Monthly Archives: February 2016

What not to say…

I don’t personally know either of the people involved in the exchange that I saw. The catalyst was a Facebook post by an author of some renown to whom something bad  happened. She’s in constant pain, to the point where she can’t write and where it sounds like she can barely think.

The person responding had a very good heart and meant well. You know they say about good intentions and pavement…

The respondent suggested right-sizing the situation by thinking of the people who have it worse, for instance, the people who have stage four cancer. And that maybe some gratitude is in order.

At the risk of being terse and insensitive, never, ever, ever do that. It doesn’t help. In fact, it makes things worse.

No matter who you are, there’s always someone who has it worse. Always. When I can’t walk from bed to bathroom without stopping to rest along the way, I don’t want to think about those people.

It’s not that they aren’t in a worse state; they are. But when my life is falling apart and there’s a very real possibility that I will lose everything if I don’t recover, I have enough problems of my own, thank you very much. It’s not that I don’t care about other people; it’s that I’m at my limit just making it through the day.

And then, to tell me to be thankful? That’s kind of like saying that my problem really isn’t that big and I’m being selfish for being consumed by it.

Dude, I can’t walk 25 feet without stopping to rest. I can’t work effectively. When the disability runs out, I may not be able to keep my house. (Fortunately, that’s not a problem just now.)

Last year, when it was bad, I thought about the stage-four cancer patients who were slowly dying. In fact, I knew someone in that situation. Comparing my plight to hers and feeling somehow better about my situation–or worse, feeling guilty about it, didn’t help anyone.

Speaking as someone who’s been through a little, when it’s really bad and when the words strain to describe how bad it is, I appreciate that you’re thinking of me. It means a lot.

But I really need someone who is with me–and sometimes words aren’t necessary. Ask me what I need. Tell me you’re thinking of me.

But please don’t make me feel like I’m somehow selfish or lacking in gratitude because I’m consumed by a life-consuming experience.

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Starting toward the end

Back when it was bad, when I woke up every day literally exhausted (you don’t know what that’s like; more on that another time), I swore that if I ever recovered, I would be the happiest, most thankful person that God ever created or met.

If I ever got to run again, I would never complain about how miserable Florida is a good part of the year. Okay, I’d complain, but there would always be a level of thankfulness under the complaining. I’d be different than I was before. I’d be as happy as Mr. Rogers.

What I thought I’d be

It didn’t quite work out that way.

What I really was

The last two major hurdles I had to clear were getting the insurance mess straightened out–more on that another time–and getting back to work full time.

The insurance mess got cleared up the day before Thanksgiving. Awesome, I figured. I’m getting a major hassle cleared up right before a long weekend. How great would that be? I should be set for smooth sailing to a full-time gig and my new, improved self.

What followed was quite different.

I’ll detour a little here and tell you that I didn’t do this alone. I had professional help. I had a primary-care physician, a rheumatologist, a gastroenterologist, a sleep doctor–and a counselor.

Yeah, that’s right. I wear glasses when I need to so I can see clearly. And I went to counseling during a horrific time in my life because it was more than I could reasonably handle.

Tip #1. When life overwhelms you, get professional help if you can. It doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re smart.

The thing was, I think I lied to the counselor. I didn’t mean to lie. Maybe I wasn’t quite ready for everything. But I did lie. I was a reasonable, put-together guy who had moments of anger and weakness.

The day after the insurance got settled, I became an angry guy who had moments of lucidity.

To back up a little, here’s a list of the things that happened in 2015:

  • I became so sick I struggled to make it through the day.
  • I was on a very difficult project at work and if I left, a good friend of mine would’ve been massacred by it.
  • In spite of a very severe sickness, I worked as many hours as I could.
  • I faced the Kobayashi Maru scenario and tried to power through it anyway. Not a recipe for success.
  • I didn’t keep up and the quality of my work suffered.
  • At a key moment, my brain shut down.
  • A former boss died of brain cancer on a day when a plethora of other things went wrong.
  • When we went live with the project, the flow of crap didn’t end. It intensified.
  • I basically distanced myself from almost everyone in my life because all I did was work, rest, sleep (some), and watch Castle reruns.
  • I went on partial disability because I couldn’t work full-time anymore.
  • After several weeks, my insurance claim was denied.
  • I worked hard on an appeal.
  • We won the appeal. The day before Thanksgiving.

There were parts of that time when I basically just waited for the next thing that would go wrong. And I was typically not disappointed. But there wasn’t time to deal with it. Things had to be done. And then when they were done, I couldn’t really function. I had to rest. I pushed things down the road.

And that’s why I went to the counselor.

I like to be well-thought-of. I like to seem like I have my act together. And I was very impressive in counseling.

Tip #2. If you go to a counselor, you’re not there to be impressive.

I worked through stuff in counseling. It helped; I think it helped a lot.

Getting through the insurance issue was the last thing. And I think the first day after that was when I knew I was through it. And that’s when it hit.

Instead of becoming blissfully thankful, I became angry and sullen. Depression set in. Not Oh crap, it’s an important football game and Ryan Fitzpatrick is my team’s quarterback. I mean real depression.

That was bad enough. I mean, after all, it’s called depression, not skipping happily through life’s metaphorical rose garden. On top of all that, I had this nagging truth that there was something wrong with me, something very, very wrong. Something seriously wrong with me. (Bonus points if you get the movie reference*.)

I went from a life where I was fairly certain I would be housebound, if not eventually bed bound. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to work again, let alone work out. And now I was coming back.

Any rational, reasonable person would be happy. Any grateful person would be ecstatic. A decent Christian would be thanking the crap out of God.

And I was an angry, ungrateful mess. So much so, that I started posting something to be grateful for every day on Facebook, just to remember that I shouldn’t be a self-absorbed schmuck.

In reality, I still hadn’t dealt with things completely. I still haven’t. A minor slight occurred earlier today, as I write this, and I emotionally overreacted. No harm was done, but I feel pretty silly. That’s not me and it tells me I still need to work through some things.

Which brings me to tip #3.

Tip #3. The movies are a crappy way to judge how people handle adversity. Seriously, John McClane (Bruce Willis in Die Hard) would be an angry, insane maniac right now if we lived in a world where you could bring down a jumbo jet by lighting a match to a trail of jet fuel. Time, not denial, heals all wounds. Don’t expect yourself to march on as if nothing happened. Be kind to yourself first. 

Here endeth the lesson. (More bonus points.**)

* — Bill Murray as John Winger. Stripes

** — Sean Connery are Jim Malone. The Untouchables.