What almost dying taught me about living
“I’ve been runnin’ round in circles till I’m dizzy, I can’t lie
But every night I go to sleep’s a day that I survive
I’m not afraid of getting older, I’m one less day from dying young”
Around 9 years ago, my best friend and I plotted out our lives together and cemented a nonbinding albeit completely legitimate verbal contract to remain wild and crazy as we age and to one day purchase neighboring condos in a senior living community somewhere tropical. There we will spend each day of our golden years day-drinking by the pool while flirting with (and making slightly objectifying sexual innuendoes at) the twenty-something year old pool boy who we have decided will look like Johnny Depp.
I feel it necessary to reveal this life plan merely to showcase that when I’ve previously thought about my life, I’ve imagined myself living a lot of it. Logically, I have always been acutely aware that anything can happen, especially in this day and age. But naively, I have stubbornly held to the notion that I will live to be a hot old lady who sips piña coladas and does water aerobics with my bestie while sending out major Mrs. Robinson vibes to the minimum wage college workers who don’t mind because I give great tips and let them borrow my Porsche from time to time. All this to say, I have imagined living life beyond my current age.
However, June 4, 2019 was a very big wake-up call. It was almost the last day of my life.
I woke up that morning the same as every day prior, going through my morning routine in the usual unenthused fashion. I caffeinated. I ate. I Instagramed. I went for a run.
Towards the last mile of my run, I started feeling as though something was wrong. More than simple exhaustion or muscle fatigue, my body felt off so I stopped the run short and began walking home. While walking, I broke out into severe hives and, by the time I reached my front door, my entire body was covered and I could barely move because of the pain and stinging.
I walked inside feeling nauseous and immediately laid down on the floor as my chest grew tight. I was wheezing with each breath and had no clue what was happening to my body, but I did know I was about to get sick, so I tried standing up. Disoriented and dizzy, I collapsed back down to the floor. Somehow I managed to army-crawl my way across the room to the bathroom.
I remember making it through the bathroom door. I remember sweating profusely. I remember getting sick. I then remember things getting dark and my head getting heavy. And then I lost consciousness.
The next thing I remember was my dad standing over me, screaming and sounding terrified. Steadfastly obedient to the Third Commandment, my father has never been one to use the Lord’s name in vain, but that day he made up for lost time: “OH MY GOD! GOD! GOD! OH MY GOD, WAKE UP!” And if he hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have.
He wasn’t supposed to be at my place, but timing (or fate or God or whatever you want to call it) brought him there. Had the timing been any different, even by minutes, I would have died. And that thought has not escaped my mind a single day since June 4th.
I’ve heard it said that people only change if they want to or if a serious life event gives them no other option. I’d categorize near-death as a serious life event. I’d also categorize June 4thas a day that changed me, and my perspective on almost every aspect of life, forever:
On Physical Health:
I saw more doctors in the months following June 4th than in the previous few years combined. I sat through multiple tests, some comically expensive, only to have the results come back as inconclusive. No doctor could pinpoint exactly what happened that day. The best guess was that my body, due to the autoimmune disease that I’ve battled for years, was already in a state of chronic inflammation. Something I ate caused those inflammation levels to rise, and this in conjunction with the exercise caused my body to have an anaphylactic reaction.
I consequently became obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with learning about the correlation between food and autoimmune conditions. Any spare moment I had, I was researching. I scoured scientific articles for information and perused blogs for tips on putting that information into practice. I soon became a walking encyclopedia on all things inflammation and gut.
I am now of the mindset that most disease in our society occurs because of two things:
1) Modern eating habits
2) The state of our food industry
When you study how the human digestive system works, you immediately see the powerful way it affects every other function of the body. The insane amount of sugar, processed food, and chemicals that most Americans consume daily wreaks havoc on such an intricate system and the body slowly breaks down.
I now focus on using food as medicine, and I am careful to eat in a way that promotes remission of my autoimmune disease and prevention of developing concurrent ones. I personally take nutrition seriously because I have to. If I don’t, it literally may kill me.
But I also believe everyone should have at least a basic understanding of nutrition’s role in preventing and managing disease. After all, like Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut.”
On Mental Health:
The aftermath of June 4th sent me into a deep wave of depression. I perceived my body’s breakdown as a form of betrayal, and holding onto this mindset left me teetering uncomfortably close to the border of self-loathing. I couldn’t understand why my body kept deteriorating in spite of my efforts to treat it well. Feeling hopeless and helpless became standard.
Mental health and physical health are so intimately intertwined, and I’ve realized I will never be able to completely heal physically if I do not also focus on healing mentally. As such, I’ve started making decisions based off of what will best serve my body and mind rather than what others expect of me. This has taken different forms, from saying no to social engagements, to enforcing boundaries with toxic individuals, to being honest with my bosses when I know I need to slow down.
