I recently transformed my most personal stories into a TEDx talk titled: “What Dying Taught Me About Living.”
I delivered this talk live at the TEDx MCPHS live event on March 18th, 2023, at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in the city of Boston.
The event was themed “What’s Your Story” and featured other inspiring leaders: Jimi Okubanjo and Yolanda Lewis.
You can watch my TEDx talk on YouTube, but I decided to also share my TEDx script with you!
TEDx Talk Transcript – Elayna Fernández: What Dying Taught Me About Living
“Have you ever heard the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure? That phrase can sum up the best moments of my childhood in the Dominican Republic.
And my favorite one happened when I was 7 years old.
My brother and I had just come back from fetching our daily water and we decided to take a break and go to the dump.
You see, there was a landfill right behind the little beat-up shack in the slum we called home – and it was amazing!
Yes, there was a foul stench, the ground felt mushy, and the flies… ugh… they were everywhere.
But, this was the magical place where we would find little objects and artifacts we could play with and be kids! It was a sweet escape.
As we searched and dug and compared our interesting finds, I noticed something unusual.
It was an old, soggy, smelly magazine with words we couldn’t understand. I eagerly flipped through the pages and was fascinated by the bright pictures.
The kids wore jeans and tennis shoes. They had new books and toys… and their families… looked so happy!
I savored every scene.
So I turned to my brother, and asked the question that would change my life forever: ¡¿Y si pudiéramos aprender este idioma?!
“What if we could learn this language?” I figured, if we knew English, we could have this wonderful life!
As unreasonable as this seemed, in just 4 years… I did it! I found ways to make money to pay for classes, then I attended daily for 3 years, and, as singer Celia Cruz used to say, my English became “very good-looking.”
Because of my new language, I was able to move out of the slum and into the city to attend college at only 15 years old and even qualify for a high-paying job. I had left the darkness and dysfunction behind to enjoy a new life where my magazine dreams were all coming true!
But one day… everything changed.
I boarded what I thought was public transportation and, instead of arriving at school, I was taken to an unknown destination… trapped in a car where I experienced hours of unspeakable violence and torture.
I was only 19 and this unmerciful stranger promised me I wouldn’t make it out alive.
I think you saw that coming… but what you would never guess is how much I wished I hadn’t survived.
It was the beginning of a nightmare.
I hated every inch of my body.
I was forced to talk about it in court, to somehow prove that I didn’t ask for it.
And what’s worse, instead of seeing my pain, everyone I knew just focused on trying to motivate me.
But, instead of wanting to move on or feeling grateful…
I felt unseen, unsafe, and unsupported. Unloved.
I wanted to die…
And just 6 months after being kidnapped, I got my wish.
The car crashed and flipped, and I went from riding in the backseat to being trapped underneath it.
As if in slow motion, I looked down at my lifeless body being rushed to the nearest hospital. In the E.R., I could see my brother weeping and begging as the medical staff broke the news to him:
“There’s nothing we can do for her…”
My body was dead, but my mind was more alert, and my spirit more alive than ever…
My brother was relentless, so the doctors turned their attention to me. They put on an oxygen mask, tried electrical cardioversion, and inserted a chest tube.
It looked painful… but I didn’t feel it.
I was actually experiencing freedom, peace, and unconditional love. Yes, Heaven.
I wanted to feel like this forever!
But I heard a message that it wasn’t my time yet, and as I came back to my body, all my senses were flooded with pain.
During my 8-day-coma, I found another treasure in an unexpected place – another language that changed my life…
And I believe it can change yours, too.
I was able to process my traumatic childhood memories, my intrusive thoughts, and my painful emotions.
As an observer, a witness, I could hear the pain in the words people said at my bedside. I could see the pain in their bodies. I could sense it in their souls… The more they broke down and fell apart for me, the more I felt seen, safe, and supported… loved.
And my biggest revelation was this: it’s not motivation, but validation that helps us move through emotional pain.
