near death experiences
two of them, to be exact
A few seconds here and there, and the whole thing could have been avoided. An extra minute getting ready or thirty more seconds getting the check at dinner, and I wouldn’t have nearly died.
My wife, Becky and I were in LA and after a nice dinner I parked the car in front of our AirBnB. As I opened the car door, I noticed a car driving at least 45mph down the wide avenue on the lane closest to me. As I stepped out of the car my body froze realizing the car wasn’t slowing down or moving to the other lane to avoid me.
I felt the adrenaline dump and everything slowed down. The half-second or so I had to make a decision stretched into five. I sat back into the driver’s seat like I would on a park bench—my legs out the door with the rest of my body back inside the car.
As Becky got out of the car, she heard a loud noise from behind. She thought she had slammed the door closed, but when she turned around to check, she saw parts of a door panel strewn across the street, my door bent over the other way, and a part of my head sticking out along the frame of the car.
As the blue blur of a sedan passed me, I tracked the driver’s profile the way you look at subway riders from a station platform. I felt the breeze of the car passing by, saw it crash into my door, and heard my wife screaming my name as she came around the front of the car. The adrenaline fired enough synapses to get my body out of the way, but in order to get me moving, it shut down any other faculties. I sat there dumbfounded, not being able to respond to my wife or get the license plate as the car drove off. After a beat, I got up without a scratch on me.
I immediately went into what my therapist calls Responsible Minnow Mode. I picked up the door panel and started to take pictures. A witness came up to us, asking if we were ok. I called LAPD, insurance, and friends letting them know what happened. I figured that was all I could do for now and turned off “responsible Minnow mode.” I walked up to her to hug her, she sobbed into my chest, releasing the shock of almost losing her husband, and confirming with her own hands that I was indeed still alive and unhurt.
I read a book last year called “Burnout” that forever changed the way I understood stress. Stress isn’t just one thing. The first part is the stressor, a perceived threat that causes stress to my body (like a speeding car). The second part is my body’s response to that threat (the adrenaline dump).
But here’s the thing: even if the stressor is gone, it doesn’t mean the stress in my body goes away. I have to intentionally let my body know it’s ok to release the stress. The book recommends thirty minutes of exercise, a long hug, a good cry, or laughing till you cry as ways to tell your body you're safe.
What never works is just telling myself that everything is ok. But if this happened when I was in my twenties that’s exactly what I would have done. “Responsible Minnow mode” would go directly into “optimistic, silver lining Minnow mode” and I’d tell myself everything will be ok. I lived my twenties just like the meme of the dog in the burning room smiling saying “This is fine.”
I’d also dismiss my wife’s feelings and tell her everything is ok as she told me how scared she was, and how angry she was at the man who almost killed me and drove away. But that night, we tried every method of releasing the stress from our bodies. We hugged each other tight and laughed watching Ali Wong’s latest comedy special.
Becky cried that night, but it wasn’t until the next day while we were getting ready to go out for some coffee I started to cry. I sat at the edge of the bed holding on to Becky and sobbed as she stood in front, holding me.
The night of the accident, I went to sleep but jolted myself awake around 3AM. My mind zeroed in on what happened and it started to race, wondering if there was any way I could have done things differently. How could I let this happen? Did I really look to make sure there were no cars when I opened the door? Could I have moved out of the way faster so the car wouldn’t have been damaged?
My heart started to beat faster and my breathing got shallower even though I knew I was in bed, safe, and not in any pain. I decided then to do something I never did before. I stopped interrogating myself and started to thank my body. I thanked whatever street-smarts it used growing up in NYC to save me. I talked to my body as I would talk to Becky or any friend who was going through a hard time.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever said anything nice to my body. I was shy and awkward, like the first time I told someone I liked them or heard my dad say, “I love you.” I didn’t know what to say exactly but I knew, at least this once, I wanted to talk to myself in a kind and gentle way.
My pulse slowed down, my breathing got deeper, and I drifted back to sleep.
Since then it’s been a year of more stressors on my body. I went to get my annual check up when we got back to New York, and found out my cholesterol levels are high. Uncomfortably high. I suffered through COVID on Easter weekend and a few months after that I got costochondritis (pulled the muscles in between my right ribs) and slept sitting up for a week and was not able to take deep breaths, sneeze, or laugh. Most recently, my left shoulder has been in pain for the past month.
At the annual check up, my doctor recommended I start taking medication for my cholesterol. She was going to prescribe the one where you have to take everyday and live with whatever side effects happen to show up. I told her no thanks. I said I wanted to do what I could to get healthier and give my body a chance to heal itself.
I’ve been lucky this body has been in good working condition the past 38 years. The best definition of wellness I’ve heard is, “Treat yourself like you are responsible for your own well-being.” But growing up mostly in Optimistic Silver-lining Minnow mode, I found comfort at the cost of my body’s health, and for the most part I didn’t care. The size of my gut showed just how much stress I was stuffing away at any one time in my life.
Food was the comfort to the stress I didn't want to face. I grew up with food as the main expression of love and care, and we were encouraged to eat as much as we could, one helping after another.
But taking care of my body now looks a lot like what I’d do to tell my body it’s safe to release whatever stress it’s holding onto. It’s the simple acts of eating healthier, exercising regularly, crying, laughing till I’m crying, and a lot of hugs and kisses from Becky.
Brené Brown has said the opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance, it’s simply enough. Enough for me doesn’t mean sitting in a burning room smiling and saying “this is fine.” It’s accepting that I have a long way to go, and it’s ok, and I’m wonderful. Holding that tension is what it means to not be in scarcity and from there I can think about abundance in my health and every other part of my life.