Our Bodies

Our bodies are pretty special. They know things we don’t. They know how to die.

There’s this thing called the instinctive drowning response. It’s what your body does when you’re drowning. Your eyes glaze over, you stop making any noise, your motions slow, and you try and lie on your back in the water. It’s so… quiet. Isn’t that lovely?

Think about how we picture drowning. Think of how we imagine it to be a process of thrashing wildly against the water, how we see a person desperately fighting for life. No, that’s not how it works. Our bodies feel us beginning to die, and they relax. They let go of the world and gently push our consciousness from its control over them. No, hush little one, our bodies tell us, don’t be afraid. This is natural. It’s time, don’t panic. It’s ok.

Pain is unpleasant, but it’s removed from the process of dying itself. People who bleed to death are sedated by their bodies as they approach death. Everything slows down and fades, and their bodies guide them softly to sleep. Our bodies know.

I nearly died once. I had a massive blood clot in my lungs. My heart accelerated to over two hundred and fifty beats per minute, my vision blurred out and I felt as though I was on fire, desperate for air. And as it continued and the oxygen concentration in my blood fell and fell, I felt myself beginning to slip away. Oh, I thought clumsily, I’m dying.

And… it was ok. My consciousness began to slowly step backward from my mind, and instead of the panic which had gone before I began to feel the greatest peace and the most boundless freedom.  It was the middle of the night when it happened, and my brother happened to be going to bed and was on the landing as I’d called out. If he hadn’t been there I would’ve had no way to summon help because my body had stopped me speaking. Hush, little one. Don’t be afraid.

And you know what? There’s a part of me that resents that he heard me. What causes us to die might be painful or scary, but dying isn’t. It’s a release. Our bodies are pretty special. They know this. They know how to die. And after what happened, I do too. It’s ok.


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January 2012
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