How Illness Has Taught Me to Live Without Fear


Editor’s note: Hannah Baldwin-May passed away in October 2017. She was devoted to writing and motivating others, and was proud to be a member of the Mighty community. 

As we grow and develop as people, there are lessons we all learn about life and ourselves. For the most part, we are all learning the same lessons, we just happen to be in different classrooms with different teachers and surroundings. That realization alone can be very unifying, knowing we may each be on our own path, but we are not alone. This is something I have noticed in the last couple of years and it has given me more compassion for my neighbors, friends and even patients. But when you get sick, you get launched forward into a completely different place full of other lessons that couldn’t be truly grasped when you had the gift of health. With health comes security and reassurance. Without that, everything changes. You are no longer oblivious to the things that can go wrong. Nor are you oblivious to the millions of small, perfect moments along the way.

When I was hospitalized in June, I had three surgeries (they only planned for one) in close succession. With each one, my body wore down. I had a continuous IV drip to keep me just a touch above sedated. In the rare moments that I was coherent enough to realize the pain I was in, I had a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) button to push for instant administration of pain medication. This state can help to minimize the metabolic strain on the body, but despite that I quickly felt myself slipping. After the third surgery, I had problems breathing. Typically, breathing is completely subconscious and involuntary. But for me at that point, each inhalation was the hardest thing I had ever done. It took every ounce of energy and fight there was in me and I grew tired. I remember feeling like I hadn’t slept in days. All I wanted in those moments was to rest. But if I was not one hundred percent focused on inhaling and exhaling with the help of supplemental oxygen, I stopped breathing and an alarm would sound. My mom, who amazingly slept next to me on the uncomfortable hospital couch for weeks, had to stay awake and verbally remind me to breathe. For most of that night, I unwillingly lost my fight. Lucky for me, I had a Ma; a Ma who stepped in for me to lighten my burden. “Breathe Hannah, breathe,” she said 12 times each minute.

Fear has never been incorporated into my being. I understand people being afraid of things that could bring them harm or make them feel uneasy. But personally, I have never felt that. I jumped out of planes and rode on motorcycles. I dreamed of being a life flight nurse in the rescue helicopters. And now that I’m sick, oddly enough, I still don’t have fear. I have come to terms with confronting the unknown. However, when I was in the hospital being urged to breathe, I realized how much power my illness has over my existence, how much it can take away from me. In light of that, I can’t mention the countless things that have been taken from me without proclaiming that it has given me even more. This experience is full of messages and lessons. I hope you never end up in the classroom I’m in, but for those of us who are, we have come face to face with how precious life is. We in particular learn that more intensely than others ever will. As awful as that is, there is a great deal of beauty in it as well. We get the opportunity to live with the knowledge that each moment of our lives is a miracle. And learning that makes you live differently.

young woman sitting in a wheelchair on a stage looking over crowd of people

There are so many things that could go wrong in the world, in the day, in the body. And yet, we are so often surprised by the shortcomings, changes, accidents and traumas. Those things become devastating to us because they were incredibly unexpected. But in reality, the moments we exist in the harmony of everything going “right” – those moment are the true miracles. Those should be unexpected. If we stop and think about all the things that had to come together in the universe to give you the chance to stand where you are right now, you would value life a hell of a lot more. If you realize that you could crash your car on the way to work, have an aneurism in your sleep, slip in the shower or stop breathing, I can almost guarantee that you would live differently too. I don’t believe it to be cynical to consider the various things that could go wrong on a daily basis. The problem is that many of them happen at a time when we think we are safe and that we have time to take that trip, tell that person you love them, rectify that argument, finish that project, eat that donut, experience life completely independently, ride that hot air balloon, kiss someone in a rainstorm, fight for what you believe in and speak up for yourself and your life. If you come to terms with the impermanence of all things, you will take more chances, live a more exciting life and ultimately be more prepared for the unpredictable. By eliminating that underlying fear, you can find true happiness. Take the opportunities, take the risks and flourish in the miracle of each simple moment. Those are truly unexpected events. The astonishingly beautiful occasions, interactions and conversations should not be overlooked. The cells in your body, the gravitational pull tethering you to earth and chance/destiny/fate (whatever one or combination you believe in) are all working together to bring you to where you are sitting right now.

You are a miracle – live accordingly.

This post originally appeared on Tubie Continued.

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