Friday, July 27, 2007

Breaking point

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write because it reveals a very human weakness that took me by surprise and manifested itself in an unflattering way.
Discussing this weakness is embarrassing.
It hurts because it contradicts the public face I present on this blog and in person regarding the way I handle my health challenges.
It hurts because it reveals vulnerability, but not on my terms.

I woke at 1:30 this morning out of a tight sleep to go to the bathroom, as I do several times a night.
Coming back to my bed, it occurred to me that I hadn't turned off my cellphone before turning in. So I searched for it in a half-sleep.
It wasn't in the bedroom.
It wasn't in the kitchen.
It wasn't in the bathroom.
It wasn't in the living room.
My panic shattered the last vestiges of sleep.
Did I lose the phone at the bar last night? (No booze, just ginger ales.)
I scoured the bedroom again, then the kitchen.
No trace.
Then I checked the computer table.
There, peeking out from under the plastic dust cover over the computer, was my cellphone.
I grabbed it and smashed it to pieces on the floor. Repeatedly.
All my doctors' numbers, friends' numbers, phone numbers of all kinds gone.
It was literally a blind rage.
Rage isn't called blind for nothing.

The warning signs were there all along, only I didn't pay them much heed. In hindsight they're crystal clear:

--The deep emotion, to the point of tears, at hearing certain music (why music and not poetry, for example, is beyond me). I've always been this way, but moreso lately. In short, I find myself reacting to poignancy and pathos and the occasional unfairness of life with much deeper emotion these days.
--The impatience with small stuff (and small people) that shouldn't be fussed over.
--The refusal to allow myself to truly express fear out of concern it would consume me.

There were other signs, but maybe that last one was key.
I wasn't giving myself the freedom to express a very basic and very healthy human emotion: fear.
The surgeries, the setbacks, the uncertainties, the red tape, everything that has been going on lately and over the years combined into a volatile mix last night.
I've always had a bad temper, long before my health struggles began.
But last night was scary.

It was liberating, or so I thought, to believe that I had no fear of reality. But as it turns out, fear swam freely below the surface of the ice. I rejected it when I should have embraced it.
I strove to be like boxer Rocky Marciano, 49 wins and no losses and on top of the world, even if that world wobbled violently from time to time.
My "fuck you" attitude in the face of fear and adversity wasn't the absence of fear. It was a response to it -- but an incomplete response, with no release valve.
I felt that if I stared reality in the face, it would back down.
Externally, I showed no fear -- none -- chatting with the doctors, being led down that terrifying corridor to the operating room, jumping up on the operating table and telling the surgical team, "Let's do this."
Internally, I was shaking like a dog shitting peach pits, as Ken Kesey put it.

The problem is that I prepare for battle but don't sound the all-clear down once the air raid sirens stop wailing.
And so there was last night.
I wasn't relieving stress nearly as well as I thought.

Hence this post.
Yes, it's very flattering to be thought of as fearless and brave and a rock and an example and all that other bullshit that nobody could ever live up to. At least, I know I can't live up to it and maybe I should stop trying so hard. Or trying at all.

Fighting for my life is a messier business than I thought.
It's far more complicated than I envisioned.
I hope the water doesn't become even more muddied through accusations of my being a hero or an example or any of that other nonsense, ever again.


I had my post-op checkup today and the surgeon says I'm healing well. The proof of the pudding will be in my serum calcium level. The blood test results will be in next week.

I asked the surgeon his gut feeling about the big picture. He said I'll probably need much more extensive surgery in 10 months to a year. Every case of this disease is different, and mine presents bigger challenges than many.
A simple series of blood tests over time, though, can change everything.
I'm hopeful.


Matt K. said...

All things considered, being a bit frustrated and trashing a cellphone isn't the end of the world. We have our moments, and cellphones are things - pretty cheap things, compared to what else you could have trashed. Cut yourself some slack, regain that old composure, dust yourself off and keep on going.

Gregor said...


Thanks for sharing yourself in this post. It really touched me. My thoughts are with you as you keep on the fight.



Michael said...

Matt, I disagree. Gregor, many thanks.

mall said...

Thank you for the honesty Michael. To me accepting and allowing fear isn't about defeat, it's about realizing and understanding the truth. Truth usually isn't pretty but I would rather have it by my side than sweep things under the rug.

Michael said...

Yes, Mall, my thoughts exactly.

Jean said...

Who ever thought you were without fear, or without anger, or always serene? I certainly didn't. If I thought that, I don't think I would admire you or feel inspired by you at all, just think you had repressed some of your humanity. Lots of love.

Michael said...

Thank you so much, Jean.

I think the honest answer is that I partially was seeing myself as being thought of in that manner by others. I would have to look pretty deeply inside myself to figure out why that was, and continues to be.

Matt K. in a comment above suggested I "cut myself some slack, regain that old composure ... and keep on going."

That comment misses my point entirely and couldn't be more tragically wrong, in my view. Keeping to old, stubborn attitudes and ways of thinking is a big part of the problem I face.

YourFireAnt said...

Michael, thanks for trusting us enough to show us this. It took a lot of courage and touched me deeply.


Michael said...

Thanks, FA.

Matt K. said...

Well, I simply thought you were beating yourself up over the whole issue of having fear. Fear is healthy, in the right amounts, and I'd say in recent days you've had more to fear than most with what you've been going through. Everyone has fears, and yours caused an explosive reaction in you over a relatively minor thing - a misplaced cellphone.

Fear is definitely not a weakness. Anyone who doesn't possess some amount of it is idiotic beyond belief, oblivious to the realities of life around them. Just learn to use the fear instead of letting it use you.

Am I still off the mark?

Michael said...

No, that addresses the issue. It hits the mark. Awareness is the key, I believe.