I had to actively keep choosing to live in 2019.
There were scary moments of suicide ideation, when I felt like I was so far away from everything I’d worked so hard to achieve, moments of ambivalence and quiet acceptance that this is it for me, it will never get better, I will never contribute to anything good again. I was able to say those things out loud. And with a supportive doctor and a loving therapist, I was given the space and tools to heal, and the colour seeped back into my life.
And then one day in October I was unusually tired, and the lymph nodes in my neck and collarbone were the size of small rocks. And within days, everything slid down a mountain and I was in a hospital, slick with sweat and unable to open my eyes under the glaring bright lights of the emergency room. There I was, with a fast-growing and deadly infection, with an incompetent ER doctor who prescribed antibiotics that were never going to work with a raging fever, a doctor that didn’t ask the right questions and missed huge red flags in my blood work, a doctor that didn’t listen to begin with, and provided a misdiagnosis. Screaming, unending pain in the side of my head, fevers that soaked my bedding every few hours and made me delirious and dizzy like I’d consumed a whole bottle of wine, vomiting until I felt like my insides had been wrung out to dry. Another trip to the ER, a scary diagnosis, intravenous antibiotic treatments that put stress on my heart and disrupted electrolyte levels, and antibiotics that made me vomit until I had stars in my eyes. At times I wondered if the treatments might kill me if the infection didn’t. Tests. Tests. Tests. Treatment, tests, reassessment, home. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The fevers subsided, and after six days of out-patient care, I was discharged to continue treatment at home, every six hours, for ten days. I was prescribed anti-nauseants given to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy because those oral antibiotics had to stay down or I’d have to go back to the hospital. And yet, in those weird and awful moments, there was laughter, and hand squeezes, and love. There was overwhelming kindness. There were people pulling for me everywhere.
But I had to choose to live. So many people don’t have that luxury. Friends in their thirties have died unexpectedly of heart attacks and drug overdoses, leaving behind young children and devastated friends and family. Friends dying the long, slow death of cancer. These people wanted to live. Every day of their lives had meaning.
Life is inherently good, and I want to share my guiding principles that have seen me through the roughest moments time and time again.
- I am trying to love my life as I am living it. There are nonnegotiable moments of discomfort, of course, but there are places where I have power to turn away from things that aren’t serving me.
- Life is so short. Today matters. I want to be ready to die at any time, to know I’ve lived life to the fullest, tried all the strange and wonderful things that I could have, embraced the opportunities, failed, and learned every step of the way.
- I’m scared of everything, but that hasn’t held me back. I try everything once, and if I hate it, I know that I don’t have to do it again. But often, I’ve tried it again, further down the road, and was overjoyed to discover I felt differently, and sometimes, overjoyed that I passionately still hated it and I was RIGHT!
- I’m allowed to change my mind as I fail, learn, and grow, in whatever order that comes in.
- Failing is important. Everyone needs to fail. It’s hard, it can be shameful, but the value is in learning from it. Did you really, truly fail if you came out of something better and stronger?
- My self talk is important, and I had to go to therapy to learn how to be kind and empathetic to myself. This is not about enabling or placating bad decisions because they feel nice in the moment, but it is about listening to the uncomfortable feelings and allowing myself time to be sad and angry and disappointed, without shaming myself for feeling those things or placing blame for them.
- I’m trying to live a life I’m proud of. I’m imperfect, but it helps to be able to take stock every now and then and reflect on the things you feel good about.
I used to think you only live once, but my mom recently corrected me. You only die once, but you live every day.