Monthly Archives: January 2016

I don’t care what you say any more, this is my life (read all about it)

It’s coming up on a year since the whole ride started. It was a Monday morning, February 16, to be exact. I got out of bed and felt a little less stellar than normal. No one feels excellent every morning. It was Monday and at the time, I thought work was a bite in the ass.

I changed and popped in the DVD–at least I was doing Triometrics, one of the physically easier P90X3 workouts.

I believe I was doing Warrior 3 squats when the nausea hit.

One of the first workouts I did in P90X was Plyometrics–jump training. Every Saturday morning I did it, and every Saturday morning for the first eight weeks, I was nauseated. I’m a psycho, but I’m not an idiot. I’d stop and walk around until the nausea passed.

Back in 2010, jump knee tucks made me want to throw up even more than the Mets wretched outfield.

And until that morning when I did an easy workout, it had been more than four years since I workout made me feel like I was going to throw up.

It was a concern, to be sure. That shouldn’t happen. But I’d had a bug in October, followed by a horrible cold at Christmastime, followed by the worst flu I’ve ever had just after Christmas. Usually with the flu, I’m past feeling like the undead after three or four days. The post-flu wobblies tend to pass after another two. This one lasted two and a half weeks.

So I finished the workout, scaling back a little, then took a shower and plowed through work for the day, not feeling all that well.

Two weeks later, at a presentation I had to give, I propped myself up at the table, because if I didn’t I was struggling to stay upright. At lunch, we went to a restaurant across the parking lot–a couple hundred yards away. I had to rest twice on the way there and the way back because I couldn’t walk the entire way. Less than five months earlier, I ran 17 miles on Saturday morning because why not?

Long story short, I was eventually diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (which always makes me think of former Dolphins wide receiver and former NBC Sports anchor Jimmy Cefalo, for some reason). ME is better known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Jimmy Cefalo, one of the few Dolphins I like

As I write this, I’m in remission. Or I’ve recovered. Or maybe I didn’t have CFS in the first place. I’m fortunate (ha!) to have been on the forefront of a medical frontier, it seems.

I’ve written about this before, a lot. It’s hard to go through this and not write about it.

The God people love to talk about giving of your time, talent, and treasure (they love alliteration, the God people). But I think God wants more than that. I think God wants us to be responsible for our experiences, too. And for our friends and for the friends we don’t have yet.

While I would never presume to tell anyone what it’s like to have severe ME–because even at my worst, I didn’t–I have learned some things. And with the passage of some time, I’d like to think this story is worth telling and might be helpful to read.

I’m no expert, but I do know what I went through. And I know what I’d do differently and what I’d do exactly the same if I had to go back and do it again.

As I write this, I am cleared to work full-time again, something that I never thought would happen. I’ve done some walking to work out and as soon as my stupid left foot heals (stress fracture, doncha know?), I want to gradually move into more efficient workouts.

I won’t claim I know a damn thing about having cancer and recovering, but I do know what it’s like to count time away from the worst experience of my life in the hope that I never experience it again. I’m going to start that the clock on November 25, for reasons that will eventually be explained.

That means, I’m two months and change into the relative resumption of my life. That passage hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be, which I’ll also explain.

I hope this isn’t woefully self-indulgent.

I star in it (because, you know, I freakin rock), but if I do this correctly, it won’t be about me. With skill and maybe some divine guidance, I’d like it to be about some universal things in life that everyone eventually does the work to understand–or not.

Dark nights of the soul

As a hibernating Papist, I’m familiar with some of the more major saints. Not Drew Brees or Danny Abramowicz or Archie, the most unappreciated Manning of them all.

I’m thinking more of people like St. John of the Cross, who wrote of the Dark Night of the Soul, or Mother Teresa, a really tough woman who did all of what she did in spite of a nearly lifelong feeling of absence from God.

One of the great myths of Christianity is that when you turn your life over to God–when you say the magic words–everything changes. You’re flooded by a soulful light that shines with the strength of 100 brazillion lumens. A light so bright, you might as well be walking on the sun. (Now that’s stuck in your head. You’re welcome.)

