My near-death experience and what it taught me

My last post was a short apology for not posting due to illness, and a promise to start blogging again once i’d recovered. Well, things went quiet after that and for a good reason. My condition had deteriorated so quickly that I was rushed into hospital, where I fought my toughest battle yet. For 3 weeks.

Having been suffering  from flu-like symptoms for a while, and over-the-counter medication not working, I went to the doctor. Here, I was told that I had a chest infection and was given antibiotics. 2 days later, I was found unconscious at home and rushed to hospital where I was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent to the Intensive Care Unit.

For the first few days everything seemed to be going well. Then my condition took a sharp turn for the worse. While being treated for pneumonia, I was struck by sepsis. This is when your body responds to infection by attacking your muscles and organs. My health deteriorated so sharply and so quickly that the doctors had to inform my family on no less than 4 occasions that they feared that they might not be able to do anything for me.

I was placed in an induced coma for several days, during which my condition stabilised. Once the doctors were confident that I was no longer in danger, I was brought out of the coma.

This was a very difficult time. I awoke unable to speak as i’d had tubes in my throat which had irritated my vocal chords. With my hands swollen, i couldn’t communicate by writing either, so this was a very frustrating time. Furthermore, I had wires and IV lines attached everywhere and couldn’t move. Worst of all, though, I struggled to breathe and started to panic.

The doctors and nurses, however, were fantastic. I was confused about why they were so happy and positive with me though. At first I thought that perhaps they were just a very happy clappy group of people, but then I asked what the positivity was all about as it was starting to get a little annoying. They explained about the severity of what I had endured, and that they feared that they would lose me on 4 occasions. Then they told me about how pleased they were with my progress, and that I should be talking again very soon as my throat recovers. When I asked about all of the tubes and machines, I was told that due to the severity of my illness, the iv drips and machines were necessary as I had to be closely monitored. Most important of these was the dialysis machine which I was hooked up to, as my kidneys had been severely damaged.

Slowly but surely, my condition improved and I was slowly weaned off the huge amount of antibiotics , iv drips and other medication which i’d been on. The wires and tubes were also gradually removed.

A hospital cannot discharge you directly from Intensive Care. You must be discharged to a general ward first. When this time came, I was delighted as it meant that I was one step closer to going home. On the new ward, I didn’t get the comfy bed or 1-1 care which i’d experienced in the ICU, but I was still well looked after. From here, I made quick progress. Within 3 days, I had been weaned off the oxygen, my catheter had been removed and I was able to move about unassisted with the help of a walking stick. With all of my medication stopped, I was discharged and sent home.

This whole experience, while scary when I reflect on it, was actually a blessing. It is sobering and scary to think that 4 times I came close to death, with the doctors feeling powerless to save me. However, I prefer to look for the positives.

Unable to sleep due to all the noise and constant observations, I had a lot of time on my hands in hospital and plenty of time to think. I had 2 visitors a day, my fiancee and my mum, but between visits all I had was a National Geographic magazine which i’d read cover to cover a number of times. So I reflected on my life and what had happened.

Having survived this health scare, I couldn’t help but feel lucky and that i’d been given a second chance at life. I could’ve become depressed at my weakened state and loss of independence, but I have never been one to feel sorry for myself.

I used the free time to reflect on my life so far, my relationships, achievements and how much I still had left to tick off on my bucket list. This reflection filled me with motivation and determination, not only to become a better person but also to challenge myself to achieve more in life. I cheated death, and now have no time to lose. I am keen to improve my relationships, do more for others and achieve more professionally than i’d previously thought possible. Time to stop playing safe and living in the moment.

Back at home and continuing my recovery, I have carved out time in my day for further reflection. If there is one thing you take away from this, it is that TIME IS PRECIOUS AND SHOULD NOT BE WASTED. 

Now that the tremors in my hands have stopped, I am able to put my reflections and resolutions in writing. This is important as it makes them more real, and more urgent. It also means that I now have no excuse not to take action.

