Live Like You’re Dying Because You Are
Our days are numbered, so why not live them better?
We are diligent worker bees and Queens, we make to-do checklists and check off items to get to what’s next because it helps us to stay organized and productive. If you’re like me, you probably have several different to-do lists; you have a list for your household to-do’s, one for finances, several for work projects…heck, you probably have a list for your to-do lists!
I live by my checklists. I need order and structure to feel in control, to properly plan and feel accomplished. But I’ve learned that to-do checklists also remove us from moments. We’re shortchanging our present to plan for a day we might not see.
With that in mind, I invite you to take a look at one of your lists, the one on your phone, notepad, Evernote, or Google doc. Now, read it out loud, don’t rush, I’ll wait. Read each of your to-do items and don’t dare add anything new. I see you thinking about that email that needs sending. Stop.
Ask yourself, if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day of life would any of your to-do lists still feel as important? Or would you chuck the list to do the things you really want to do like go on an adventure you’ve put off, publish the story or song in your heart, or spend time with a friend or loved one? Seriously, if you were on your deathbed would you regret the social media update or work email you didn’t send?
A few years ago I had a life-altering experience that completely changed my perspective about productivity and priorities.
The Beginning of the End
I was 32 years old when I had my first cardiac “event”. I didn’t know what was happening to me at the time but I knew it was bad. It started with some weakness in my right hand that I chalked up to carpal tunnel but then I tried to pick up a glass and couldn’t move my fingers. Later, my seemingly benign heart palpitations graduated to a stampede, it was so jarring that I’d have to sit down to steady myself. But the worst feeling was losing the ability to think of and say simple words.
What started as a normal day turned into a nightmare. I was talking to my husband and all of a sudden I couldn’t think of how to say the word “that”. I tried to see the letters in my mind but they were jumbled; I tried to speak to sound it out but no words came out. All of a sudden I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it was like something was pressing on my chest while squeezing my brain, and my vision got blurry. I thought I was having a stroke. I saw numerous doctors and specialist after that first experience; I got tests to rule out MS, Parkinson’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, and a host of other things before finally seeing a cardiologist.
I’m Dying, Now What?
Sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for my results I just knew he’d tell me that my days were numbered and that I should get my affairs in order. I was mentally writing my will when he walked in with the news.
With sad eyes, he said, “I’m sorry but it doesn’t look good.” He continued, “Without immediate intervention, your condition will only get worse and next time recovery may not be an option.”
I was floored. At that moment my world stopped. In an instant, I was sad for all of the days I wasn’t going to see, sorry for the amends I wouldn’t have a chance to make, and sorry for all of the days that I didn’t embrace with gratitude. I wanted to reach into my chest and cradle my weak heart and tell her that I wish I’d treated her better. Mostly, I wanted to scream because I realized at that moment how much time I’d wasted being preoccupied with worry about things that ultimately didn’t matter much.
Just short of totally breaking down I asked the doctor what was wrong with me, what disease did I have to battle to stay alive because surely this couldn’t be the end for me.
My cardiologist explained that the sudden numbness in my arm and hand, partial loss of vision, mental fog, and short term memory loss was the result of genetics and… stress.
Say what now?
“Aside from your symptoms, you’re healthy but you must find a way to calm your mind, slow down, and release your need for control. Consistent stress on your heart and body can cause irreparable damage and death.” It’s been a while, so I’m paraphrasing of course but really, drama much?
He went on to say that given my family history of heart disease that I should consider this experience as a wake-up call and do better.
Stress? STRESS?? Stress. No. Initially, I didn’t believe him so, in true OCD fashion, I researched the effects of stress and was shocked to learn that stress can cause rapid heartbeat, feelings of constant worry and anxiety, forgetfulness, inability to focus, disorganization, mental health issues, and depression.
Additionally, unchecked stress can contribute to many serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
I honestly didn’t realize how serious stress could be to health and wellness. I mean, I knew it wasn’t great but I assumed that I was using stress to my advantage. I thought that organized chaos was a necessary component of being “busy”. Apparently, I was nearly dead wrong.
We’re all dying a little bit every day, we shouldn’t help the process along.
Flip The Switch, Live Better
We know that we’re not being good to ourselves when we fail to practice self-care and instead pile more onto our plates and to-do lists. My cardiac event helped me to realize that even though we’re dying a little bit every day, we shouldn’t help the process along by forgoing the things we want to do in favor of the things we think we should do all the damn time.
Adjust your mindset about your projects and priorities. How attached are you to all the things you’ve tasked yourself with and are those tasks genuinely worth it? In reflecting on your to-do lists are you filled with joy or dread? If it’s the latter, you might reconsider if those things are truly serving you well.
I still have my to-do lists, I still check off items to stay organized and focused but I’m more at ease with letting some things slide. Also, I will gladly chuck a list altogether when I find that a plan or project isn’t serving me mentally and emotionally. I’m learning to be a little more impulsive and selfish with my time.
More importantly, I’m learning to live my life like tomorrow may be my last because there’s a very real possibility that I may not wake to see it. I’ve decided that every new day is a gift and an opportunity for me to decide what’s really important. I’m making space in my life to live on purpose.
Decide what’s really important to you and what things genuinely bring you joy.
Decide To Be Present
You may feel like there is always more to do, more projects and tasks that require your attention, more to add to your to-do list that must get done. But really? Busy isn’t necessarily better. Don’t neglect yourself and your health in the pursuit of being busy or overly organized. Decide what’s really important to you and what things genuinely bring you joy.
Focus on today, focus on right now. What do you want to do with your time? If you knew that today was your last, what would you do with it?
- We die a little bit each and every day, make your days feel worth it.
- Busy isn’t better. We are defined by what we give priority.
- Moments are the tasty morsels of life, show up for them; be present.