The greater truth is that sometimes it doesn’t change. God’s often not going to work like that. He’s not going to come down like a fresh spring breeze and clean out all the crap so you can smell the flowers, as if your soul and psyche were a cartoon commercial for air freshener.

That’s not the promise. The promise is to be there. And not necessarily by parting the Red Sea or the traffic in front of you.

God wasn’t found in the storm or in the wind or rain or lightning, but in the whisper.

It’s hard to hear the whisper when your mind is jumbled and filled with dissonance and to-do-lists longer than Kareem’s arm and all the other crap you have swirling around in there.

Kareem: Scorer. Rebounder. Airline pilot.

It won’t fix anything, but maybe it’s not the hearing of the voice that matters. Mother Teresa listened for the voice for decades and died before hearing it again. Her example isn’t something to beat yourself up over.

Mother Teresa did it for decades and so you can do it to after all it’s for Almighty Gawd-uh.

Nope. It’s an example. It’s hope. Maybe it all happened so someone else could use her example to get them through the crap.

A guy I used to listen to once said that there’s no room for depression in the presence of God. He’s wrong. If you’re prone that way, you’re prone that way. It’ll keep happening.

But you won’t be alone. If you listen, you’ll maybe hear something. If you pay attention, you’ll maybe feel something. It might not be grand or amazing. It might be as simple as a smile or as minimal as a tender touch, but it will be there.

Maybe the guy in front of you will pay for the next coffee at Panera.

It won’t make you better, but it will get you to the end of the day. And get you to the starting line tomorrow, where it all starts over.

It’s not much, but maybe it’s something that’ll give you the awareness to be that simple smile or that minimal touch.

Maybe the best way isn’t to look for that miracle.

By the way, if you’re scoring at home: Archie Manning and Danny Abramowicz, St. John of the Cross, The Blues Brothers, Bruce Almighty, Kareem (and Wes Unseld), Airplane!, Smashmouth, Panera, God, a Vin Scully reference, and Stripes, all in one post–and it’s coherent. Mostly. Don’t try this at home. I’m a professional. 

Joyful, joyful

If you want the video below with the pretty blonde lady, you see an awesome message for the beginning for New Year. It’s all unwritten, baby.

The problem is, there are pens that you can’t control. I didn’t ask to be sick for the majority of last year. Or brawl with the insurance company. Or have my hotel room flood. Or have my luggage eaten by some monster they keep on Southwest Airline planes. Or any of the rest of that stuff.

Shit happens. (Sh)It’s inevitable. (Sh)It’s in the job description.

Looking back on 2015, I’m proud of a lot of things. I know a lot of people had bigger struggles, but mine were fairly challenging. I met the challenges. I weathered the storm. I did more than just weather it; I did some really impressive work and didn’t lose my soul in the process.

But if there’s one thing I regret it’s that the year was almost entirely devoid of joy.

Joy and hope are irrevocably intertwined. Each day when I work up, I longed for Saturday, because Saturday, I didn’t have to get out of bed. I could stay in bed most of the day if I wanted to. There was no need to be up immediately and even on the worst weekends, I wasn’t working a full day on Saturday.

Saturdays brought me scant joy. But it was joy. It was relief. Understanding that Saturday was never more than five days away helped me get through the week. Saturday brought fresh hope, every week. Saturday was salvation. I could look at the clock and just say in bed for as long as I wanted.

It’s not much, but it was joy and I never took the time to recognize it.

I stopped doing the one good thing entries for a while. They seemed redundant to the gratitude postings I make every day on Facebook. But maybe it’s not a good thing I need to recognize. Maybe it’s one thing every day that brings me joy.

Joy is, I hope, going to be a major theme for this blog this year.

It’s not happiness. It’s not fleeting like that.

Maybe being grateful isn’t enough. You can be grateful and still live in a bleak emotional Chicago winter of darkness and drudgery.

Maybe joy is required to live a good life.

I have got time for the pain

I saw a great article for the New Year (linked here for your viewing pleasure). The article says there’s a more important question to ask than what you want. The question is, are you willing to go through the pain required to get it?

