put in into words resembling the ones I use nowadays, but these are things I’ve thought for most of my life.

At this point, it probably won’t surprise you to read that I’ve always been interested in apocalyptic stories. Post-apocalyptic ones are frequently interesting to me as well, for similar reasons, but usually only if they’re also about the apocalypse that maybe isn’t as over as most people thought. After all, it’s fascinating to read stories not just about the world as we know it ending, but how the worlds of the people in the story both end and begin at the same time. I may have not always grasped the metaphor at play in a way I could explain this coherently, but I’ve always been fascinated by it. Everything from Stephen King’s The Stand (I tried to read the unabridged version once and it was rough) to Terry Brook’s entries on the end of the modern world before it became the one he wrote about in the Shannara Series. One-offs about plagues, that weird series about the post-rapture world, zombie fiction, and so on. All of it called to me, seeming to justify the thoughts I’d had for years or decades that seemed to say “yes, the end might come, and it will be dangerous and awful, but it will also be more or less what we’ve got going on now with maybe a couple important tweaks.”

These days, apocalyptic fiction feels less interesting to me. I don’t hate it, but it feels like it all hits too close to home. I mean, I read Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers about a plague set in the year 2020 that killed off most of humanity in the month that the word “Coronavirus” started popping up in my international newsfeeds. Every story about despotic rulers and regional warlords hunting people for sport lost their appeal after the Orange Menace gave all those assholes carte blanche to speak their minds, even when those stories were about the awful people being toppled by heroes. It felt too na├»ve to enjoy those anymore, when it was clear that the reality of things would likely favor the warlords and despots. There seem to be far more of them than there are heroes who’d actually stand up to them.

It is difficult to consider this sort of “every day the world ends” thought process as something healthy these days. It feels too imminent to consider so lackadaisically. It feels like I should be doing something, if I really believe that the world ending is a real possibility. It seems to heighten my anxiety more than it lowers it. All this might be the result of trying to avoid grappling with the awful stresses and pains of the past few years, but it could also just be a metaphor that has reached the end of its usefulness. I’m not sure yet, unfortunately, since I’m still struggling to deal with how awful I feel most days and I haven’t really had the time or energy to come up with an alternative metaphor. Maybe I’ll have the time when my living situation improves somehow (new job for more money, no more noisy upstairs neighbors, less terrible apartment space, more people whose company I enjoy around me, or any other possible way my life could improve with a relatively minor change), but now all I can really do is take what time I can to consider this stuff when I’ve got the energy and then lose myself in less apocalyptic and more hopeful fiction when I don’t.

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