We must choose to be still and go deep to learn the language that validates pain. Like sifting through trash to find treasure.
Birth pains, growing pains, dying pains… Pain is the common thread of humanity.
And, unfortunately, because of the archaic languages of stigma, shame, and stereotypes, we have been conditioned to deny, downplay, and dismiss our pain.
We often mask it with practices like positive thinking, invalidating gratitude, or finding an instant silver lining, when in reality, these quick fixes have dangerous effects.
Unacknowledged, unprocessed, unexpressed emotional pain manifests in our bodies as disease, in our minds as dysfunction, and in our spirits as disconnection.
A flatlined existence.
After over 25 years of researching and spending hundreds of thousands of hours and dollars studying the neuroscience of emotions, positive psychology, and trauma healing modalities, I discovered something interesting: Science, philosophy, and spirituality all confirmed what I learned in my coma.
And the research is clear:
Processing our emotional pain requires validating it- and these skills are learned through practice.
And my idea is that we must set a daily date to sit with our painful memories, thoughts, and emotions. Like in learning a new language, immersion is the best path to fluency. It’s uncomfortable at first… and it’s a lifelong journey. But it opens doors we didn’t think were possible for us.
Having a date with pain may sound as dreadful to you as dumpster diving. But I know that it’s a lot easier to rummage through trash when we become curious and focus on what we will find.
When we date – and validate – our pain, pain can become our sacred teacher, faithful messenger, and wise friend.
Dating my pain helps me survive all the heavy dark moments when life feels unbearable… because just a few seconds of validation can help us come back to wholeness.
As we date our pain, we start to transform it and we stop transmitting it. We can become healthier in every way, and more peaceful at home, at work, and in the world.
And you may think, well, another thing to add to my to-do list. Nope!
Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor teaches the “90-second rule,” or the concept that any emotional response will last only 90 seconds… just 90 seconds.
If the moms I reach through my blog and community can fit this in, so can you!
Plus, it’s free. The best things in life are!
So now you might be asking, Elayna, what does dating my pain even look like?
My morning practice includes 3 simple steps: See, Sense, and Say.
You get still and recall one painful, stressful, or uncomfortable memory, thought, or experience.
You go into your body to notice every sensation that comes up. Is it tingly, tense, tight?
You address yourself by name, out loud or in writing, and validate your pain. This is done by allowing and acknowledging your pain.
Validating language sounds like this:
- Elayna, It’s okay to feel what you are feeling.
- Elayna, Your emotions, and reactions make sense.
- Elayna, I am here for you.
See, sense, say. That’s what you do on your date with pain.
My invitation is to set aside 2 minutes of your morning OR night to date your pain. 90 seconds of pain and 30 seconds of validation.
As you engage in this practice, you will learn the native language of your emotions and feel seen, safe, and supported… self-love.
You’ll be able to share your authentic emotions with vulnerability and be a safe place for others to do the same.
When I decided to wake up from my coma, I chose to literally wake up to pain, but I also woke up to love.
With 19 broken bones, it hurt to move, it hurt to breathe, it hurt to feel…and the grueling recovery process was just beginning. And the trauma I had endured in my short 19 years was still real.
But I wanted to live!
I realized I didn’t need to be healed to feel WHOLE. All I needed was to feel seen, safe and supported. That’s what we all need and deserve.
So today, ask yourself … What if you could learn this language?
Date your pain, and discover a true treasure.
So here’s what dying taught me about living:
When we don’t know how to validate others, our words and actions become hurtful, rather than helpful. Not knowing how to validate ourselves leads to unhealthy and self-destructive choices and patterns that perpetuate the cycle of suffering.
Are you willing to date your pain? Share in the comments below.
Elayna is a homeschool educator, single mom of 4, founder of the Positive MOM Community, award-winning Storyteller, Story Strategist, and Student of Pain. She’s a bestselling author, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and 3x TEDx speaker. To receive a gift from Elayna, click HERE.
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