Let me share with you the worst advice I ever got in my 29 years of existence: “Pat, you have time.”
When this was first said to me years ago, I was elated; because time is not just a concept but truly a form of currency reserved, or so they (and in many ways, I, too,) believe, for the young. It didn’t help that the person who said it to me was also much older and was going on and on about how much time he wished he still had to do the things he wanted to do. “I envy you, Pat,” he said. “You have time.”
Fast forward to May 28, 2016—the day I celebrated my 29th birthday. I got promoted about a month before, to a position I knew I wanted and most people around me said was for me, I have my family whom I had dinner with that night, I have friends and colleagues who greeted me warmly, I could afford to get all the gifts I wanted for myself, and my parents surprised me with the popsicle pastries I have always loved as a child that, for some reason, I wanted to taste again at 29. “Twenty-nine years old,” I thought—“I have my whole life ahead of me.”
Everything was going as planned. I should’ve been happy because I had it all on The List. You know, the kind of list you have in your head that when you tick all items off it and climbed your proverbial mountains, you think you’d be happy? That’s The List I’m talking about, and mine was ticked off at the seams, and for the few that I wasn’t quite sure of how to accomplish yet, “that’s taken care of,” I said. “I have time.”
But here’s the thing about life—you cannot reduce it to a list. I know it. And time is ticking.
I was not okay. I woke up that day, my birthday, with an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. But if you check my Facebook profile that day, you will never know, because that’s how good I have become when it comes to running away from the truly important things I should be worried about. For one, I wasn’t sleeping well anymore since 2015. I would wake up in cold sweat in the middle of the night, and instead of going back to sleep, I would have fast food delivered, and I would eat at 3AM. I would eat out every day, and it doesn’t help that I left the family home because I was so angry and so lonely and so hollow inside, and I couldn’t understand why. I even thought it was my parents’ fault why I left to live on my own. My mother knew I needed the space because I was starting to get angry at even the shallowest of reasons. That emptiness, I filled with food. Food became my escape. At 29, I was 217 pounds; my heaviest. Still, I thought, “I have time to turn things around.”
One day, I couldn’t get up anymore. I felt like my back was glued to the bed, and that there was a big rock on my chest. I had no flu like symptoms, but I had fever. I called in sick for work. The next day, the same thing happened. I felt so tired like never before so I knew I had to visit the doctor. And that’s when she said the words that shook my world in ways I never thought was possible: You’ve been diabetic since you were 25-years-old. I told the doctor that it wasn’t possible because I didn’t know about it; the doctor who wrote it on my records didn’t tell me. “When you are not made aware, it doesn’t count! I cannot be diabetic,” I said.
And then she responded with this: “Pat, you don’t have time. You have to take maintenance meds for this and insulin shots immediately because your blood sugar levels are dangerous and your blood pressure at 180 over 90 (which probably explained also my anxiety attacks) is very high. You might collapse.” I told her to just give me the antibiotics immediately and I will follow her advice of having my blood tested for sugar. Before I left, the doctor said to me, “Those antibiotics won’t heal you. You will get sick again and it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
You would think that I would have ran to have my blood sugar level tested after that (which turned out to be, by some stroke of luck, pre-diabetic). But you’re wrong. I kept on denying it and delaying it even if my mom reminded me every day. I told myself, I have a wedding to attend in about eight or so weeks, I will find the perfect yellow dress even if most dresses didn’t fit me, and the bride said I will enjoy hosting the reception with her friend, a guy who she said is very nice and sleeps early every day, as early as 8PM on most days (how this info about his sleeping habits would help me host her wedding reception still baffles me to this day).
Fast forward to November 3, 2016, the day before my dinner with the guy I hosted a wedding with. Remember when the doctor said it’s a matter of when? That was the day I got sick again. Because of it, the guy rescheduled our dinner and wanted me to rest, instead. My life was falling apart leading up to that day, and that dinner was the only thing that kept me afloat. He said I shouldn’t work from home and that I was a workaholic. I cried big little girl tears for three hours. The next day, I was out of it. He kept on saying I should go back to sleep and rest. I was in the office before 9AM. He asked if Wednesday dinner worked for me, I answered with a really harsh text.
That day, I was not just feeling cold from fever–I was cold. My feet were like ice. The guy was right, I was sick. I should have stayed home. I should have listened to him because he was saving my life without both of us knowing it. But, no, I had to be right, I had to prove to myself I wasn’t sick, and the next day, November 5, I had a stroke–the whole nine yards of feeling a mass going up your right leg, numbness in your whole left side, lock jaw, and feeling very sleepy and knowing that you may not wake up again when you close your eyes.
Now, this post is about knowing how to brew your best year, and I am sure you have a list of resolutions drafted which you may or may not be fulfilling as we speak. When I was experiencing the stroke, I learned how time really works. They say your whole life flashes before you before you die. It wasn’t true for me—I was only reminded of the last 24 hours. What did I do in the last 24 hours that led me here? And when you are about to lose your life in a matter of seconds, because you know what to do but your body can no longer do it, you will bargain for it. You will say promises to Someone because there is nothing left to do, just as I have.
Now, these are my questions: If you only have a few minutes to live, when you have absolutely no time and are made painfully aware of it, what will you say you will do to save your life and prolong it? Who are the people you will remember? Who will you really live for? How, in your heart, will your days be like if you can just have more of it? How will you treat others? How will you treat yourself? Who will you come back for? Who will you speak with? Who will you really be?
If you are about to die and you realize you want to live, how will you fight for it? The first month of the year is about to end. Stop thinking you have time by looking at the next eleven months, filling a planner with days that mean nothing to you until 2018 rolls around.
Do, say, act, and be today. Do it now. You don’t have time.