I’ve also meditated a lot more in the past few months, practicing mindfulness and doing my best to live in the present moment. June 4th serves as a constant reminder that any day could be my last. That morning, there was no warning that anything out of the ordinary would happen, and realistically, I probably won’t get a warning when my time does come. It’s sobering to think that way, but it’s also a gift. The only guarantee we have is the moment we’re currently in, so that’s where I’ve been trying to stay mentally. Honestly, it’s increased my joy exponentially and has significantly improved my symptoms of anxiety and depression.
June 4th forced me to take stock of the relationships in my life and I quickly realized two very important things.
First, I realized that there are many relationships I want to give more of my attention to. For the past several years, I’ve been extremely short on time while juggling school and work, but I allowed that to become an excuse for becoming complacent in friendships. With my inner circle of friends, I am notoriously terrible at responding to text messages. I am also known to cancel plans, or not schedule plans to begin with, because of my health.
It’s hard for me to fully let people in, especially when I’m vulnerable, so I often don’t want my friends to see me when my autoimmune disorder flares. A deeply conditioned inner voice tells me that they’ll think I’m a burden, or boring, and they’ll ultimately leave. But I’m working on healing the source of these issues because, the truth is, I have incredible friends who have proven time and time again they will never leave me no matter how ugly life (or their chronically ill friend) gets.
I don’t want to die with the people in my life not knowing how deeply I care about them. You make time for the people and things that you want to make time for, and so I am committed to being more open with my friends even when my body relapses. I’ve also made a cognizant effort to put down my phone when I am with family and friends so I can truly enjoy being in the moment with the people I care about, and so I can give them the best of me in return.
In contrast, the second thing I realized is that there are some relationships I need to distance myself from. I have spent too long working on my own personal growth to surround myself with toxic people who refuse to grow themselves. You become similar to the people you surround yourself with, and I don’t want my behavior influenced by someone who lacks the emotional maturity to self-reflect and self-analyze.
At the end of the day, no matter how badly I want someone else to mend from their own emotional trauma and baggage, I can’t do it for them. Their healing is not my responsibility, and if they refuse to acknowledge their own issues and take the steps necessary to heal, I refuse to stick around just to be an outlet for their pain. And so, I’ve given myself permission to be stronger in enforcing boundaries and to feel less guilty about backing away from toxicity.
After June 4th, I did a lot of self-reflecting, and I realized my fear of commitment is really the fear of being in a relationship with the wrong person. I am an extremely ambitious individual, and the vision and dreams I have for my life require constant attention. I am terrified of being in a relationship where those ambitions are feared rather than celebrated, which has happened, and where the time I spend tending to my dreams is perceived as lack of interest in the relationship, which has also happened.
While I have always had high standards, something happens when you almost die: your tolerance for B.S. takes a steep nose dive. Formerly the queen of ignoring red flags, I now have no patience for games or for behavior that implies emotional immaturity.
I know what I’m looking for in a potential partner, and it’s just that: a partner. Someone whose ambition both matches and inspires my own. If I am interested in a man, I will become his biggest fan, most enthusiastic cheerleader, and most invested partner in helping him reach his goals. However, I refuse to waste my time investing in someone who wants to reap the benefits of my attention without being willing to reciprocate.
Because the nature of my personality is to make other people feel good about themselves, some men are drawn to me not because they want to be with me, but because they want their ego fed. I have consequently gotten good at recognizing when I’m being used for this reason, and I’ve also gotten stronger at calling it out when it happens. June 4th has improved my ability to accept when “he’s just not that into you” and to confidently walk away.
At this point in my life, I have no interest in wasting my time. I know that I’m an awesome person, and I want to be with someone who recognizes that. Frustratingly, I’ve been in a super fun cycle where the men who have been absolutely enthralled by me, I’m just not interested in, and the men I’ve been absolutely enthralled by, don’t feel the same towards me.
But I’m optimistic that someday, it will click: mutual enthrallment and dream chasing. And until then, I’m good on my own. I’ve got a great dog and some big plans to be the fun aunt who travels the world and never settles down.
When I regained consciousness on June 4th and realized that I was still here, my first thoughts weren’t about buying a house, or getting married, or having a kid, or any of the other milestones society uses to measure your worth. I thought about my purpose, about the meaning of life, and about my role in this world.
Part of the reason my body broke down is because I was pushing it so hard. We live in a society that tells us to constantly be “on our grind” and to continually push forward. That we have to reach certain points by certain ages, and if we don’t, we’ve failed. But the most prominent and important steps in my life have always happened when I’ve slowed down, and I’ve realized that things often start to fall into place when I stop trying to push them into place.
I’m not as obsessed with age as I used to be. I am about to enter the 29th year of my life, so I’m not quite sure I qualify as young anymore. But I’m also not afraid of getting older. I refuse to let my age be a determiner of what milestones I should have reached.
I still don’t fully understand what happened on June 4th, but I am grateful for it. It caused me to re-think a lot of things and readjust my life accordingly. Ultimately, I believe I’m better for it. I also believe everyone could benefit from living as though tomorrow may not come.
As Tim McGraw sings, “Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”