This article originally appeared on VICE AU.
Sasha Eliasson has been pronounced clinically dead, twice. His first death happened while he was studying in Sweden and he lost control of a motorcycle while trying to brake for construction work. He was found unconscious and without a pulse, but paramedics resuscitated him on the scene.
Then, only months later while in rehabilitation, Sasha accidentally overdosed on painkillers, which dropped his heart rate to 10 beats per minute and caused his respiratory system to shut down. But again, he was resuscitated.
VICE spoke to Sasha—who is now 26 and studying Business Administration—about what it's like to die, what he learned, and the direction his life has taken after death.
VICE: Hey Sasha, did it hurt to die?
Sasha Eliasson: No, I mean not in the moment itself or before. It probably took about 24 hours before I started feeling any pain. The first time I was basically in shock so I didn't feel any pain, and then the second time was due to pain killers so I was in pain but that wasn’t because of the clinical death, it was just pain in general. So, pain had nothing to do with the dying.
Did your life flash before your eyes? What did you see when you were dead?
I did not see my life flash by and I didn’t see Jesus or the light at the end of the tunnel or anything, really. I didn't see anything because I wasn't really there. I just knew something had happened when I woke up. It was like a nap without any dreams. So, I woke up and I knew I'd taken a nap, but I didn't know how long. I was pretty much lost, but I knew it happened and that was all. I only knew that time had passed by.
What was the grossest part about dying, like did you shit yourself?
Not that I'm aware of. I'm sure that happens like when you've been dead for a while, but I'm pretty sure the muscles were still tense for a while after I died. Rehab was a full-on process though, the physical part was tough because it's painful. Progress is pretty slow, but it's doable. The mental aspect of it was a lot harder.
What was going through your head when they told you that you had died?
It was pretty much a rollercoaster of emotions. In the beginning I thought it was cool that it happened. I mean obviously I survived so pretty cool that I could say that it happened. But shortly after it kicked in, I was like, damn, that's pretty serious. Like what happened is serious and it could've gone much worse. So those thoughts started flooding in. But overall, I'm a pretty positive person so that didn't really affect me that much.
How has your relationship to religion changed since, do you think you have a guardian angel?
I've never believed in God or anything. I’m more open to the idea that if you can't prove anything, I think it's pretty stupid to say that you know whether something exists or not. So, I don't believe that there is a god, or a higher power, or there's life after death.
I see it more as it just happened, and I try to give myself a reasoning behind it. I'm sure if you take the idea that it was a guardian angel that protected me and that's why I didn't die, but then you could also ask that if there is a higher power then why did they even let me fall off a motorcycle in the first place. I just avoid that kind of reasoning.
What’s your relationship with death now that you’ve lived through it twice?
Definitely in the beginning it was pretty tough. I had to go through one year of pretty intensive rehab and then after that I just rehabbed for myself, trying to get back to my normal life. So that was tough. But now that it's happened, I am grateful that it happened. It definitely forced me to grow up a lot and very quickly. My relationship to the accident feels very positive now, and with death in general. I'm not scared of death. I don't welcome it, I don't want to die, but if it happens it happens.
On the flip side of that, do you treat life differently?
I used to be pretty cautious and only take calculated risks. I was afraid of heights but now I'm up on rooftops and into everywhere so I can say that my death experience probably had an effect on that. Being up on a height, it's not scary because nothing happens when you die, so nothing bad will happen by being up on a height.
I definitely live more for the day now. if I want to do something, I do it whereas before I was always trying to figure out the pros and cons and, in the end, I wouldn’t do it. Now I do a lot more of the things I want to do.
What are people’s reactions when you tell them that you’ve died twice? It depends on the person. It depends on if they're religious or logic-oriented. People who think logically start to wonder how that could have happened since I’m alive right now. They kind of say, how can you claim that you were dead? that kind of stuff. And then I have to explain that I was clinically dead.
But when it comes to religious people, it's kind of a two-way street. Either they try to explain it positively and say that if I believed in God, I'd have seen a light and I'll find forgiveness. But then there are people who get angry and tell me I didn't see anything because I went to the deepest circle of hell, simply because I didn't believe in god. I get a lot of those messages online. I mean I understand it. To me this thinking looks a lot into like tribalism—how anyone who’s not in the group becomes an enemy. I think that pretty much explains their behaviour.
That’s intense. Do people really weigh in on your experience that much?
I’ve had a lot of this. If I’ve posted an article on Reddit and then read the comments, it's pretty much either people saying bad stuff about me or others defending me. What I just say to people is: don't force your opinions on someone else.
Finally, do you think there's life after death?
For me, there was nothing, just darkness. So I think just choose to believe whatever makes you live a better life. There is no point in trying to find out who's right or who's wrong because I don't think we'll ever know. Don't waste time trying to answer questions about the afterlife, instead just live your life. All you have to do is accept that death is what it is: a part of life, and then you'll understand that it's nothing to be afraid of.