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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mailman

The Best Thing That Ever Happened

How almost dying brought me back to life

The pandemic changed a lot of things for

a lot of people. Myself included. After spending months in lockdown isolated from friends and family, long days and nights reevaluating priorities, and hours upon hours wondering just what the hell was going on in the world, the final cherry on my pandemic cake was being diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Just what I needed. No, I’m serious, it was. I know it makes some people a little uncomfortable when I say this, but almost dying was probably the best thing that could have ever happed to me.

As it turns out, although I was pretty close to cashing in my chips, I didn’t necessarily have to start walking toward the light just yet. With the proper medication and a little luck there was a good chance that I could get through it alive. But it wasn’t going to be easy, and for a period of several months, I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

One night as I lay in bed, fever spiking, drenched in sweat, I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to morning. The meds didn’t seem to be working, the pain was unbearable, and my ability to stay positive had been co-opted by paralyzing fear. I laid there for hours unable to move. Part of it was my physical inability, but even more crippling than that, was my mental state. Fear and anxiety had completely taken over. As I lay there, convinced the end was near, out of nowhere I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Why me? I don't want to die, I want to live!” When I think about it now I just have to laugh. Aside from doing a really bad Susan Hayward imitation, saying something like that... It's just not me. For anyone else in a similar situation, "why me" might seem like a perfectly valid question. But it wasn’t for me. Because above all else, I don’t see myself as a victim. I never have. I tend to look at whatever’s happening to me, good or bad, as the natural flow of my life. I kind of trust that the universe is taking me exactly where it is I need to go. But somewhere in the midst of the pandemic, and being diagnosed with, what I affectionately refer to as “my affliction”, I seemed to have lost track of that. So, when those words came out of my mouth it just didn’t feel like, for lack of a better phrase, “my authentic self”. Overused trendy phrases like that tend to annoy me. But it’s true. “At the end of the day,” it just wasn’t me.

So, I thought about it for a minute. Was I asking “why me” because I thought for some reason I deserved this? That it was karma for all the bad things I thought I had

done? Or was I asking that question because I truly wanted to know the answer as to how I ended up where I did? And at that moment, in the blink of an eye, I realized the problem wasn’t that I was asking the question, it was why I was asking it. So, I asked myself again, “Why Me?” Only this time, my intention shifted. I wasn’t going for dramatic effect or crying tears of self-pity, I really wanted to know the answer. I wanted to know why I ended up on this path. Why I got sick. What it was that brought me there, and most importantly, what I could do to move beyond it. It wasn’t about guilt. It wasn’t about blame. It was about taking an honest look at the journey I had been on, where I was at that moment, and what I needed to do in order to move forward.

In the coming days as I slowly began to recover, it became very clear to me that my life did have meaning and purpose. Even the illness. It wasn’t all for nothing. And it was up to me to discover what that purpose was. So with a bit of creative thinking, and a shift in the perception I had about why this was all happening, I started to see meaning it in all. I began to think about when I first became aware of my own creativity. I was around seven or eight, and it wasn’t just around creating art, or writing short stories. I began to use creative thinking as a coping mechanism. I had the ability to use my creative mind to get me through a sometimes very difficult childhood. It was a skill I not only honed but ended up spinning into a career! So, it made perfect sense that my ability to apply creative thinking in difficult situations is what would end up saving my life. That and the miracle of modern medicine.

Why did I make it through the pandemic and an almost fatal illness? Honestly, I believe a huge part of it was about finding meaning in it all. Understanding that what happened to me was more than just some unfortunate random act of nature. It had meaning. And by understanding the meaning in it, it has purpose. My life has purpose. By knowing that, by understanding that, I can be at peace. And I can move on... To wherever it is I need to go next.

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