On the subject of 20/20 hindsight. There are many things I could point to now that were out of alignment leading up to the emergency on August 22, 2019. At the time, I wasn’t thinking of them as symptoms of anything but age, stress, depression, newly single over indulgence, and maybe some laziness.
I was depressed for sure. Justine’s illness beginning in 2016 was the start of a snowball that I never recovered from. I won’t detail everything that happened in the 3 years that span August, 2016 to August, 2019, but it was a lot. Anytime I thought I had some air, the downhill roll would start again. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Do the next right thing. These are cliches I would have told me if I had come to me for advice.
These cliches suggest that things will just work out in the end. They don’t have to, and often they don’t. Sometimes you do everything right, everything still goes wrong, and you are still the one to blame. I have been relying on my ability to just work my ass off to get out of whatever for at least 30 years. I thought I could do the same thing this time, and I really felt like I was just a couple months away from getting my life in order for about the last two years.
There were a few times where I felt like I was turning the corner. A few months of 2018 that I really felt like holy shit everything is going to be all right. Like maybe even better than before. The end of those feelings was way worse than where I was to begin with. For much of 2018, I was just waiting for my misery to end. I grew tired of talking about it, so I just kept it to myself. My only faith was that time would take care of the darkness. That I would come out the other side.
For the rest of the year, I described my state as “struggling with darkness”. I had difficulty connecting substantially with anyone – even people I know. I felt like a fool. I am still having that problem now. The difference now is that I am allowing people in – to help me. I don’t have a choice. Cancer is bigger than me.
I had a lot of fun at times. I met a lot of people at bars. I met a lot of people while driving Uber who would then offer me a drink at a bar where I was supposed to drop them. Then I would meet a lot of people (at that bar). Then I would take an Uber home. Uber driving was not very lucrative for me, but it was fun.
But there were things that went along with this. Other things that changed. Here is a list of those things:
- I lost the taste for sugar. I love chocolate. The taste for it just went away.
- I couldn’t focus. I have always had the ability to hyperfocus. I couldn’t even understand what the effort was about.
- I couldn’t control my weight. I gained 30 pounds between 2014 and 2016. My routine that I had at Chesapeake was gone. I couldn’t do anything to bring it down. If I’m honest, I was doing more physical activity during the six months I was at Chevron than I was doing when I was at Chesapeake. I couldn’t get the weight to budge at all.
- I lost flexibility. I thought this was primarily about the weight gain. I was having a hard time tying my shoes without strangling myself.
- I didn’t care about work. I didn’t care about anything that I was doing. Nothing. I’d show up to a new project and take a consultant’s inventory. I usually came up with, “This is not worth doing. Why is this being done?”
- I cared about the creative projects that I was working on, but I couldn’t focus on them. Every now and then I would think that the focus was coming back. I’d put a day or two into it. I put weeks into trying to get a workspace situated in my house in midtown. When it was done, I couldn’t get anything done that I had intended to do in that space.
- My creativity was almost gone. I was still witty and funny. I just wasn’t having 100 ideas a day anymore. I also understand that it’s not normal to have that many ideas or to try to execute as many of them as I did. It’s a little manic. So I was thinking that perhaps I was on the Yin side of the creative output. Everyone needs a little downtime.
- Decision making. Almost every choice was a chore.
I have so many explanations for this. Drinking. Age. Depression. Divorce. Adjusting to single parenting and co-parenting. Just being tired. Redefining my life. Middle age. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Laziness – I am anything but lazy, but if I looked in the mirror and saw all that bloat, I just thought that I needed to get to work.
The truth is that I’ll never know what is what. I just notice that things are different now. The taste for sugar is back. My focus is back. I can control my weight with activity and diet. I don’t look or feel swollen. I’m just as flexible as I was when I was 30. I care about my vocation and career in information technology. I can focus on creative projects again – I’m writing. I am having ideas again. Too many. I am half a day through testing viability for a new idea before I even know what I’m doing. I was at lunch with a friend today that is starting a new business and I was engaged and really into it. I don’t even understand the problem with decision making anymore.
