Seeking Purpose and Meaning of Life

You’re back. I didn’t invite you here. I thought you were gone and would never return, but I was wrong. The last time you showed up, I was able to hide from you and we lost sight of each other. Somehow you found your way back, and you’re showing up with more frequency. It’s those moments you show up when I least expect you that I am most fearful of you.

It was 2013 when I first started to experience panic attacks. I never understood this concept before when hearing others speak of those dreaded events. Sometimes there’s absolutely no warning, and sometimes you start to feel them creeping up on you. A few weeks ago, while shopping for groceries, I was fending one-off for several minutes. Perhaps it was exacerbated by my mask as it was greatly contributing to my shortness of breath even though we have been wearing these for over a year now. I pulled off my mask in order to catch my breath. Through experience, I’ve learned to calm them down sometimes. However, there are other times when they just seem to get the better of me.

A recent episode occurred as I stepped into the shower and the water hit my head. My eyes were closed, and it all happened so quickly. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was incredible what I experienced next. I saw and felt a rush of dark water swishing and splashing on my face. It felt like when a wave at the beach knocks you off your feet and you’re completely underwater. An immediate visual came to mind and scared me. It all happened so fast. It took my breath away, and I moved out from under the shower just as quickly trying to catch my breath and trying not to panic.

How is it possible that an event that occurred so many years ago, and one that I do not have a true recollection of outside of what I was told, could come to mind with such visual clarity?

This event occurred over 30 years ago. I was involved in a car accident. I was a passenger in the vehicle and my friend was driving the car. As we crossed the intersection heading westbound, a vehicle heading northbound raced through the red light and crashed into our car which caused it to nosedive into a small body of water approximately 12-15 feet deep. Upon impact, our heads collided, and I bounced forward hitting my face and head on the dashboard, and was knocked unconscious. Her head then hit the driver’s side window and broke the glass causing the car to quickly fill with water. At the time, my son was only two years old and thankfully he was sitting securely in his car seat in the back seat of the car.

Since I was knocked unconscious, I was spared the angst. She thought I was dead. She explained to me that as the car was filling with water, she knew she had to save my son. She was able to push the release button on his car seat, got him out, and held his head above the water in an air pocket as the car was now fully submerged.

Fortunately, the accident occurred midday on a Saturday, and there were many people who witnessed the accident. A couple of good Samaritans actually jumped in the water and swam down towards the car. She was able to hand my two-year-old son to them through that broken window and they swam up with him. I’m really not sure how much time passed throughout this process. Given that I was knocked unconscious, and she could no longer hold her breath, she had to make her way out of the car. She realized she couldn’t move her legs, so she pushed herself out through that broken window and used her arms to get herself to the top of the water. As she reached the top, a couple of people jumped in to help drag her out of the water. She was able to tell them there was still someone else in the car. Others jumped in and were able to get me out of the car to safety.

Apparently when I was pulled out of the water Fire Rescue was already on scene, and they were able to resuscitate me. I have no recollection other than waking up in the ambulance on our way to the hospital. According to the paramedics, it had been several minutes where I was alert and yet could not respond to their questions.

I truly wish I could remember what happened that day, but I can’t. The most I can remember is being in the passenger seat talking to my friend who was driving the car and seeing that silver car just coming right at us. That’s the last of what I remember until waking up in the ambulance. It was quite the event from what I was told and saw in pictures and on the news.

I find it bizarre to have had a panic attack at the beginning of that shower that caused me to see something I have absolutely no recollection of. I hurried through my shower as I talked to myself, trying to calm down and reminding myself I was safe. I shared this event and story with a friend of mine over a telephone call last week. I was still in amazement and disbelief of the visual I had with that first splash of water while in the shower that caused my panic attack.

As if all of this doesn’t seem weird and strange enough, another twist to this story is the date of the accident. It was November 11, 1989. It was then and only then that the numbers 11:11 came to mind, and it was through my friend’s observation as I shared this story with her. Many of us believe we have guardian angels watching over us. I want to believe that my guardian angels were present that day. I do not claim to know much or anything about numerology other than my limited reading on the topic. I am open to hearing more about any connections between the date and surviving this awful accident.