I am one of life’s optimists, and always prefer to look at the positives wherever possible. It is for that reason that I chose to view my experience as a wake-up call and a second chance at life. After many hours of reflection, I resolved to;

  • Fix my personal relationships, and do my best to become the best fiancee, son, brother and friend possible. Reflecting on my relationships helped me realise that i’d been taking my fiancee for granted. Living in the moment had blinded me to how I was behaving towards the most important person in my life. Hopefully, it’s not too late to reverse the damage.
  • Make a career change, to something which will challenge me to develop, grow and challenge what I believe myself to be capable of.
  • Take control of my finances and become more responsible.
  • Stop wasting time and playing it safe. Take more risks, learn more and push myself harder

 

Thank you for reading. I hope you found something of value in my experience and reflections

Regret

“When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

Jeff Bezos

When you reach a ripe old age and are reflecting back on your life, what would you rather be filled with; the satisfaction of a life well-lived and full of achievement? Or the regret of unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities?

Regret is a very powerful emotional state, but also has within it the potential for good. It is far too late if you wait until you are approaching the end of your days to reflect on how your decisions and choices affected your life. Regret, in this case just intensifies as hindsight reveals missed opportunities which time has now left you unable to take advantage of. If, however, you are self-reflecting regularly as you go through life and setting goals to be aimed for, then regret can be used to your advantage. 

When you reflect back at regular intervals (monthly, for example) on your progress, it is inevitable that you bring to mind elements which fill you with a sense of regret. These could range from a missed business opportunity to an interaction which you could have handled better. Regret is uncomfortable, and our default reaction is to pretend as though it never happened. You can, however, choose to confront the source of your regret. In this way, regret is a positive force as it can spur you into action. It provides a learning opportunity, so that you may handle a similar situation better in the future, but it can also motivate you to search for a way to rectify the error or salvage the situation. The key message to take away here, is that you have a choice whether to let regret motivate you or defeat you.

The life we ultimately lead is the result of our choices and the limits that we have placed on ourselves. Of course, there are always outside forces and unforseen circumstances which may force us to change direction. It is, however, up to the individual whether they allow these challenges to derail their progress and force them to give up, or they find instead the courage to keep going. 

Reflecting on your life’s direction regularly and taking action is one of the most effective ways to fight off regret in later life. Stop letting outside influences dictate how you live your life, but rather make the choices and decisions which take you closer to your dreams, ambitions and goals. If your reflections do reveal sources of regret, don’t shy away from them but muster up the courage to challenge them.

Perspective

Too often, people unwittingly sabotage their own success and fall short of their goals. They fail to fulfill their potential, but the problem is that most don’t even recognise that they are doing it. This is because the cause is not openly visible for them to see. The sabotage comes from somewhere internal and hidden from sight; the mind. Your own worst enemy can often be found in the space between your ears.

The mind is as wonderful as it it complex. In good times, its positive voice can keep up the momentum and keep us motivated and inspired. It can identify opportunities for more success, or just identify things which we should be grateful for. In short, when times are good, our mind instills in us a positive outlook and we become happier and more determined to do well. This has the ability to attract more positivity and good results into our lives. Today I would like to focus, however, on the negative voice which can sometimes take over and bring our progress to a screeching halt.

When things are not going so well, though, our mind can also work against us. We find ourselves almost paralysed by fear or insecurity, being held back by thoughts of what others will say or do. We also tend to dwell on our misfortunes, or get so accustomed to a certain lifestyle that we are filled with terror at the thought of losing it.

The difference between these 2 scenarios is perspective, and the ability to take a step back and look at the overall situation, not just the snapshot in which we find ourselves. Whether times are good or bad, we should still be reflecting on our journeys. This helps us to keep everything in perspective. In times of success, maintaining a sense of perspective is what keeps us focused and motivated, but also humble. We realise that, in order to maintain our momentum and stay ahead of our competition, we need to keep learning from our experiences, putting in the work and taking steps forward.

In bad times, a sense of perspective is what can help us to turn the situation around. Again, you need to reflect on your current situation and identify opportunities for learning. Ask yourself where it went wrong and what you could’ve done better. Identify areas of weaknesses which need attention, and areas of strength which need to be taken advantage of. Use this reflection as an opportunity to learn, but also as a chance to rediscover your hunger, motivation and passion. This is how you put a setback into perspective, by using it as a chance to learn and bounce back wiser and hungrier to succeed.

