Six things I learned from almost dying

When Melissa Ramos was rushed to hospital with internal hemorrhaging the experience changed her life — for the better.

Melissa Ramos after her surgery

Melissa Ramos after her surgery.

As a little girl, I would dream about what I would be when I grew up. I thought about being an artist, a writer, someone who helped people in need and maybe someone who travelled often. I believed that the future was when I would finally start living.

What I didn’t dream about was a near-death experience rattling me in my early 30s.

When a cyst ruptured and tore a piece of my right ovary off, causing blood to internally pool up to my lung cavity, I was rushed to the hospital. My kidneys couldn’t be seen on a CAT scan and my muscles went into spasm. It wasn’t until afterwards, during a long and painful recovery, that some pretty important life lessons (about love, life and dying) hit me. And while I’m still in the midst of recovery, here’s what this experience has taught me so far:

1. Nourish the relationships that matter
While one of the hardest parts has been seeing who didn’t step up, the most beautiful part has been seeing who did. I was shocked when I opened my eyes in a hydromorphone haze to see that family members I’d fought with for years were there, every day.

2. Worrying and stressing is like paying interest on a debt you may never owe
I am a worrywart, but now I find it’s easier to brush things off rather than let menial things consume me. When you wake up with 24 staples in your abdomen (for a photo, click here), there’s a certain level of perspective that happens. Deadlines and finances, or worrying about finding love, suddenly seem less significant. And while we can control things like diet and exercise, we also need to find comfort that some things are out of our control. Sometimes we just have to trust the process of it all.

3. When you have nothing, you actually have everything
I used to complain and focus on what I didn’t have, which is even easier now thanks to social media. My newsfeed is always filled with photos of beautiful homes, nights out and vacations, and it used to make me feel inferior.

And I’d be lying if I said I haven’t complained since being out of the hospital, but I’ve had a major reality check. Almost losing it all made me count my blessings. Now I focus on the feelings I had when I travelled. For example, standing around 250 roaring falls in Iguaçu, Brazil, made me realize just how small I am in the grand scheme of things.

When you’re stripped to almost nothing, you start to really appreciate what you do have. My mother helped me to the bathroom and washed me daily. On the outside it appeared I’d lost a lot, when really I had everything. My parents helped me walk when I was a baby and they did it for me again as an adult. The vulnerability that I had to embrace opened me up to receive, be stronger and have everything.

4. Health isn’t just about what you eat
It may surprise you to hear me say, as a nutritionist and acupuncturist, that health isn’t just about what you eat, but what you think and do as well. In fact, it’s often the lifestyle recommendations my patients slack on the most. I’m guilty of this too. In the past I’ve stayed up late despite being exhausted. I’ve allowed the negative committee in my head to take over, which only left me feeling bitter and miserable.

I honestly feel like these lifestyle choices put me in the hospital.

Today I set my alarm to get up and move throughout the day. I meditate daily and I aim to get into bed before midnight.

Regardless of whether you take out gluten, stuff your face with kale or slurp on smoothies, it won’t make you a better or healthier person. You’ll be just another person with elevated cortisol levels wreaking hormonal havoc on your system if you don’t take the time to slow down.

5. Drink only when you’re happy
One of the things I learned in my previous life as an ad exec was how to use drinking to blow off steam. Most of us do it, but it’s really a big problem in my eyes. Alcohol becomes the crutch that nourishment should provide instead.

What I’m suggesting is enjoy your wine, but make a commitment to do so only when you’re happy. If you don’t, you run the risk of developing unhealthy habits that can put major stress on the body. Trust me when I say it’s not worth it.

6. It’s okay to sit still
This has been an incredibly hard lesson for me. When you have to spend the majority of your time in bed, you have no choice but to think. And truthfully while I did go a little stir-crazy, I realized that I had to slow down because I was only competing against myself — in a race I’d never win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a type-A personality, but now I make time for meditation (which I highly recommend even if it’s only five minutes a day). You’ll gain focus and concentration, and become less reactive. It allows you to sit still with your fears and slow down your heart.

Being still made me realize I had it all wrong. Life doesn’t begin in the future, and it can’t be relived in the past. The present, with all of its magical and painful moments, is what we should be learning from.

For more from Melissa visit her site Sexy Food Therapy.