7 Things I Learned from Dying and Getting a Second Chance
Table of Contents
“You were searching in dead-end dreams when everything – suddenly – stopped. You woke up in the early spring, with a new life in your hands.”
That was a translated piece from a poem I read in early March, some days after I woke up from a coma.
It was written by my cousin and oh-so-wonderful friend.
And honestly, it touches me every time I read it.
Why was I in a coma? And what happened, you ask?
Well, on 19th February 2021, I had a sudden cardiac arrest and died while I was asleep. I was 28 years old at the time.
Thanks to the quick thinking of my girlfriend and the paramedics showing up within minutes, my heart started pumping again, and I was given a second chance at life.
I got lucky.
Especially if you consider that 9 out of 10 people do not survive a cardiac arrest. And those who do often end up with permanent neurological problems because the lack of oxygen has damaged their brain.
Yet somehow I did wake up. With no permanent neurological damage.
I know, there is a ton to be grateful for.
And I truly am.
But of course, surviving a cardiac arrest has been a rollercoaster ride for me, as you will read about soon enough.
Over the last year and a half, many thoughts about life and death have occupied my mind.
Some of these thoughts led to certain insights. Insights that I would like to share here with anyone who cares to read them.
Note that what you will read are personal thoughts and realizations. I mainly underscore this because these aren’t universal truths. This means that there is a chance you will not agree with all of them.
However, these are what I learned from dying, and hopefully, some can be of help to you in whatever you are going through. Or help you come closer to your own truths.
Table of Contents
1. You Cannot Live a Life in Fear of Death
Because of my sudden cardiac arrest, I live today with an ICD (a relatively ‘small’ device inserted inside my chest) and became somewhat of a cyborg.
I kind of feel a bit like Iron Man, to be honest.
Even though I am happy to have it, as it may save my life, knowing that it could go off at any time when something abnormal happens—heck, knowing that another cardiac arrest may happen—is a scary thought to live with.
Throughout my life, I have always been an adventurous person. There is something about adventure that makes my heart smile.
Over the years, I have gone on tons of solo, multi-day hikes with no more than a sleeping bag, some food, and water.
I have climbed many mountains—the Matterhorn being one of them.
Scuba-dived around the world and even became a divemaster.
Traveled over several years to more than 35 countries.
And gosh… so many other things.
But because of my cardiac arrest, I have been told to basically stop doing all these things that I love doing.
Over this last year and a half, I noticed that whenever I returned from a check-up at the hospital, fear and uncertainty would beset me again each time.
Fear and uncertainty of what could happen if I were to continue doing these things that I love.
What I have now come to realize is that, if I think constantly about what could happen, I would cease to leave my house, I would not go anywhere where there is no hospital a few meters away, and I would never do anything adventurous, like climbing, ever again.
Pondering on these thoughts, what I have realized is that I will have absolutely no life at all if I constantly worry about what might happen.
Yes, the possibility that something might happen again at some point is there, and that is and always will be a scary thought.
But whatever you are struggling or dealing with, you can’t live life in fear of death if you still want to enjoy living.
2. The Best Time to Die Is When You Are Happy, You're Not Suffering, and You Do Not Know When It Happens
Look, if I had died at age 28, it would have naturally been sad for the people around me. However, at that time, I was not suffering, I was happy, and it happened without me being aware of it at all.
Out of all the ways one could die, it would have been, simply and purely, a perfect death.
The worst moment to die in life is when you are suffering.
Having to suffer in life is by far the worst part of living. No one wants to suffer. However, as we get old, the chances increase more and more that you will suffer either physically, mentally, or both.
Old people often wish for death to take them. Why? Mostly because they suffer.
One can only weather suffering so long before it starts to break you down mentally into pieces.
Yes, I am grateful I have been given a second chance at life. However, no matter how many times people tell me this, they often do not realize that everything comes with a cost.
I get to live, but so far, there have been, and still are, many ups and downs.
For a year and a half, I have been dealing with constant fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, and of course, restrictions on how I can live because of my ICD.
No, I am not complaining, nor am I being ungrateful.
However, this truly has made me realize that if one can live life with no constant suffering from day to day, in whichever kind of form or shape this might take, one has lived a good and lucky life.
3. Life Can End At Any Moment
Well… I guess this speaks for itself. But honestly, it is always a good reminder to read and realize it again.
The day of my cardiac arrest was no more than a normal day.
I went to my coworking place, worked, had an after-work get-together, laughed and chatted with friends, went to my girlfriend’s place, and hung out with her.
Went to sleep… And woke up days later in the hospital unaware of anything.
Now, of course, you can’t live life constantly thinking or worrying that life can end for you or others at any moment. Otherwise, you won’t be living life but simply walking around with constant stress and worries.
But there are always two sides to everything.
Knowing that life can end at any moment, for anyone, even for yourself, could also be used as a motivator to spend more time with the people you love, to do more of what you enjoy doing, and to live more truthfully to who you are.
Because, heck, why wouldn’t you?! Before you know it, it will be your last chance.
4. Meaning Is the Cure Through Any Darkness
If you are suffering or dealing with something in your life right now, check out the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor.
It is phenomenal.
In the past, it has helped me, but again, it has been very helpful for me to re-read it in the last few months.
It’s likely that you have seen a few quotes out of this book here and there on the internet. Such as this one:
Finding meaning is the cure to making it through any darkness.
This is a realization that I had discovered myself years ago, even before reading this book.
