A few years back during a visit to my gastroenterologist, he told me that he was just sharing with his secretary how inspired he was by me and my ability to bounce back from each medical setback, emerging stronger and a bit more wiser. Being that I had been seeing him for an entirely different set of challenges for close tot fifteen years, he had seen me move from one health setback to another. While I was taken aside and visibly humbled by his words, all I could come up with was some gibberish about how, after all these years of fighting, I was tired and I wasn’t to sure I wanted to fight anymore. Note that this was a few years prior to my latest discovery of another brain tumor and being diagnosed with a neurological disorder that has no cure or known treatment.
Still, to this day, I find myself fighting and adjusting to meet new challenges. Truth is, we’re all a lot stronger than we’ll ever give don’t give ourselves credit for. No matter what a person, or doctor tells you. It can’t override your desire, strength or determination to make the most out of what you have.To be happy with what you do have or can do and not to be preoccupied with the things you don’t.
In moving to Seattle, Washington from Jersey City, New Jersey. I had some fear that much of the toxicity that had become a part of my daily life for so long would follow me out west and cast a negative cloud on whatever changes I was hoping to undergo. Despite a rather grim diagnosis just months after arriving in the great northwest. I’ve manged to maintain a decidedly positive outlook. Now, by no means does change come easy. Everyone is different and their isn’t a one fix fits all remedy out there that I’ve seen or heard of.
Since being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I went through a number of emotions that included depression, anger and self blame.. Throughout, my one constant has been trying to define what truly makes me happy while sustaining a balance that can nourish and fulfill my soul. The more I’ve searched. The more I come to realize how much the little things play a major part. When listing my favorite things, music, photography and maintaining a level or creativity on a daily basis are the first things that come to mind. However, the more I search the more I’ve come to understand how much joy comes from sharing or preparing a meal with my wife, traveling and sending silly texts to my younger brother.
As we get older our priorities change as often do the things that attract our interest and show up on our shelves. The solitude and alone time I often seek and have learned to enjoy, only improve my ability to socialize. Training myself to limit the people I let into my life and not getting caught up with too much bullshit has helped tremendously in cutting down on stress, anxiety and many of the ingredients of my once toxic personality and lifestyle. While my posts do get there share of likes these days. I would love to see some of your strategies, techniques and practices for dealing with stressful situations and day to day anxiety.
John was good, very talented soul. A tall red-headed gentleman with a gifted voice that could carry you to the moon and quick sense of humor and that would send even the most cynical asshole into uncontrollable tears of laughter. Like many good souls. John had his demons. One’s he would keep to himself throughout his life. His way of dealing or not dealing with these unresolved issues was drinking. On the occasions where he did hit the bottle. He would often drink to excess and to the point of no return. In the end, it was his addiction and love for guns that would lead to his suicide.
While on many occasions John’s drinking and gun play would end with a few gunshots and random bullet holes in his family’s home. His wife always seemed to perfectly time her departures and calls to the local police. During what would turn out to be John’s last implosion. Instead of firing some shots into the home’s interior. He pointed the gun at his head. Threatening, “You don’t think I’ll do it.” “You don’t think I could.” Pleading for him to put the gun down while gripping their young, screaming child. She reached out to him as he pulled the trigger.
Hearing the news, even years later in a conversation about my Father’s history of drinking sent shock waves, though never intended on my Father’s part through me that would echo for years to come. Less than a year later, I would be hospitalized for panic attacks and anxiety related issues. John was more than a friend to my Father, Mother and myself. He was part of our extended family. I still have the pictures from me and my Dad’s first visit. The pictures of him and Stallone on the movie set. As well as visual memories of the Queens garden apartment he shared with his soon to be wife. Though recalling his suicide was painful. Thinking of him brought back memories, many good ones, I had either buried or forgotten. Little adventures and excursions to the local parks and fields with our dogs. His great big smile, barreling laugh and infectious sense of humor. My fondest memories of John will always go back to when I was a very young child and both he and my Dad had city jobs as bus drivers with Tri-Borough Coach. As a kid growing up in an imperfect world with it’s own problems and imperfections. He was somewhat of a super hero to me. Someone I loved and looked up to. He never revealed that dark side to me. Which, for better or worse. May have been a reason why I took the news of his suicide and underlying issues so hard. News that brought on some pretty intense panic and anxiety attacks. Looking back , I’ve learned from experience, to remember people for all the good they did and the many positive impressions they left on you. Focusing on one negative incident or action will never impact you in a positive way. Though it’s taken me years to fully realize that. I’m happy to recall so many of the good things John and many others added to my life. Acceptance and forgiveness go a long way when it comes to finding peace of mind and closure.
For close to a year now, my doctors, therapists and my wife have urged me to open up about my health issues and the issues that accompany them. Knowing full well that trying to protect myself and loved ones from worrying about me and or thwarting their insistence on helping me, has only hurt me. Hasn’t helped in any way, form or matter. My attempts to hide symptoms and an overall fucked up long term outlook have only made me angrier and wasted much of the time I could have better invested elsewhere.
The hardest part by far has been trying to keep my parents at a safe distance. When I first arrived in Seattle. I had already been experiencing symptoms that my primary doctor of close to ten years had pretty much reduced my mounting issues as post brain tumor, post stroke relate issues. While numerous blood tests were ordered and performed over the years. Little more was ever suggested or done. It wasn’t until I went out on my own and booked an appointment with a nearby neurologist that my issues were properly addressed and tested, that I found out I had a meninigioma brain tumor. Not a threat to my life, but something else to worry about and keep track of.I was angry at my doctor for his lack of action and insight, but I also couldn’t help but blame myself for trusting him for so long.