Focus on the important aspects, such as your journey and progress, and not on things which you can’t control, from the approval of others to the lifestyle you wish you had. This is how you will develop the ability to put situations into perspective, and stop a bump in the road from totally bringing your progress to a halt.

 

The unconquerable spirit

We all face challenges and go through difficult times. It’s a hard fact of life, but also a formative opportunity.  The way in which we respond to adversity can forge our character and make us stronger.

The truth is that each of us, alone, is responsible for our own life and the direction it takes. The power really is in our hands, and the sooner we realise this, the better. I’ll say it again; you are in control of  your life. When you realise this, wonderful things happen. Chief among these positive changes is the shedding of the victim mentality. You no longer feel helpless and powerless in tough times, and that things just happen to you. Simply put, you gain a new perspective. You become stronger mentally, more resilient and more confident. You then begin to see challenges as a small bump in the road which you will overcome.

When I am going through tough times, I revisit one of my favourite poems, Invictus by William Earnest Henley, which I would like to share with you below. Invictus itself is a Latin term and means to be unconquerable or unbeatable. It’s about an indomitable spirit and a refusal to accept defeat. It is also strength and perspective in the face of adversity, which makes it perfect for times when you find yourself lacking courage or strength after a setback. Take ownership of, and responsibility, for your decisions and actions…..then watch the magic happen as your life changes for the better. Things do not simply happen to you. Understand that you make things happen. You have the power. Use it wisely.

Invictus 

Out of the night that covers me,   
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
  For my unconquerable soul.   
   
In the fell clutch of circumstance 
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
   
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
  Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years   
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
   
It matters not how strait the gate,   
  How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul

	

Before you help others, help yourself.

I recently watched a video in which serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk warns that you need to be selfish before you can even think of being selfless. I was initially surprised to hear this because they are complete opposites, but it gave me plenty of food for thought. A few days later, I had a flight to catch. As usual, my mind wandered as the safety demonstration began, but I came back around just in time to hear the announcement instruct passengers that, in the event of an emergency, they should secure their own safety vest before helping others with theirs. In other words, only after you have helped yourself should you attempt to help others. Cue even more reflection.

After my initial skepticism, I actually began to understand and appreciate the brilliance of this advice. If your intentions are noble and you only wish to help others and be kind, the first step is to be kind to yourself. After all, if you are struggling in your personal life or career, how are you going to help anyone else?

Helping others in place of helping yourself will neither make your troubles go away, nor is it a substitute for them. Simply put, if you prioritise the needs of others over your own, it’s just another form of escapism.

In order to achieve anything in life, regardless of your goals, you need to first work on yourself. You need to define your purpose, identify your goals and learn to become resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks. This, in turn, will help you to become stronger and more rounded as a person. From that position, you can use your experiences to help other people meet the challenges which they may be facing.

In short, the more you work on yourself and build your self-awareness and strength, the better you will be able to help others and make a difference in their lives.

 

Hope

We need hope. Hope is not just a wishy-washy self-help concept without substance, but rather it is a powerful force for good.

Hope is more than just an optimistic view that everything will turn out for the best. It is a deeply held belief that you have the will, skills and tools with which to overcome any hurdles as you work towards your goals.

With hope, people become more resilient in the face of challenges, setbacks and temporary defeats. To a certain extent, it can also help people to combat anxiety and negative self-talk.

This is supported by modern research, which is increasingly finding that hope offers much more than just comfort during difficult times.

Hope means having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations.

The power of hope is nothing new, and was first introduced in Ancient Greece , through the legend of Pandora’s box. 

When Prometheus stole fire from the gods, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora, along with a sealed box, to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus for marriage. Despite being warned never to open it, Pandora opens the box which contained  death and many other evils which were released into the world. She hastens to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped except for one thing that lay at the bottom. One thing which could remedy all of the ills which had been unleashed on the world – Elpi, or hope as we know it.
Hope has long been viewed as an antidote to the world’s ills, but I would like to leave  you with one of the best definitions I have found which is also much more recent.

Albert Bandar,  the eminent Stamford psychologist states that;

“People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property, there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failures. They approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.