[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
I’m shitting my pants about this Ebola virus. Just hearing the word “Ebola” makes me literally sick to my stomach. I’m sick of hearing about this disease and I’m sick of feeling terrified about it. Every morning I wake up for work, I scramble to watch the news and read the latest horror stories, and then I spend the rest of the day irritable and panicked about this growing epidemic. And it seems like every day a new fear of mine has come true: more people getting sick, no one doing anything real to stop it, and more and more people chiming in about what should be done, without any real organization or plan of action. But what can be done? I feel like we’re all going to die! How do I stop freaking out about this?
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Dear Scared Sick,
We are all going to die. And there’s nothing that can be done about it. Whether we die of disease, old age, violence, or some freak accident, the fact is that life, and everything about it, is temporary. And this current disease, and the wave of stress and panic it’s rightfully causing, is also a temporary situation. Nothing lasts forever, whether it be good or bad, except death. That is the best reason to stop freaking out about this and dying in general. It will happen someday whether we like it or not. But is that really a reason to be constantly depressed? Or is the fact that we’re going to die what actually gives our life value?
Disease, disasters, and random fatal accidents constantly remind us of our own inescapable mortality. They remind us how much our very existence hangs precariously in the balance at all times. They remind us that the people we think are in control don’t really have an idea what’s going on and don’t really know how to save us or run the world. We’re all powerless in one way or another — some more, some less — but our mortality is one thing we all have in common.
We don’t like to think about dying, so most of the time we put it out of our heads. And that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We have too much living on our minds to fill our precious minutes with the constant reality of an eventual and unavoidable death. The idea of a global infectious disease outbreak is horrifying, and is possible, maybe even likely, to occur someday — just as it has been many times in the past. But we are all already infected with a fatal condition called being alive. And rather than having this add to our anxiety and panic, it should help keep things in perspective, and motivate us to enjoy our time here as much as we can — not experience it as a dreadful and terrifying countdown to extinction.
Besides, if we’re going to be afraid of catching a deadly disease, then we should also be afraid of all diseases at all times — not just now, during this current news cycle. Based on the odds, we should be even more scared of dying in a car wreck, or suffering a severe life-altering injury. And if being constantly and extremely afraid of getting a fatal disease is a rational and justified state of mind, then we might as well also be perpetually afraid of being murdered, of being the victim of gang violence, of dying in a plane crash, or of being blown up by a bomb.
The thing is, it’s OK to be afraid of dying. It’s OK to feel anxiety and stress about an uncontrollable and threatening world. It’s good to want to survive. But we must weigh the amount of fear we indulge ourselves in against how much good it actually does us. How much fear of death is healthy before it starts to take away from our ability to live the life we’re so afraid of losing?
We have to remember that getting a rare disease is still very unlikely compared to so many other potential calamities that can befall us at any moment. And we must realize that spending precious time and energy reckoning with the possibility of death — rather than making the most of our brief and miraculous life — is a sincere disrespect to existence itself.
Stay strong, do what you can to help yourself and others stay alive, be grateful to those who are putting their own lives in jeopardy to save ours, and don’t give in to the fear to the point where it has sapped the joy out of the life you have. Feel compassion for those who have perished, not just from this disease, but from every illness, every injustice, every tragedy, and every misfortune. Don’t let the terror of death cut you off from the beauty of life. Remain humane.
We will get through this, just as we have so many similar trials and tribulations in the past. Have faith in the ordeals and extract as much meaning from this as you can. We will be OK, even if we’re not OK. Stop looking at the news and go for a walk outside for a while. Go hang out with your friends and laugh and smile. Go hug your family and pet some animals. Most of all, just don’t stop celebrating the amazing gift of life you’re living right now.
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