Why you should care
Because, well, we all gotta go sometime.
Given a choice between the two — “normal” and “not normal” — when it comes to the amount of fear I live with, for now I have decided that I’m probably normal. Sure, for other reasons, I am decidedly not: trauma as a child, depression in my 20s, a sex scandal at the age of 30 that became a national news story that cost me my career. But the last 10 years have been relatively quiet. I got sober, fixed what those in 12-step recovery might call my “broken picker” and met a great guy. Last September, Arran and I were married, and we’re expecting our first child. I am, dare I say, happy.
That’s the problem.
The anxiety started when we got married but has intensified since we found out we’re expecting. When we got engaged, really, I first became aware of the possibility of having something so invaluable taken from me. After our wedding, I started seeking out stories on the internet of people losing their partners — widowed newlyweds in particular. Now, at least two, three times a day, I imagine Arran dead.
I’m afraid that at this very moment, he’s sick and dying of some undiagnosed something. Or else, when he sets off to work by bike in the morning, I’m afraid he’ll get hit by a car. I picture his body in the street, crumpled like a can. I imagine a car running over his head, his skull exploding like a watermelon.
Sometimes I turn on the TV or look at my phone for a distraction. I’ll sit there, feeling the baby turning inside me, trying not to imagine my husband’s body as a bloated corpse.
When he doesn’t ride his bike to work, I worry there’ll be a terror attack on the subway. I’ll take a break from whatever I’m working on at that moment and click to Twitter, where I’ll read the horrific news. In shock and disbelief, I’ll send my husband a text. When he doesn’t respond, I’ll try to call. I’ll call again and again. He’ll never answer. He’s dead.
A Google search suggests this particular fear is called thanatophobia, or death anxiety. Others identify it as a form of OCD. Most people with thanatophobia worry about their own deaths, but I’ve never been afraid of dying myself. If anything, in my 20s, I had the opposite problem. When I was depressed, I had a plan for how I’d kill myself. Not that I was actually going to do it. But if I did, I knew how. In the meantime, I lived like I had nothing and no one to live for.
My life then, before I met my husband, is nothing like my life now.
At 3 a.m., when I wake up for the fifth time to pee, it feels as good a time as any to wonder what I’d do if my husband were dead. I tell myself to relax. I go into the living room where my dog, Spud, is asleep on the sofa. Sometimes I turn on the TV or look at my phone for a distraction. I’ll sit there, feeling the baby turning inside me, trying not to imagine my husband’s body as a bloated corpse. Eventually, I’ll go back into the bedroom. Arran’s cairn terrier, Lily, is curled up on the floor. Our bedroom is set up in anticipation of the baby. The top of the dresser is outfitted as a changing station. Next to that is a little crate filled with toys. To one side of our bed sits a Moses basket. Then there’s my husband, asleep in the bed.
I tell myself that everyone has issues. On our second date, when we went back to his place to take his dog for a walk, Arran warned me that he’d “act weird” when he went to lock the door. Three years later, he still has a “routine,” although he mostly keeps it to himself. When he’s stressed out, he tells me, he has a particularly hard time leaving the apartment. If we’re walking out together, he’ll ask me if the oven’s off. If I’m not there with him, he might go back in to check. He tells me that he has anxiety and obsessive thoughts, but he refuses to elaborate. It used to be that I couldn’t imagine. But now I understand.
Sometimes I let myself think: What would life look like without him? I feel a little guilty, because I’ll try to talk myself into the idea. I tell myself, It wouldn’t be that bad. I would make the small apartment we temporarily occupy my forever home. I would fill my life with friends. The problem is that I can’t synthesize a child into this picture. I have a friend who worked at an abortion clinic who told me about a woman whose husband died in a car wreck while she was carrying twins, and so she terminated the pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine having our baby without Arran, but I definitely couldn’t imagine doing that.
I wonder how and in what ways my fear is “normal” or when it crosses the line. And if it crossed the line, like it did in my 20s, what would I do? Back then, I had to completely change my life. Rehab, therapy, 12 steps, the works. Maybe, in this case, I just need to talk about it and accept the reality that “bad things happen” to people we love.
In the meantime, every day before he leaves for work, I tell my husband that I love him and ask him to be safe.