Stalked by DeathI| by Linda Sherby, Ph. D, ABPP

09/04/2020 4:17 PM | Anonymous

“I know I keep saying the same thing over and over,” David says, his despair and anxiety apparent even over the telephone, as all our therapy sessions are conducted these days. “I feel scared all the time. I’m sure Covid is going to get me. I’m sure I’m going to die. Yet it helps me to tell you. I mean I know you can’t keep the virus from killing me, but telling you makes me feel at least a little better.”

“Do you know why telling me helps?”

“You’re the only person I can tell. My wife doesn’t want to hear it any more. She says I’m a 48 year old man who rarely leaves the house, so how likely am I to get Covid. She’s just fed up with me. And I try not to talk about it in front of the kids. I don’t want to scare them. But I’m so glad they’re not going back to in-person school. I don’t know if I could have tolerated having them go into a classroom every day and then came back home.”

“So is it that you feel less alone when you talk with me?”

“Definitely.” Pause. “I’ve always been afraid of dying. Even when I was a kid. If I saw a dead bird, I’d cry and cry and not be able to sleep for days. I was sure that would be me. And when my cousin enlisted in the army, I was in shock. I couldn’t imagine how anyone would volunteer to be killed. But this, this is the worst it’s ever been. There’s this disease that’s killing hundreds of thousands of people. It makes complete sense that I’ll be one of them.”

“It makes complete sense because…?”

“Because I know I’m going to die.”

“And what does knowing you’re going to die mean to you?”

“What!?”

“What does knowing you’re going to die mean to you?” I repeat. “We are, after all, all going to die.”

“You say that so calmly.” Pause. “Of course I know we’re all going to die, but that terrifies me. And it removes all meaning from life. Why bother being in a marriage, having kids, being successful? In the end it all goes away.” Pause. “I know we always go back to my father’s heart attack when I was seven, but even then I was amazed that he was able to come back from that and throw himself back into the business as if he hadn’t been on death’s door.”

“But that wasn’t your mother’s reaction.”

“Oh no, not at all. She hovered around him like he was about to die at any second.”

“Just like she hovered around you when you were sick,” I add.

“That’s for sure. She was an anxious mess. All I had to do is run a slight fever and you’d think I was dying.” Pause. “I know we’ve talked about this before. You think that my mother’s over-reaction to my being sick is why I always think I’m going to die.”

“Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple. How did you feel about your mother’s reaction to your being sick?”

“I don’t know. I guess I kind of liked it. Made me feel like she really loved me.” Pause. “Especially after my father’s heart attack, she paid way less attention to me, so it was nice having her focus on me again. And actually it drove my father crazy. He’d say that she was babying me, that all I had was a cold or a sore throat or whatever and that I’d be fine. I remember, he’d say, ‘Stop treating him like a baby.’”

“So when your wife doesn’t want you to talk about your fears, what do you feel?”

“Ignored, I guess.”

“Unloved?” I ask.

“I suppose. But I’m not really sure how much my wife loves me. Ever since we’ve had kids, she’s way more focused on them than on me.”

“So you felt you lost your mother to your father and now you feel you’re losing your wife to your kids.”

“Yeah! That’s right.”

“And what about me?”

“You?”

“Um hmm. You said I’m the only person you can talk with about your fears.”

“Certainly the only person who will listen.”

“And that makes you feel how?”

“I guess it makes me feel like you care.”

 “So maybe you learned early on that the only way to feel loved was to be sick.”

“But I could be sick without dying.”

Silence.

“I just thought of something,” David says. “Maybe dying is my punishment, my punishment for being such a baby and wanting Mommy’s attention.”

“That’s a great insight, David. We’ll talk about that more next time.”



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