We have this vision, at least some of us, of an avocation in which work isn’t work. If you write, you enjoy the writing so much that it’s almost like it’s not work at all. It’s fun!

That’s hokum.

I used to enjoy being fit. I enjoyed how I looked in shirts and how I looked in mirrors. I enjoyed being able to do one-armed push-ups. I never once enjoyed getting up before 5 am so I could get my workout in regardless of what else the day brought. I never once enjoyed staring at the clock that said 4:45 am and knowing I had to get my butt out of bed.

Not once.

I never enjoyed push-ups. I never enjoyed wall-sits. I hated every moment of Insanity.

Even worse…one-legged wall sits

And I swear to God if I hear Tony Horton talk about himself being pterodactyl backing out of trouble again, I’m going to gouge my ears out.

That’s the cost of being in shape. That’s the pain I freely accepted in pursuit of a bigger goal. You cannot attain the bigger goal without the pain. I hate the pain. I hate not having my breath because I’m pushing myself. I hate running in Florida about two-thirds of the year.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t hair-shirt I-suck-I-suck-I-really-really-suck pain. This is pain freely undertaken to achieve a bigger goal.

It’s all the rage in Paris this year.

It’s the  pain I avoid too much when it comes to writing. Do I want to be a published author? Then I need to consider whether I want to do the freaking work.

So, as the new year blossoms, rather than asking what your resolution is, a better thing to do is to tweak Carly Simon and ask what pain you have time for.

Give me this day…

About this time last year, I got the worst cold of my life. I recovered enough from that to feel decent, but not awesome on the cruise we took. Then I got the flu. Then, on February 16–it was a Monday, I got my butt handed to me in a bad way by a workout that shouldn’t have been difficult.

I was eventually diagnosed as having Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). By misdiagnosis, sheer luck, or the grace of God, whatever I have seems to be easing. It seems like I can do some of the things I used to do–and I’m easing back into others.

It could be ME. Sometimes people get it and go into a remission within the first two years. Sometimes the remission lasts and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a murky area of medical science. If it happens again, odds are extremely good that it’ll be permanent.

Whatever happened, for today, I feel fine. But I write this with trepidation, almost as if saying the words is a dare to God, fate, or ME Satan to show me and show me good.

There was a day, the worst one healthwise, when I worked from bed, drinking a swimming pool of coffee to stay awake. When I got up to go to the bathroom (see the previous statement about coffee), I had to rest on the way to the bathroom and the way back. My feet and hands were killing me and I had a headache directly behind my ears and another one across my forehead. As soon as work was done, I went to sleep and slept sporadically and poorly all night. The next day wasn’t quite as bad, but it was still awful.

The daily experience of waking up each morning and recognizing what was in front of me that day seems like a nightmare now, almost like something that wasn’t real.

Now, when I got out of bed, it feels like I slept. Before, it felt like i had never slept in my life. To be clear, that’s not Chris being clever. It’s not hyperbole. It’s how I felt. It wasn’t that I missed a night of sleep, or even two. I felt like I had never slept. If you haven’t experienced that, there’s no way you can understand.

But today, it’s good. I’m not back to where I was. I can’t complete a Tough Mudder. I can’t plug in Tony Horton and Bring It. Maybe later, I will. Maybe not.

But I have become acutely aware how fortunate I am to simply be able to walk across the living room to the bathroom. That’s a blessing.

I’m still Chris. I’m still going to get irritated at the stupid stuff that happens at work. If I get back to the point where I can run, I will still curse the stupid freaking Florida heat in the summer–starting in April and extending this year until the last day of the year.

But under all of that, I now know that every day I get out of bed and don’t feel the way I felt over the summer, every day that I don’t consider not getting up–all of those days are precious. They aren’t promised. They’re blessings.

And I fully recognize how easy it could be for all of that to go away.

There’s stuff I want to accomplish this year. I’d like to get fit again this year. I’d like to maybe do a 5K at some point. I’d like to work out.

But I have only tw0 simple New Year’s Resolutions–to understand the innate blessing of being able to get out of bed every morning and to be the changed person I ought to be for having come to this realization.