Why Are We So Afraid Of Sickness And Death?

Posted on August 25, 2016 in Health and Life, Society

By Mekhala Dave:

“Life’s but a walking shadow,” said Macbeth, in a Shakespearean soliloquy, narrated by Sir Ian McKellen on stage. He says Macbeth’s reaction to his wife’s death is without meaning, like a melodramatic end to a very bad play. From literature, in between the lines, there is a potpourri of stifled emotions and a vexed state of mind. Tempted we are to speak through our eyes, for in them are mysteries, a simulated reality veiled from each other. And our voices are gnarled in the façade of a reality we wish to achieve and surround in.

Recently, I watched “Holding the Man“, a film based on the true story from a compelling book by an Australian playwright, Timothy Conigrave, about him and his partner, two gay men deeply in love, ailing with AIDS. The misery and tragic death of his partner brings him to write a memoir for their monumental love, Timothy barely graced his book with an ending when he perished after ten days. They endured hardships like any two people in love, through relationship rough patches, nonacceptance from family and society, transgressing the illegality of gay marriage and finally, the horrors in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

In a tale of another love story, between my mother and I, she possesses an illness which is the most feared word in our age and time. Cancer, an elephant in the room which we as society utter but one where we seldom acknowledge it publicly, just like AIDS, outside of institutional (such as hospitals, medical centres, etc.), medical academia and artistic contexts. In the film, Timothy’s partner’s father refused to recognise AIDS, a stigma attached to the LGBT community, instead pinning onto his son that he has cancer. This interchangeability of words, AIDS or cancer, struck me that in sickness, the nature of our anguish remains the same.

The duality in the ways we lead our lives, assigning profundity in distractions such as money, fame and wealth, neglecting authentic concerns in love, sickness and health, is leading us into dystopic landscapes of a Bosch painting. The animalistic and monstrous undertones in the brush strokes reveal the surreal and gripping reality of our bizarre human nature that we live with every day but we choose to overlook it. Instead we ‘act’ entirely in opposition to such human nature by replacing it with a delusional idealised reality, striving for that one component which we call social norms.

Art is not a means to an end. In the processes of creating art, there is an untainted veracity of breathing into the work. Similarly, sickness is a vice we all experience but there is a lack of mental creativity and psycho-societal infrastructure to combat the demons that come along for the ride. It’s in the processes to bring hope, care and unconditional love that eases disease-based experience. My mother is a victim of CNS Primary Lymphoma, a rare form of brain cancer, and has been diagnosed with dementia and dysfunctions of motor skills as side-effects, even though she is in remission. She feels alienated from her already fractured community and chooses to speak to her fellow survivors who along with her, comprehend and recognise that life is not a means to an end but magic is in the connection, earthly and spiritual in-betweens.

“Nobody knows where they might end up, nobody knows when they might wake up.” – “Cosy in the Rocket” by Psapp.

Russell Brand, comedian & writer, is known for his past drug and sex addictions, engraved for as long as he lives. Although the media tramples on about his erratic and questionable activities, he embodies a beautiful story of survival from his addictions.  I binge watched “The Trews“, when truth and news collide, a string of short clips among which are his opinions on activism in substance abuse, transcendental meditation and the need for humanitarian unity. Brand has an immeasurable eminence of talking about his past openly and effortlessly. He also engages in activism in bringing awareness of overcoming addictions. There is no shame in his words or postures, he is as clean as it gets. Many of us cannot or do not muster the courage to engage in such topics which usually haunt us in our mental capacity, self-censorship and suppression being the chief disease of mankind.

I often scroll my social media, sites such as BrainPicking or The Artidote, curate platforms to fill a void that we all deeply inhabit and share amongst each other. Today, instead of our voices we make use of elusive artistic materials to validate how we feel in the moment, today or tomorrow, admittedly a useful tool for self-expression. Julie Delpy in Linklater’s touching movie “Before Sunrise”, sat across from her companion Ethan Hawke and said, “You know, I believe if there is any kind of God, it wouldn’t be in any of us. Not you or me. But just this little space in between. If there is any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something… the answer must be in the attempt.” We are part of countless conversations, very few are designed around sickness or health nuances and we leave vital bottled-up pain into dregs of social media sharing.

Sickness or illness are part and parcel of our lives which we must learn to address, discuss and act upon before we turn the wheels on lobbying or advance what we know from survival or death toll figures/statistics. Even expressing and verbalising about melancholic or chronic depression with each other frees us for a meaningful lifestyle, as J. K. Rowling shared her depression before conceiving Harry Potter series. So, what do such anecdotes tell us?

All of us are submerged in routinely activities or collectively working toward goals, whether in the attempt to make business deals or eradicate global conflicts, they are equally important. But we hide from the depths of our own authentic selves which remain concealed on a greater consciousness level.  We deny ourselves truth that our partner, parent or children may be gravely plunged into sickness someday. None of us are well-equipped or trained by the present economic, social and political system to cope with nursing them back to health or leading them to their fate. Euthanasia is a debated paradigm of how our greater consciousness is still so unevolved and constrained in a very infinite and colossal universe, largely due to moral, ethical and legal concerns.

Mortality is a constant, yet, there is deficiency in facing this credence, then why are we losing our individual voices? Even a pertinent set-up like psychologists, meditative therapies and palliative care are often shelved and deserted.

Often, like you, I draw my inspiration from art, music, films and books that are the epitome of emotional feedback and act as guidance gurus, a balance they strike between self-expression and allowing for appreciators to decipher the meaning and purpose of life from their work. When our voices throttle in moderation to stay within societal accepted confines, we turn to what we know best: Ignorance, ignorance and ignorance of pain and suffering. Macbeth’s words, in Sir Ian McKellen’s theatrics, in its entirety, sums up the matter of life and death,

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”