But it is something that this book has confirmed even more. The lessons and meaning this book holds can be life-changing for anyone struggling or suffering at this moment.
One way that can determine if suffering, pain, and difficult times will make or break someone is whether that person can find or create meaning out of whatever tragedy has befallen them.
Losing my dad when I was 4 years old, feeling lost in life, and walking around with suicidal thoughts for 6 years between the age of 12 to 18: These were the reasons why I created The IPS Project, an educational platform on life.
My purpose was to provide education on life topics like mental health, relationships, the workings of the mind, the body and brain, etc.—all the things we learn so little about growing up.
And because we learn so little about these topics, it can easily result in much confusion within ourselves and about the world—as it did for me.
Creating The IPS Project, a place where I can work to provide ways for others to better understand themselves and this world we live in—either through an article, an online course, an event, or a podcast—has given great meaning to the suffering I endured.
It has even brought a whole other level of meaning to my life.
A new project that I have been working on these last few months has given me the exact same purpose and feelings I had from creating The IPS Project; this time around, it has given meaning to my heart disease and surviving a cardiac arrest.
This work, which I call The Heart Warrior Project, is a platform that aims to support and inspire survivors of cardiac arrest by providing health tips and advice through interviews with survivors and cardiologists.
To show you the quote by Viktor Frankl one more time:
And he is right.
Both those projects were inspired by the suffering I went through.
Now, they have ceased to be merely pain points from my past, but have become something more because I created something out of it.
Something that feels meaningful to me. Something that could help others.
As I said before, meaning is the cure through any darkness.
It truly is.
5. We Are All Just Waiting
All we do, from the moment we are born to the day we die, is wait.
We wait for death to wrap its arms around us.
If you truly think about this, the true question in life to ask yourself is: “How do I want to wait?”
We wait in either of two ways: One way to wait is unconsciously, that is, to live on autopilot, never truly questioning why we do what we do. The other way is consciously, that is, being aware, questioning, and pondering on these exact same questions.
Within those two states, you can, of course, wait in many different ways.
By mainly living to pay your bills, by being angry and pessimistic, by railing against the demands and wishes of others, or by having fun, enjoying the time that remains, and giving love…
I would say, choose well how you want to wait. Because at some point in your life, the waiting will be over.
And on that day when death comes to wrap its arms around you, there is a high chance that somewhere in your mind, the following question will confront you: Was it all worth it?
6. I Was Right
This notion of trying to live life without regrets was instilled in me through my dad.
When he died, I was only 4 years old, but I was given this wake-up slap—long before my sudden cardiac arrest—that life can end too soon for anyone, even for the people closest to you, at any moment.
Over the years, I have taken my chances at life in order to live it precisely the way I enjoy living it.
I remember clearly, when I was in my early 20s, how some people did not understand and even thought it wrong of me to be constantly traveling, doing adventurous things, and even creating a job that was out of the ordinary.
But I can fully acknowledge today, after surviving my cardiac arrest, that I was 100% right for taking the path less traveled. A path that felt right to me.
Over these last months, I have said it to strangers, my girlfriend, my family, and my close friends, and I honestly mean it: If I had died at the age of 28, I would have been okay with it. I literally had zero regrets in life.
Up until now, I had done everything I wanted to do in my life.
And it felt right to do it.
Because once again, life has shown me that it all can end for anyone at any time, with no warning.
Having been given this second chance, I have come to experience deep feelings of fulfillment and peace, knowing I was indeed walking toward the end on a path that felt right and meaningful to me.
If you are reading this, and you aren’t happy with your work or current life circumstances, I can only say this to you: Why don’t you at least try to go for a real change?
The end of every path in life is the same for everyone. However, the path towards the end is one that we can choose. And most of us have far more control over it than we realize.
Why not see what life could be like when you walk on a path that feels right to you?
It might, potentially, be wonderful.
But now, there is an urgency to making that decision. So don’t wait too long.
7. True Strength and Courage Show up When Times are Hard
True strength and courage in people are not manifested when times are easy, but when times are hard.
This goes for my sister, my girlfriend, my mom, and hopefully, without sounding overly narcissistic, me.
It has been a battle dealing with my heart disease over these last 25+ years, and especially this last year and a half after surviving my cardiac arrest.
It is easy to be strong and show you are a courageous person when you are feeling good or if there are no challenging adversities in your life.
But those are not moments when you can see whether someone has strength and courage.
The traits of true strength and courage truly show up when times are hard and you face challenging adversities.
I am grateful for the courage and strength my sister has shown by always, literally always, being willing to listen and give unconditional time and energy to me—often to the point where she forgets or pushes aside anything she might be struggling with.
I am grateful for the courage and strength my girlfriend has shown through her continuous support, even though this has, and still is, emotionally taxing for her too.
I am grateful for the courage and strength of my mom, for staying so positive and optimistic, even though it’s been incredibly stressful for her to see her son struggle with his health.
And I am grateful for the courage and strength I have shown for not giving up on myself despite the mental challenges I have been dealing with due to fatigue and dizziness. And for always taking action to improve my health in any way that I can.
Again, true strength and courage in people do not show up when times are easy, but when times are hard.
Surviving this cardiac arrest, more than ever, has made me realize and bear witness to the truth of this.
While a whole list of other insights and thoughts have occupied me over this year and a half, these are a few that I thought were worthwhile to share on what I learned from dying.
I hope I have left you with something meaningful to ponder.
If you have any insights about life and death, or if you simply have some thoughts you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below! I am always curious to know.