The night my mom got remarried when I was 16, I passed out from standing, hit my head on the edge of an iron fireplace, had a seizure, and stopped breathing for a couple of minutes.
I had a near death experience.
My cousin and my friend and our French exchange student and my little sister and I were allowed to stay in the condo alone together while my parents went on their “honeymoon” (a weekend at some tacky hideaway in the North Georgia mountains). I was 16 and I guess I was in charge. We were drinking.
I’m an emotional, sensitive person as it is, and there was a lot going on for me. My mom had just gotten married. I loved my new stepdad, still do, but suddenly the single mother who had raised me by herself had someone else to take care of. I felt like my lifeline was leaving me. I felt abandoned. Our sixteen-year-old French exchange student was hitting on all my uncles. I had a crush on my first cousin. I was already 16 but no one had time to take me to get my driver’s license, and I was very upset about that. I felt like no one was listening to me. In six months I would move to a very small town in the North Georgia mountains and become anorexic.
We drank beer and vodka – whatever we found in the condo – and the night grew heated and rosy as we used bravado to stuff down feelings. We got drunk.
My cousin suggested this game he had played before where you squat, breathe in and out through your nose really hard then stand up, hold your nose and pass out.
Your friends are supposed to gather round you to catch you.
“You see all these colors,” he said. “It’s really cool.”
He did it, and he passed out and we caught him as he dropped forward. He was heavier than we expected, but we sort of eased him to the ground. Then he woke up smiling. “That was amazing.” It was my turn.
I huffed and I stood and I held my nose and as I passed out, I swayed forward, so my friends gathered in front of me to catch me.
But then I fell backward like a board, and caught my full bodyweight on the corner of the iron fireplace insert my mom had gotten for free from someone at work and installed to save money on heating. It jutted out above the hearth like a box into the room, and my head bounced off it twice, they said.
I lay on the floor and began flopping around so violently they thought I was joking – and they laughed. When I didn’t stop, they realized I wasn’t joking – I was having a seizure. I seized for a while. Then I stopped. My eyes were wide open.
There was no blood, no evidence that anything had happened really – except that I was lying on the floor not moving with my eyes wide open. And I wasn’t breathing.
They said they talked about calling 911 and were debating doing CPR – and were trying to find my pulse – when I jerked up, eyes popping, gasping in.
They described it to me over and over in the next 24 hours, the way I popped to life all of a sudden, with a gasp.
This is what happened while I was gone:
Time did not exist. I spent a hundred million years traveling through this abstract, peaceful, profound space that felt like it was the same as what I was. There was no Julie, I didn’t know what humans were or consciousness. I had no sense that I was anything but the same as this profound, eternal essence of being. In dreams you still have a sense of being human and conscious and having relationships, but this didn’t feel like a dream. It felt eternal. I had no memory of having any life on Earth, there were no markers or referents there that reflected it except this: there was a sense of static electricity. Not that I heard because I didn’t have ears – that I felt. I was aware of it. I wonder if that was the seizure. But I experienced it as lasting eons. I was in this eternal space, and I was the same as it. And yet – I was moving toward a bright light.
It sounds like a cliche. It sounds like I’m making all of this up, and especially making up the bright light part so I can feel like I’m part of something bigger. I swear to whatever is out there this is what I experienced. I remember it as if it just happened, because it felt so huge, and so devastating, to have left it.
I spent a hundred billion years in this eternal, abstract space, surrounded by static electricity, and moving toward a bright light that was – in an abstract, non-sensual way – warm, inviting, healing. This white, bright light that wasn’t in a place but rather like a state of being that I was moving toward was the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever felt, the most calm, the highest state – I was going to be whole and where I belonged, forever – I was moving easier, faster toward the light –
– and then it was like a hand reached in and ripped me out –
My eyes had been open the entire time, but that’s when my eyes popped wide and I started breathing again.
I breathed and then I sobbed – because I was terrified and because I had just been ripped out of Paradise. I didn’t know who I was or where I was, but I knew for sure I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to go back, where I belonged.
I kept looking around at all their faces staring down at me on the floor – and the walls of my family’s living room, that pink-brown color, the artwork on the walls – and crying because I didn’t know them. I didn’t know myself. And for the next full day I wanted to go back.
It took hours before I knew who I was and where I was.
It was the middle of the night and I was still drunk, but they kept me awake because they thought that’s what you’re supposed to do for someone with a head injury. They should have taken me to the hospital, but none of us wanted to get in trouble.
So they kept walking me around and every time they let go of me, I’d sink to the floor and weep. I just remember how profound that feeling of dislocation was – I didn’t belong here. I belonged there, where everything felt right. Once they let go of me and I crawled on my hands and knees beneath the dining room table, telling them I was going to sleep now. They dragged me out.
After a few hours, they took me to Waffle House and filled me with coffee and hash browns scattered, smothered, covered and diced. They surrounded me in the laminate booth: the goal was to keep me awake.
Later the following day, my friend left and my exchange student was still there, hitting on my uncles. And my cousin left with his parents for Florida, and that felt like the greatest loss of all, after a weekend of losses. I wasn’t going to see him again for who knows how long because he lived in Austria. And I felt connected to him, excited around him, attracted. I had a crush.
Y’all may feel alarmed at the freedom with which I was falling for my cousin and wanting to return to the bright light. But this was not my first head injury. My dad had sat me down when I was 5 and said “I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.” And then when I was 11, he vanished, only later to discover he had sailed away on his sailboat.
But this was my first physical head injury.
This is what Dr. Oz says about this kind of experience:
“we’re now able to explain how out-of-body experiences happen, at least physically. The primary senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch have great blood supply, but the part of the temporal lobe that integrates these senses together is in a watershed area that suffers from inadequate oxygen when your blood pressure drops too low. When this happens, the sensory input becomes disconnected; many people who have had near-death experiences report “leaving” their bodies. … Scientists have long speculated that religious feelings can be tied to a specific place in the brain. They found this out by studying a form of epilepsy in which seizures originate as electrical misfirings within the temporal lobes. Epileptics who have this form of the disorder often report intense religious experiences, leading researchers to speculate that localized electrical storms in the brain’s temporal lobe might sometimes be related to religious experience.”
And this is the wikipedia article about Near Death Experience. I actually haven’t researched or read about this at all until now – from the age of 16 until now I’ve been busy. One thing it says is that people who experience this (and it’s actually pretty common) feel they’re more intuitive afterward – and as y’all know I consider myself highly intuitive. They have more activity in the left temporal lobe and they’re more sensitive to light, which I am. Light may even be a trigger for my migraines, which may have been caused by this experience.