Travel is in my blood; always has been and always will be. With every place I visit, I find I satisfy one piece of my curiosity only to reveal another. I have been blessed to have my passion thus far bringing me to see all 50 states by the age of 30 and over 40 countries. From Oman to Scotland, Bali to Brazil, my curiosity continued to drive me to discover how the rest of the world operates. When life dealt me the cards of a near fatal AVM, I learned how one adventure could flip my life upside down in a blink of an eye. Little did I know the blessings it would bring to my life and the lesson it would teach me of sometimes just needing to take things one day at a time.
Flashback to December 2016, which was also my thirty-first year. I was on this magical boat trip in the North Atlantic, just off the coast of Iceland, hoping to get even the slightest glimpse of the mystical glow of the breathtaking Northern Lights. Unfortunately, it was an overcast and frosty evening and we began to hang our heads low as the boat returned to shore, huddling deeper into our coats. Then for about 10 seconds, we were able to see a few shimmers of green flashes peek through the clouds and deemed it still somewhat of a success.
Back ashore, we retired for the evening to get much needed rest. I distinctly remember being abruptly awoken from my sleep by an excruciating headache. It was the early morning, around 4 AM. It’s unexplainable, but the best analogy is that it felt like someone had hit me in the head with a bat. I woke up my partner at the time and told her I had a ridiculously painful headache. It was atypical of me to get a headache and, concerned, she told me to try to relax. Deciding Tylenol might help, I got up, walked over to get some from my bag, and hoped the medication would do the trick and help me shake it off. I decided to stand up again, but to my surprise, my right leg would not cooperate. I tried to lift it, but it would not move. A few seconds later my arm likewise refused to move. It felt like my body had become a dead weight. Before I knew it, there were people in the room lifting me out of bed and onto what I could only assume was a stretcher. I laid there in an immobile body, the world around me reduced to a string of objects, lights, and shadows flashing by me as my sight slowly faded. I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Fear, anxiety, and confusion quickly overwhelmed my mind and body.
The last thing I remember was a flashback of my entire life — all the people I love, family, and friends. Then all my experiences — childhood tee-ball, basketball, and travels all around the world. And then all the angst and anxiety melted away instantaneously. Among the chaos, confusion, and scariness, a feeling of tranquility, satisfaction, and acceptance suddenly overcame me. I didn’t have regrets. I had lived an amazing life in my 31 years here on earth; if this was the end, I was blessed and honored to have met those in my life and have a chance to do what some don’t in a lifetime. As my eyes closed and the world around me vanished, I felt I had found my inner peace and tranquility.
Miraculously, I awoke and found myself laying under crisp, white bed sheets in an Icelandic hospital bed. My loved ones told me I had had emergency brain surgery from a congenital severe bleed known as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that instantaneously paralyzed my entire right side. It is estimated that 10 in 100,000 suffer an AVM; of those affected, about half result in sudden hemorrhage like mine. As I laid there in the Icelandic hospital no longer able to even add 2+2, denial quickly entered the room. I told myself it’s a dream, so I tried to get out of bed and collapsed straight to the floor in a tangled heap of limbs. Well, so much for a dream.
I then spent the next few months battling how to regain my bearings. What was I to do now? I was at the top and — poof — was now at the bottom. It felt as if I had nothing; not even my health. I went through the irrational emotional rollercoaster asking “why did this have to happen to me”, “what did I do wrong”, “life is unfair”, the list goes on. I had worked so hard to have a successful career, stay fit and healthy, but suddenly it was all stripped away from me in an instant. Little did I know that it was my blessing in disguise.
I slowly got clarity as to what was important to me in life and my purpose here on earth. It wasn’t the thriving career, money, or possessions; it was all about the impact and difference I could make on lives around the world. I thought to myself that I just need to start with something palatable and achievable; learn to get through 24hrs, 1440 minutes, or just one day at a time. This is literally how I survived my time in the hospital. I was once right handed and now instantly overnight had to be left handed. I would think to myself that I just needed to make it until the next meal. Can I at least get one contact lens in my eye today? Tie one shoe today? Make it one step further in my room than I did the day before? Rudimentary tasks once before became challenges that I took on bit by bit.
I had heard it all from not being able to walk to not being able to enjoy the things I love. Soon the wheelchair turned into a cane and the arm sling disappeared. I found that my method of one day at a time gave me the strength and confidence to know anything is possible. An inch or a mile, progress is progress and that is all that matters. Once I had tasted that, there was no turning that appetite off. One day at a time was my winning formula.
Just keep moving forward! It truly comes down to games you play with your mind. Yes, I totally can go to the fridge and get ice cream. Then the next thing I know, I’m on the floor looking at the ceiling. Well that didn’t work so well. The crossroads enter my mind – I’m never doing that again versus I am totally owning this next time. What made me choose the latter? How can I be sure to choose that all the time? I would think deeply about it and see giving up as the easy option that is ALWAYS there along the path. It’s like hitting the eject button whenever you’ve had enough. Then again I thought to myself what good would that bring?
I found myself getting lost in a question – what is the legacy I want to leave behind? What would I want my kids, family, friends, loved ones to remember me as? One of my best friends from high school always told me “I can either be a chump or a champ, the only difference is U.”
Today, I find myself surrendering to what life brings and constantly evolving to become a better version of myself. I unselfishly give my full authentic self everyday, radiate love, and spread good vibes which is the most fulfilling feeling that money can’t buy. While I still live with large physical deficits and will for the remainder of my life, I have found ways to embrace it fully understanding it was all meant to happen. My good friend and I keep each other accountable to keep in check that the time is always NOW. It doesn’t matter what happened 3 years ago, yesterday, or 10 years from now, but what is right in front of my face now.
Be sure to stay tuned to my upcoming articles as I continue to share this blessed journey with you. My intention is that by sharing and exposing my vulnerability it may ignite your inner power and strength to show that you are not alone. You are enough, you are beautiful the way you are. Just take it one day at a time. Sending good vibes your way and cheers until the next post…
Click on the photo to learn more about Jason B. Flores.