“You Really Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone
Or almost lose it.
When I was 20 years old, I was at a party with some friends in Los Angeles.
A lot of my close friends (including me) were from San Diego so small road trips out of town were our favorite pastime in college. It was the start of Spring Break and we were all excited to see what the free week had in store.
Drinks were flowing and everybody was enjoying themselves. Before we knew it, it was 1 am and my friend had to get home for work in San Diego. He was the designated driver. After saying goodbye to our friends in LA, my three friends and I left for our trip back to San Diego.
—– And that was my last memory —–
I woke up a month later surrounded by nurses and my family members. I had no idea where I was at the time and naturally…
It felt like a bad dream or waking up in a Twilight Zone episode. Looking back, I am honestly impressed at how accurate scenes in movies depict patients waking up in the hospital. It is hard to describe — I just had no clue where I was, what day it was or what time it was.
It wasn’t until I calmed down that I realized I was in a rehab center bed. I finally muttered to my family, “…what happened?”.
I had been in a coma.
I had just been transferred from Mission Viejo hospital to an intensive rehab center in San Diego.
Apparently, my friend Alan had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving my car. He swerved and scraped the side of my car on the barricade, woke up and drove back to the middle of the freeway.
My car died so Alan controlled the steering wheel while two of my friends and I got out of the car and attempted to push my car out of the way. In a matter of seconds, a car collided with us on the freeway. Me and my other friend, Corey, went flying.
My family brought out pictures of my friend, Corey, in the hospital. He was in way worse condition than I was. “He might be a paraplegic for life” I was told.
I was so flustered, I couldn’t even say a word. The next thing I know, I am signing papers to hire a personal injury lawyer and a nurse is asking me a plethora of questions.
“What was your last memory of the car accident?”…“How did you get here?”…“What time is it?”
After answering all their questions the best I could, I realized something was off. I was informed that I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). My short-term memory was shot. I felt a few steps behind in terms of my cognition. I was having the same conversations with my visitors and I couldn’t even remember details of my day…
For the next month, I stayed in the intensive rehab center depressed.
I thought I had been depressed before, but this was a whole different level of depression. I just wanted to lay down all day and not get up. It was a struggle to get up every morning and do my rehab exercises.
I was 20 years old at the time, and I couldn’t remember what I did the day before.
I was glad to be alive but man…it felt like I threw the rest of my life away.
How was I supposed to find a job?
What would my friends think of me?
When will I be normal again?
I cried myself to sleep every night while listening to depressing music. The music just fed my sadness…but damn it felt good to listen to. I couldn’t tell anybody the pain I was going through because everyone was just happy that I was alive and relatively healthy.
I checked myself into psychotherapy and I started to see a therapist every week. During my therapy sessions, I became vulnerable and gushed out all the pain I was feeling. I explained to my therapist how much I missed my old self and that I would never be the same. In one session, I remember my therapist looking at me and saying with a solemn face, “What if this was a gift?”
I stared at her wide-eyed for what seemed like an eternity. How could almost dying and receiving a traumatic brain injury be a gift? I thought to myself.
One Day At A Time
When I finally graduated from the intensive rehab center and was sent home. Boy…it was so nice to drive by the Best Buy near my house. It had been a couple months since I’d seen my hometown.
I had never been so happy to see my two Chihuahuas…my room…my bed, my…everything. I had almost lost it all.
I savored every bit of it.
My room was decorated with get well soon cards and gifts from everyone that visited me in the hospital. I never felt so loved.
For the next few months, I took a step back and tried to get my life back together.
I bought a Lumosity subscriptions and my days where dedicated playing brain exercise games, hitting the gym (to try gain back the 30 pounds I lost), and watching Friends on Netflix at night.
Walking around the block became my morning and evening ritual. Every morning and every evening I would walk around the block countless times. My friend Corey could not walk (at the time), so being able to use my legs and walk was such a blessing. I would laugh about all the trivial things I used to worry about as I walked around the block.
I realized I was focusing on the wrong things before the accident. Before the accident, my days were geared towards making a lot of money, showing off on social media, and trying to make myself feel important.
Now, just having my legs was enough.
I was still very depressed, but keeping my body moving helped a lot.
For the next few months, I took a step back and tried to reassess my life. I had a great loving family, great friends, good health (I was in pretty good shape from wrestling in high school!), and I took it all for granted.
I am glad to say, I found how this experience was a gift.
The accident showed me how transient this life is and that any one of us can be taken at any time. Almost dying liberated me. I should not be alive right now and every day is a blessing so why not just be myself?
Today, I can say this was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
The message I would like to pass along in the world: you don’t need to get hit by a car to savor your life. Take a step back from all the chaos in your life and take it all in. We are all blessed. Tell your parents you love them. Go finally invite your crush out for some coffee to sit around and chat. Do that thing you have always wanted to do but never made time for.
Really take a step back and process this beautiful thing called life – One day all of this is going to end, so just buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Photo: Hamish Clark