I once lay in a hospital bed, pumped full of rat poison, with a blood clot near my lungs, unsure if I would survive the night.
Initially, all I could think about was the fact that I would probably never be able to lift weights again. My identity, which at this stage was so invested in my body, was now in conflict with my new reality – my training had wound me up on what could have been my death bed, and any repeat of this would hammer in the nail, and sling on the last handful of dirt. The way I’d lived until now had turned out to be a death sentence.
Who I thought I was, and I thought I needed to be, was falling apart at the seams.
But eventually, as happens when you’re alone with your thoughts, my fears began to leave the idea of my newly restricted future and began to drift to what the doctor was actually saying to me.
What was happening was serious, and in the nicest possible way, I might die.
And here I was worried about the gym, my body, and my strength.
The absurdity of this allowed me to realize one thing:
My identity had gone astray.
Looking at my life until this point, it had been little more than missed opportunities, failed negotiations with fear, putting things off until I was ready, and an inability to see how I was designing my own hell.
But worst of all was not the realization that I might die and therefore never be able to see my dreams achieved, but instead the realization that if I were to die now, I would die as the person who would never have been able to achieve them in the first place. Death itself had no bearing on whether I would actually live my life, the answer was always no.
Instead of confronting the ways in which I was confining and restricting my identity, I avoided this and instead invested who I thought I needed to be in something harmless, but something that felt like progress – that being, eating well and exercising; feeling stronger in the most basic sense of the word, rather than being stronger in the most expansive sense, all-encompassing sense.
Knowing that this might be it, showed me that I’d been living my life in a pattern of self-reinforcing routine, one that consistently molded and shaped me into someone I never wanted to be and prevented me from facing my fears.
Instead of seeking experiences, I sought routine, instead of seeking discomfort and growth, I sought comfort and stagnation. Instead of making choices about who I was, I let the world, and my fear make them for me.
And all I’d been left with was a reality where it didn’t matter whether I was alive or dead. Who I was, who I actually was, was never going to exist either way, because I never allowed it.
The funny thing about being afraid to die is that it’s often a result of being too afraid to live in the first place. You hang on to life because you’re hanging on to the idea that someday you might live as you do in your dreams.
That tomorrow, you’ll do it.
Without being able to hold that over you, death loses all its potency. When life is already lived to its utmost, what possible reality can death take?
When you’re nourished by a well-lived life – it can only take responsibility to others, and the will to live itself. Which are finer things to live for, than some imagined fantasy.
When I realized I might not survive, it showed me all the ways in which I hadn’t liv and unmasked all the ways in which I was pretending to. Exposed at once to what I thought I wanted, and what I actually wanted, I was left in the morning to decide which I was going to pursue.
Was I going to end up in the bed again, thinking about what could have been? Or was I going to end up somewhere different?
Simple as that.
I don’t think I need to say what choice I made, as I think it’s the exact same one you would.