Finding Nemo

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Each End Leads to a Beginning

Note from ODTB: this post was written about a week before I left for my trip. I never posted it, but now looking back I think it's worthwhile to share.


One day I was just working at my office, late on a Sunday night, and the
next thing I knew I was falling over dizzy, not able to breathe. The first time I ever dialed 9-1-1. My first ever trip in an ambulance, straight to the ER. I truly thought I was dying of a heart attack. The EMT's assured me I wasn't dying, but I knew better. (So funny looking back at it.)

It turned out that I'd come straight to work after a long weekend of partying in San Diego, drank a ton of coffee to wake up, and had become extremely dehydrated and low on electrolytes. This caused me to nearly faint and black out, which then caused something called a panic attack. If you have never had one of these, and it was first for me, a panic attack is incredibly scary and traumatic. Your mind decides you are in mortal danger, and you enter a "fight-or-flight" mode. We have a deep instinct for self-preservation, burned into our DNA from the time of the first vertebrates, that short-circuits any attempt at rational thinking. Your heart and breathing rapidly escalate, saturating your system with so much oxygen everything begins to tingle. Adrenalin pours into your body making you sweat and panic. And ironically, these very survival mechanisms help convince you that something bad really is happening. You must really be having a heart attack after all. Everything spirals rapidly, until you are completely immobilized in absolute terror. It was the single scariest thing I have ever experienced.

I used to think panic attacks were not a big deal, something that happened to people with "weak constitutions" perhaps. Now I realize how completely and totally debilitating they are. I understand and empathize with anyone who has to go through such a terrible experience on a recurring basis.

At the worst point of panic, with my whole body tingling and my vision starting to go dark, I suddenly relaxed. I thought back on my life. I had just completed one of my life dreams, to travel around the world. I thought about what a great family I had. I thought about all the amazing experiences I'd had. A sense of calm came over me. I realized I was OK with dying. I was OK. After all, I had accomplished a lot. I was at peace and waited for death.

The ER gave me a few bags of saline and said I was good to go.  I was out of the hospital that same night. My body was fully recovered. But my mind was not. I was shaken to the core. I had been so completely, absolutely certain that I was going to die. Yet a few hours later, I was walking into my house perfectly fine. It was very difficult to process.

It was life-changing. The knowledge that I wasn't scared of death.  At the same time, the knowledge that death could come sooner than I thought, perhaps much sooner.  It's one thing to think of that abstractly, its another thing to face death like that, and decide to either panic or relax.  It was interesting to know that I relaxed and accepted it, which I'm not sure is a good thing. Would it have been better to struggle?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did have a lot left to live for.  Family. Friends. Unfulfilled dreams. I would have many regrets.  I didn't want to die this young.

This happened at a point in my life where I wasn't happy. I'd returned from Bali to Belize or Bust, my previous year away, exhilirated and transformed. But as I fell into my old job and routine and same circle of friends, the transformation evaporated into the daily noise. Now, a few years later, my job felt fake. My life felt fake. I needed to recapture what I'd found on the road.

So for all these reasons, I decided to quit my job and travel yet again.

And, it is almost go-time ... it's hard to explain how very ready I am. Let's do this!

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