I know I have done a lot of soul searching during the last couple of years. I’ve sought validation, attended purpose workshops, and know there is something still missing. I want to believe there is a purpose to my life, but I have yet to figure out what that purpose is.

I have had a good career and still have many years ahead of me to continue providing value to organizations and clients. Perhaps I did things backwards (no linear path here) – career first, then formal education by way of earning my undergrad and masters in my 40’s and 50’s, respectively. I will forever be a student as learning is a lifelong journey for me. I am nevertheless still seeking that proverbial purpose in life. I believe there is something more I’m supposed to do that I have yet to figure out. I will continue seeking and discovering, which has led me to reread Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I do not believe I am alone in this quest. Sometimes it feels like time is running out.


Maribel Cardez
Maribel Cardez
Trained in situational leadership, Maribel Cardez devotes her research and client support to exploring how organizations can create greater employee and customer experiences. Throughout her journey, she has connected with many individuals on a global scale who share the common belief of the importance of creating an environment where employees feel they belong and are valued and respected. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, she is a strong believer in the need for change and finds it refreshing to see throughout the world today that a "people first" focus is of paramount concern. Having spent most of her career in corporate America, Maribel serves as a Management Consultant with The Zedrac Group where she specializes in strategic planning, project management, and consulting services on human resources, organizational effectiveness, operations, and administration. In addition to her vast corporate career, Maribel also facilitates workshops on Cultural Competency, Diversity and Inclusion, Team Building, Generational Diversity, and Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Workplace Violence. She has held senior leadership positions in Human Resources, Administration, and Marketing. Maribel earned her Master’s in Leadership from Nova Southeastern University and her Bachelor’s in Business Management from the University of Phoenix. Additionally, she is a graduate of the Louisiana State University Graduate School of Banking and the American Bankers Association School of Bank Marketing and Management. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Maribel has lived in South Florida for over 30 years.

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  1. Loved the story, Maribel. Fascinating how things are connected, sometimes even beyond what we might anticipate. It’s amazing how life events can facilitate multiple shifts in awareness and perspective over time. Have experienced some panic attacks in my life, too, I wonder if they are also like an anticipatory moment for something unknown. The sensation of awareness in the body comes with choice of interpretation, too.

    An orphan and adoptee, I had a NDE in college (1975) unlike most I’ve ever heard about in that it was not induced by physical trauma, it came as an answer to a prayer for knowing truth; how reality works and what my ‘perfected form, fit and function’ in the world is. Perhaps a read through might offer some inner connection to your own quest. I hear it often does. If you’re interested, it’s here:

    May your path be full of curiosity and wonder.

    • Thank you Zen for taking the time to read my story and for responding. It is fascinating and interesting to read and hear the feedback received from many after sharing the details of this event and discussions centered around panic attacks. Most interesting is that many who I have known for years shared stories they never shared before. I appreciate that my sharing caused them to open up as well. I am most interested in reading more about your story and will make time to read them. Thank you for including the link and sharing your story. I remain curious and grateful. My apologies for the delayed response.

  2. So happy you are here to tell the story, Maribel.
    Perhaps that is part of your purpose, to help destigmatize panic attacks? I think anybody who reads your story will understand why you might have “residue” from an event like that, whether you remember anything or not.

    What if we assumed that other people, who perhaps can’t put their finger on a specific event, could also have “residue” from something they have long forgotten/suppressed/lost to a concussion.

    Panic attacks are not “weaknesses” but mental battle scars.

    You wanna see mine?

    • Hi Charlotte. My apologies for the delayed response. I sincerely appreciate your comments and the food for thought. Not that I would wish these events on anyone, but there’s certainly strength in numbers and good to know we are not alone in our experiences. Grateful that others can relate.

  3. Maribel: Thank you for sharing this amazing story. It makes me wonder a couple of things: First, does your son remember any of the accident, any recollections at all? Second, what about your journey to explore what happened to you, and what brought you to where you are today?

    Thank you again, very well done.


    • Thank you for your comment and questions. I shared the article with my son and he remembers the stories from our conversations and said he has no recollection of any of it. He was two years old at the time, so I’m grateful. As for me, it wasn’t until this recent event with the panic attack that it has me thinking about the stories stored away in my memory.