Letting go of my fears of the world ending

I lost a year of my life to a fixation on doomsday

Kirby reflects on overcoming anxiety about the world ending. 

I spent my childhood waiting for the world to end. 

The idea that some big event could happen at any time and change my entire life was always in the back of my mind—and I had no say in the matter. 

As I got older, I shoved my world-ending anxiety down as much as I could. I did my best to only panic in private because I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on in my head. 

Years later, the consequences of not dealing with these feelings at a young age came back in full force.

When I was in Grade 11, my class spent an entire year studying the Cold War. At the same time, North Korea began actively testing bombs and missiles for the first time in years, and Donald Trump, a man who I perceived to be both mentally unstable and uncaring for human life, was elected president of the United States. 

This sequence of events created a perfect storm for the anxiety I had shoved aside for years to consume my life. I had a new fixation: nuclear war. 

War was a topical subject in 2016, which fueled my fears even more. Instead of talking about my anxiety, I hid my panic while constantly feeding it in secret. I read fearmongering articles and set Google Alerts for breaking news on nuclear weapons. 

I clung to the facts that brought me comfort. 

One of these was that Nagasaki was not the original target for the second nuclear bomb dropped on Japan—the bomb was intended for Kokura but was diverted at the last moment because of inclement weather. I felt safe when the sky was overcast, telling myself that bombs don’t fall on rainy days. 

Sunny days, however, were ruined. 

I would look up and not see a sky but a fast-approaching mushroom cloud. When planes flew over my head, I braced myself. I looked up, convinced this would be the plane carrying the bomb that would end 5,000 years of human civilization. 

Going inside didn’t save me from my mind. I surveyed my surroundings in every room I entered, searching for cover. No matter where I went, I wasn’t safe.

I can see now that my thoughts were illogical. I was blinded not only by fears, but the arbitrary rules I had given to the war that was only happening inside my head. 

I was losing touch with reality, which was just as terrifying as the bombs. I worried I was crazy. I worried that everyone else was crazy. I worried that the world was ending, and nobody was noticing but me.

I couldn’t hide my fears forever. In April of 2017, the United States sent missiles to a Syrian airbase, and headlines teased the possibility of global war.

When the news of the airstrike broke, I couldn’t keep my anxiety in. In panicked sobs, I let my parents into the overwhelming feelings that I had been pushing down for months. 

Expressing my anxiety out loud felt like a colossal failure. However, letting my parents in was the turning point that would allow me to eventually get better. 

Before that could happen, I had to learn a valuable lesson: things often get worse before they can get better. The week that followed my confession was the most painful of my life as my nightmares finally felt like they were being validated.

After keeping up appearances for so long, I let myself fall apart. I spent days pacing the sidewalk, looking up at a mushroom- cloud sky.  

When my class discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis, I left the room to wander the school hallways, blasting rock music in my headphones to try and drown out my thoughts. I deleted apps that sent me news notifications, turning away when I saw bright red because it looked like breaking news. 

I was in a psychologist’s office within a week of the airstrike. We talked about my anxiety and developed rational answers to my deepest fears. 

I realized some of the worst people in history had access to a nuclear arsenal, and none of them ever chose to use them. I was reminded of a faith in humanity that I had forgotten I ever had. 

I wasn’t sure I would ever fully recover. Months later, I re-downloaded Twitter, and even then, I would cover the trending topics with my hand so I wouldn’t have to look at them. 

Coming back to myself wasn’t linear. 

By the summer of 2017, I was doing better until Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un publicly argued over who had the bigger red button. In Orlando, Florida, I had a panic attack in a hotel bathroom and felt like I was back where I started. 

This breakdown was a sign that what I was doing wasn’t working anymore—I still needed help. With guidance from my doctor, I switched things up.  

I went on medication and tried to live my life using what I had learned in therapy. Other things started to matter again, like dinners with my family and sleepovers with my friends. 

As time went on, I became more present. My life started coming back to me. 

By the time I graduated high school, I no longer had to leave the room if CNN was on. I wasn’t afraid of what newscasters had to say anymore. It wasn’t going to change the fact that in the morning, the sun would still rise, and the tide would still fall. 

I can’t say nuclear war will never happen in my lifetime—that assumption would be naïve. I have no control over if someone will one day decide to launch the bombs.  

I have no control over what world leaders choose to do, so there’s no use on dwelling on it. I spent a year focused on the end of the world, and all that happened was I lost a year of my life. 

The phrase “not my problem” has become my mantra for coping with my deepest fears. At first it felt selfish to remove myself from blame when thinking about the sad or scary parts of the world, but I learned I was never going to change the world if I was paralyzed by fear. It was never my responsibility to end the possibility of World War III. 

I still suffer from anxiety, and I will for the rest of my life. Some days I still look up at a blue sky and still see a mushroom cloud, but I know if I spend my days waiting for a doomsday that might never come, my whole life will pass by. 

That’s not the life I want to live. So instead, I’m not going to dwell on anything that simply isn’t my problem. 

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