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A few years ago, the universe conspired to test my husband’s and my immune system at the same time. We both got pneumonia. We both felt like death and dragged ourselves to the Urgent Care. We both started on antibiotics. As my husband bounced back, I took a turn for the worse. He rushed me to the ER and the diagnosis was grim.

“You have empyema,” my dreamy, green-eyed cardiothoracic surgeon told me with the most tender voice. I’m going to operate on you tomorrow to get rid of the pus build-up that’s collapsed your right lung.

Pumped full of morphine, I nodded and dozed off. I don’t remember much of that week. And the things that I do remember I’d rather forget. Like when my sister gave my naked body a sponge bath. Or needing human help every single time nature called.

I couldn’t walk and I barely ate. The only upside of that week was losing 15 pounds.

Even more surprising to me and all our friends and family was that I was the health nut; I ate super clean and committed to 60-day hot yoga challenges. My husband, on the other hand, committed to happy hours after work, cheeseburgers, and an occasional run around the block for exercise.

Looking back now, my symptoms were impossible to diagnose because they weren’t physical. And they had been lingering around for so long, I didn’t realize they were there.

So how can someone so “healthy” get so sick?

Looking back now, it was obvious.

Loneliness.

When I got sick, I had recently transferred to a new school in a different school district. Not only did I miss my old teammates, but I was the only veteran teacher in a sea of newbies. To say that I was having adjustment issues was an understatement.

I struggled with anxiety and depression for years. I thought I was staying ahead of the game by doing yoga and eating vegetables. But I kept sinking further down a rabbit hole of sadness and isolation. Back then, I didn’t know how to save myself or ask for help. Since then I found a good physical therapist for the pain the surgery left in my body. I also found a good therapist who helped me navigate my internal tides. Meditation and other self-care practices like journaling are daily routines for me these days. They’ve made a great difference in my life. I’m a lot happier.

But unlike my melancholy nature, my husband is an unapologetic extrovert with a typical alpha personality. What will surprise you about him and his tribe of boyz is that they are relentless about staying connected. Most mornings his phone rings at 6 a.m. These conversations usually sound something like: “What’s up fatty? I just ran three miles.” They crack jokes about pooping and getting old. They laugh until they make themselves cry. Their banter happens while they sit on the toilet and other times on their way to work. It’s been this way for 20 years and will continue for the next 20.

To this day my husband likes to tease me about my health scare. “You should have eaten the cheeseburger.”

According to the research, it’s not the cheeseburger that helped him bounce back from sickness. It’s his bromances.

Jane Brody’s NY Times article, “Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health,” highlights the findings that my husband and I lived in real-time: people with unhealthy habits and strong social connections outlive people with healthy habits living in social isolation.

Not surprising in this same body of research, Brody continues with more research findings: people with strong relationships and healthy lifestyles outlive people with strong relationships and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Today my husband and I joke about who will outlive the other. He says that he wants to live one more day than me. I’m convinced that my near-death experience has given me a second chance to live a happier and longer life. While I still eat mostly plant-based and do yoga, I make it a point to stay connected with my friends.

Want to outlive your spouse? Make a date with your friends. Meet up at a house party, a happy hour, or hike together around your neighborhood. Whether it’s FaceTime or in real-time. Take the time to connect. It’s just as important as healthy eating and even more fun.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog

You may also like:

Sometimes, I’m a Lonely Mom

I’m So Grateful For My “Always” Friends

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Heather Huffman

Writer, teacher and student of the universe. Heather Huffman recently moved from Austin, Texas to Lexington, KY. You can read more of her work: www.heatherhuffmanwrites.com.

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