Fifteen years ago, my boyfriend died. He had been running a fever, but didn’t have health insurance. His father, a physician, advised him not to go to the hospital, so my boyfriend and his then-girlfriend waited three days, until he fell unconscious, to seek help.

An infection had spread to his brain, they soon learned. His chance of survival, had he gone to the hospital 72-hours earlier, was 1-in-2,000,000. His parents were told to fly in immediately and pray that they arrived in time to say goodbye. If by some miracle he survived, they were told, he would be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of his life.

When a person dies, n-dimethyltryptamine floods the brain. My boyfriend’s story is not mine to tell, though I hope he does someday. While the research is shaky, his near-death-experience was very real. As was his survival, and subsequent recovery.

My boyfriend was told he would die, and he resisted. He was told he would never be the same, and he took that as a challenge. Fifteen years ago, he didn’t know his name and couldn’t recognize a picture of a sock. Today, he is a few months out from starting medical school.

When I find myself worrying about small, frivolous problems, I always find myself returning to this place.

I can think of no greater obstacle than death itself, followed by surgical removal of the brain regions responsible for memory and emotion. Pair this with the loss of a job and romantic relationship due to the disability, along with moving back in with the parents and being denied disability benefits. And, perhaps most challenging, losing the ability to remember things and experience emotion–having life stolen from your grasp.

Every single day, I experience immense gratitude that I not only met the love of my life, but that it happened against all odds. He shouldn’t be alive but he is, and his mere existence makes me a better person.

Ten years ago, I was an over-commited, type-A people-pleaser. I worked hard, volunteered often, visited family weekly, and was a good friend. I worked out regularly, home-cooked every meal, and always met each of my 100 annual goals. Meeting my boyfriend, unfortunately, didn’t change that. His stoic, go-with-the-flow attitude incited more frustration than inspiration.

However, developing chronic illness shortly thereafter forced me to assess my priorities and change.

As tried and cliched as the metaphor my be, I can’t help but think of the humble caterpillar and it’s messy metamorphosis. I am sure the little critter is proud of his bright stripes, big appetite, and purposeful project. He builds his cocoon and is shrouded in darkness for a season. Upon emergence, his drastic transformation includes a stunning new ability, that of flight.

As I’m roused from this lengthy season of ill health and gently push through my fibrous silk encasement, I, too, am coming to recognize my newfound abilities. I now understand where my boyfriend’s stoic demeanor comes from. I know why he doesn’t care about the opinions of others.

While I did not physically experience death, the person who I was ten years ago is gone. While I am still clever, kindhearted, and perceptive, I no longer find myself able to yield to the needs and demands of others. I’ve learned, firsthand, the importance of putting my own oxygen mask on first.

As challenging as the cocooning phase of my life has been, I am grateful for the transformation I’ve undergone. When all has been said and done, the immense adversity has instilled me with the magical ability to put my own well-being first. It has made me a better human being.

9 thoughts on “Metamorphosis

  1. Erin….this!
    “He shouldn’t be alive, but he is, and his mere existence makes me a better person.”
    I hear you about the deeply personal storytelling — his story — that’s his and only his to tell…and yet, you’ve been profoundly impacted. Your delicate and heartfelt post is beautiful…your part of his story to tell — how he forever changed you. Thank you…and all the best to your amazing boyfriend. 🧡🧡🧡

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m always amazed and inspired by people who seem to defy all odds, yet nothing is really set in stone, forever. There always is the possibility of change. Those possibilities increase when we step forward and start taking some kind of action. Kudos for listening to the lesson and acting on it yourself. These are indeed profound lessons to learn and to share!

    Wishing you a wonderful New Year, full of things that amaze and inspire wonder!


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