I don’t have the same problems with connection at all. I’m still adjusting to some things that I don’t like. Risks with the heart are just about living. But I was drawn to reconnect with people this year. Cancer has enhanced that reconnection. That’s a strange thing to claim.
I experienced all of these changes since I’ve been in the hospital to have half my colon removed. I don’t know if I’m mixing concepts or not. It doesn’t matter. My life had basically been overrun by cancer. Removing this giant tumor in my colon changed everything. How did it get there? I don’t know. But I can hear the pop psychology from the 80’s just jumping out of me. What the fuck did I think was going to happen with that much stress?
Last night, Lucy went with my neighbor and friend Elysa and her two girls to the pool on the rooftop. All of the girls are sick including Lucy. I am immunocompromised and sensitive to the sun – both from the kemo. I was just going to go up later when it was time for Lucy to go to her violin lesson. Elysa texted me to tell me to come up. There was enough shade by that time, so I went up.
Elysa had a friend with her that is a pulmonologist at Texas Children’s. We talked about a lot of things, but her friend brought up that she recently had a colonoscopy – at 39. I asked if she had a history of colon cancer in her family. Her answer was everything – maybe even what is what:
“No. Hell no. The doctor asked me the same thing. I said, ‘No but I have had a really stressful couple of years. I am getting everything checked out.’ I was all right. Just a couple of polyps.”
A really stressful couple of years? Yeah. I got that. Earlier the oncologist at MD Anderson said there was an epidemic of colon cancer in people in their 40’s while the 60’s and 70’s demographic was experiencing less colon cancer. I asked him what the prevailing theory was. He closes his eyes when he talks. It’s a spectrum tic. He said, “There are a lot of theories, but the prevailing theory is that we aren’t getting enough bacteria in our diet.”
“Oh like everything is so sterile. Antibacterial soaps? And stuff like that.”
He closed his eyes, “Yeah that. But when I was a kid – ya know – there was just more dirt on everything. Dirt on our vegetables. Ya know. Now you are in the supermarket and everything is just so clean.” He looked me in the eye briefly. “But who knows?”
We moved to midtown last October. I have rarely been sick for more than 3 or 4 days in my life. In November of 2018, I was sick with what seemed like 4 or 5 different viruses for about 6 weeks. Maybe I should stay away from the hookers, but I just kept getting my ass kicked. I couldn’t figure it out. At one point, my fever was hovering around 104. I started the alternating NSAIDs. Tylenol and then 4 hours later Ibuprofen and then 4 hours later Tylenol… I couldn’t get it under 100 for 4 days.
I was talking to my mother while I was sick. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t look for a job. I can’t drive Uber (I was still making money at that point). I have to get the kids to school. The place is still a mess.”
She said, “Ya know. It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get better. Let that sink in. So take care of yourself. You can’t keep up with the onslaught. You’re losing. So take the opportunity to rest and let somebody else do the heavy lifting.”
“It’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get better.”
“Dirt on our vegetables.”
“A really stressful couple of years.”
I can tie my shoes again without strangling myself. I haven’t lost that much weight yet. What is what?
Is my brain doing what my brain does? Absolutely. It’s good that it’s back again. I have no problem with connection anymore – personal or conceptual. The connection between the stress in my life and my cancer. Is it our cancer? Is it the plague of self-sufficiency that is resulting in the epidemic of colon cancer among those in their 40’s? Is it shitty food and sterile environments? The shouldering of burdens? Or is it just life? Maybe all of that? What is what?
There is one more thing that has changed, and it isn’t a change back to something I had before. I have been writing for decades. I have always been waiting for a time when my writing would turn a corner – when I’d feel comfortable with it. A time when I’d finally feel comfortable sharing it. I have shared some, but I have deleted way more than I’ve shared.
Well I don’t feel like this is good enough to share, and it’s certainly way more personal than I’d like. I just don’t care anymore. The snowball stops here. This is the mess that is me, and it may be all that I have to leave behind. Not for anyone in particular. I’m just tired of competing with others to be my own worst critic. I leave it to all of you to decide… what is what.