Yes, there's an app for reckoning with death - just ask Rebecca Davis

When Rebecca Davis decided to quit drinking, she made it her mission to find 'alternative' options to stay sane inside an insane world. Here's Part Three of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

14 May 2019 - 13:35 By Mila de Villiers
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Think "Rebecca Davis".

Adjectives including "South Africa's very best white" (merci for that one, Marianne Thamm), "award-winning journalist" and "the woman who puts the 'wit' in Twitter" ought to be conjured.

But "self-help author"?

If "nah, bru" is your initial response, not to worry. This born cynic would agree hands down.

Self-Helpless, Davis's latest contribution to the local literary scene, chronicling her year-long "journey" of immersing herself in the world of auras, chakras, sweat lodges, mindfulness and (much) more, was sparked when she resolved to undertake "one of the most difficult things I've ever done": quit drinking.

Intrigued as to why the struggle was so onerous? Take a look at the facts:

The former Rhodent (all together now: "eat, sleep, mare, repeat!") discovered alcohol at 18 and pursed her newfound hobby with such a "passionate intensity" that by the time she reached 34 she calculated that she had spent roughly 9,984 hours of her 16 years as an imbiber, well, drinking.

Abstaining from the demon drink made Davis question How. The. Hell. Do sober people cope with an increasingly insane world? (And, as she writes, there's plenty to worry about - giraffes are facing extinction, Day Zero remains a shaky reality, the world is running out of sand ... Things are even bleaker now than in '87, R.E.M.)

Cue the alternative-method quest to stay sane inside insanity.

Keen to hear how that went down? Take a deep breath ... Hold for three ... Exhale ... Aaaaand read:

Millennials, rejoice! There's an app for reckoning with death!

Part I of Dealing with Death

Davis's consciousness of ageing and mortality was heightened during her quest for calm, which resulted in this alcohol abstainer's discovery of two rather surprising (and sober) approaches to dealing with one's inevitable demise. 

She explains:

"Research shows that as people get older they do not get less happy. And this struck me as very counter-intuitive. 'Cause I would think what is there to enjoy about old age?" 

Davis describes the prospect of ageing as "appalling", which seems an apt adjective when she starts listing the stereotypes synonymous with senescence. 

"Your body falls apart, society makes you invisible, no one hits on you. Like, it sucks!" (This emphatic statement is accompanied with a look which clearly reads "WTF?") 

"So, you'd think that people generally would just be falling further and further into depression as they get older. Not so, in fact!" she brightly exclaims.

"Research suggests that people get generally more content with life as they get older and the supposed reason is because they become aware of the dwindling of their days."

Surprisingly, this macabre realisation triggers a yawp-worthy carpe diem moment: "When you're aware that your time on this planet is finite, you start making the most of it," Davis elucidates.

However, she acknowledges that it's difficult to live life in the moment while balancing awareness of your death in a society like South Africa "where death is not woven into the fabric. Unless you count crime, not to sound too morbid," she says with a slight grimace.

"I experimented with ..." Her eyes flit around the room as she considers her words, before continuing with "reckoning with death in two ways.

"One was this app on my phone called WeCroak which sent me - still does, in fact - five times a day it simply says "reminder - you're going to die". Let me show you it."

Why, indeed - an icon of a pink, polka-dotted frog is displayed on Davis's (slightly cracked) iPhone screen bearing the legend "WeCroak".

The app is based on Bhutanese culture where the citizens of Bhutan - widely regarded as the happiest country in the world - are expected to think about death five times a day. Because why? Daily moments of deathrospection are said to contribute to a happier psyche. (The power of positive thought, eh?)

As she has already been reminded of the cessation of her existence once during the course of the morning she says "it'll come up probably while we're chatting, then I'll show you again".

It did.

And no, it wasn't some schmaltzy Huletts sugar packet-esque quote, but a detailed description of how a corpse decomposes.


Stay tuned for Dealing with Death: Part II. (Teaser: it involves a trip to a café you won't sommer find on Zomato...)