The Near-Death Encounter That Saved Me From Myself

My mind told me I was hallucinating, but my instincts told me I’d glimpsed the other side

Michele Koh Morollo
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readAug 27, 2019

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Photo: Agnieszka Adamowska/EyeEm/Getty Images

Is there life after death?

It’s a question that’s been on our minds for thousands of years. My husband comes down on the side of skepticism — he believes that our consciousness ends as soon as our hearts stop beating. He says that when you die, it’s “lights out.”

There was a time that I would have agreed. As a teen, I rejected the heaven-and-hell paradigm of my Catholic parents, and the ideas of reincarnation imparted by my Taoist grandparents. I turned away from all things religious or spiritual, deciding that the faiths of the world were narratives invented to prevent the reality of death from driving us all insane.

When I was 18, though, something happened that created within me a belief in the spiritual realm, and the afterlife. I was in a particularly destructive phase, following two suicide attempts, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and clinical depression, and eight treatments of electroconvulsive therapy. Realizing that I didn’t really have the “guts” to take my own life, I started abusing solvents — inhaling glue and butane to alter my sour state of mind.

I do not suggest that anyone try this. When you huff, your heart rate increases, your brain is deprived of oxygen, and you often feel quite euphoric. However, the consequences of butane inhalation can be pretty nasty, and I am grateful that I didn’t irreparably damage my brain or other organs.

In retrospect, what I’d hoped to achieve with both the suicide attempts and the solvent abuse was “lights out” — a state of nonconsciousness my husband described as what comes after death. As an adolescent whose self-consciousness grew at a painfully uncomfortable pace, and whose sensitivities to her surroundings were unbearably acute, the idea of nonconsciousness presented itself as “the great relief.”

From deep within this space, I heard a chorus of voices speaking in soft, slow, whispers.

One afternoon, sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor of my bedroom, I sucked down a canister of butane. Usually…

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