My Imaginary Near-Death Experience

What’s the best way to deal with a quarter-life crisis? For David Tveite, it’s to pretend that he’s dying.

I just realized that I don’t deal with reality in the way that a grown-up ought to.

A few months ago, I woke up with a nagging pain in my side. After a week it hadn’t gone away so I started to worry. It escalated pretty quickly because here’s how my brain works:

  1. Ow, my side hurts.
  2. Oh no, I have cancer.
  3. I have pancreatic cancer (because I just checked the internet and that’s apparently a kind of cancer that occurs in that general part of the body).
  4. I have inoperable pancreatic cancer and…
  5. I will be dead within the next year.

This is all, of course, without any professional opinion or even casual knowledge about the disease which I have self-diagnosed. So in five steps, I’ve gone from a mild abdominal pain to planning my own funeral, and that’s not an exaggeration. I was actually planning my own funeral, which is okay because now I won’t have to do that again. Now I know in advance that I want them to play “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and just bum the hell out of everyone. That’ll save me some time in the future.

During all of this, I don’t go to the doctor. Even though I have already convinced myself that I am going to die, I don’t want a doctor to tell me that, because then it’s real. Somehow I’m completely resigned to my own imminent demise while at the same time being in total denial that anything is wrong with me. I was postponing having cancer until a more convenient time. This was back in August, and my girlfriend was going to move to another city at the end of the month, so I was telling myself, “I will wait until September to have cancer.”

After three more weeks, the pain had gotten worse. I finally went to the doctor. They took some X-rays and didn’t find anything, told me it was probably just muscle pains of one kind or another. Within three days, the pain had completely disappeared.

But as I was driving home from the doctor’s office, I realized that on some level, I was disappointed. I had spent so much time inside my own head developing this premature death fantasy that I had grown pretty comfortable in it. I think part of me had even started to like the idea.

Right now, I am 22 years old. Not over the hill by any means, but I have finished college and have probably become some version of the person that I’m going to be for the rest of my life. I’m getting pretty close to the age where I am no longer allowed to just die with potential.

I mean, if you die at age 22 and you haven’t really accomplished anything, that’s more or less okay. Obviously it’s sad, but if people bemoan your wasted potential at that point, it’s not because you wasted it yourself. No one who dies at 22 has really had the chance to be a total failure. Even if you’ve done nothing worthwhile by that point, people will just assume that you were going to. Conversely, no one ever dies at 40 with people saying, “What a cruel bummer. He could have really been somebody.”

I don’t mean to overstate my own suffering because, even if my ailment wasn’t entirely psychosomatic, my reaction to it was completely ridiculous. But however little actually happened in my body doesn’t change this insane thing that occurred in my head. By the end of the episode, I’d reached a kind of peace that must be akin to what happens to other people when they accept religion, only to tumble back into the resolvable issues in my real life, for which I have actual responsibility. Is it possible that I am less afraid of death than I am of having a life?

Honestly, I can see the appeal of being dead. It’s one thing that’s impossible to do wrong; it happens and then nobody expects anything of you. And people will say wonderful, nice things about you that they never would have said while you were still alive. And the younger you die, the less you have to do for it to be considered a tragedy. Death is easy. Life is hard.

I know that this is all pretty morbid, but before my family starts planning an intervention I think I should say that I doubt I’d ever seriously consider suicide. But if I did, I know that it wouldn’t be for a good reason. If anything really bad ever happened to me, I’d be too shattered to get out of bed, let alone buy a rope and write a note and whatever else I’d have to do. Even now I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it.

But this morning, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen to get some breakfast and I realized that I didn’t have any food in the house. And I really didn’t want to walk the three blocks to the grocery store. And for just a moment, I was like, “That’s it. Today’s the day.”

Then it passed, and I went grocery shopping.

David C. Tveite, Esq. is an English and history student at the University of Puget Sound. His coming of age was badly stunted by Hollywood fame when he appeared at age fourteen on the hit CBS series Survivor: The Moon. He still considers himself a celebrity, and it's beginning to make his family and friends sad. He also writes A Regular Dude's World Atlas.