Fast forward a few months, my symptoms worsened. I made connections with the right doctors and hoped that removing the new brain tumor would right the course. Further tests were including an MRI and CAT-Scan followed. The results were nothing I ever expected or be prepared for. I was told that alarming amounts of calcium had massed on my brain and I had a rare neurological syndrome/disease I had never heard of. One that had no cure and no known treatment. One that was progressively erodes your motor skills while wrecking havoc on your speech.
I was given a referrals to speech, a physical therapist and a social worker, My requests for a drano cocktail and a handgun were turned down and taken as a sign that I might be a suicide risk. (Note. New York humor and Washington State humor are very different.)
Since that October meeting. I found a great physical therapist just a few blocks from me. My social worker (One I really appreciated having.) moved back to her home town of Minnesota. I’m on my second walker, one which I need to get around with and one that keeps me from falling down and injuring myself. And while I’m being mentally prepared for a future in a wheel chair. I am doing everything in my power to remain active and positive. I’m boxing, lifting weights, going to the gym, writing and traveling as much as possible.
In the end, the hardest part has been opening up and struggling not to internalize my feelings or blame myself. I know what my friends and family went through during other life threatening episodes in my life. Because of that, I’ve tried to do everything in my power to shield and protect them from any pain, worry or complicate things any more than possible. I’m already feeling an immense pressure trying to keep my family at bay, while keeping them as informed and updated as possible. Opening up gives me the chance to breath again and say “I’m alright.” “Just give me the space and time I need to deal with things. I’m not writing this to worry anyone or look for sympathy. I won’t be starting any “Go fund me” bullshit. I’m just hoping for some acceptance and understanding. Below are some links that I thought would be helpful.
Web MD Brain Tumors
Virginia Mason Hospital
Renew Physical Therapy
For years now, I’ve tried to make meditation a part of my every day life. Quickly, I moved from one of those people who thought “How can I possibly find the time in my busy schedule?” to “How can I not?” Since my early attempts, I’ve used basic breathing techniques to conquer panic attacks, anxiety and overthinking while cultivating a sense of peace and mindfulness I never imagined possible.
Earlier today, as we boarded the Ferry from Bainbridge Island to downtown Seattle. I found the perfect opportunity to meditate. With nothing but the sound of waves crashing alongside the boat, the subtle breeze wafting through the car window and the gentle rocking of the car due to the ferry’s pushing it’s way across Elliot Bay. I found myself removed from the thoughts of the days, weeks and months that have crowded my head and battled for space and permanence in mind. The feeling was of warmth and peace. I became so completely calm and at ease. That I hardly noticed the ferry attaching itself to the dock. As I heard the announcement of our arrival over the loudspeaker. I nodded over to my wife to notice that she too had fallen into the spell. She sleepily asked, “When we could do it again?” I was quick to reply, “As soon as we can.” as we headed home from our day’s trip.
The more I learn about and inevitably embrace meditation. The more I want my friends and loved ones to join me. The most important thing I’ve learned in all this is that you really don’t need a special room, place, pillow or chant to enjoy it’s many benefits. All you need is a few minutes to allow yourself to check out and unplug. I highly recommend it.
As I was going through years of medical records that included but were not limited to CAT Scans, M.R.I.’s, and visits to the emergency room. I began to feel overwhelmed and somewhat depressed. While I understand that medical, W-2’s and tax returns don’t tell the true story of the lives we’ve lived and led. Seeing much of your experiences and struggles on tax return or hospital discharge can be quite the mind fuck. So when I found this envelope resting within years of hundreds of files deemed “important”. It was the life preserver that kept me afloat emotionally. While I often beat my chest about my disdain for living in the past and preserving memories by constantly reliving them. I am quite an archivist.
I have a couple of books filled with everything from published articles to concert ticket stubs to notes passed to me in the eighth grade from my first big crush. My decision to keep or discard often come down to how these things made me feel originally or their importance to a specific time or experience. For christ’s sake, I still have the hollow point bullet my Dad gave me when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure there was a life lesson attached, but for the life of me. Neither myself nor my Father can remember. In no way am I a hoarder. I’m quite neat and organized. Often taking time to purge the less important things. Still, I’m often amazed by the amount of moments I’ve managed to save.
As our Jersey City condo nears its closing date. The thought of moving back east in order to be closer to friends, family and loved ones looms large. Before deciding to take a job offer and move to Seattle, My wife left the door open to moving back to the area if life here didn’t live up to what we expected it to be. At the time, moving away from friends, family and an area I had lived the entirety of my life in, did not seem to concern me. The opportunity to live on another coast was paramount. Thus making our decision almost immediate. Visiting Seattle for the first time ever back in May and ultimately moving here in June. I was able to leave behind a lot of my worries, anxiety and stress and view life with a fresh and very different outlook. As we close in on a year here in Seattle. I can’t think of how the move has change me for the better. Sure, it rains a hell of a lot here and the area has it’s share of problems. However, my friends back East have been pummeled by one Nor’easter after another. All things considered, the idea of moving back to New York City or New Jersey doesn’t quite appeal to me as much as plotting a course for another city I’ve yet to experience or country whose cities and culture would be further explored. In some respects, the nomad spirit in me yearns for new adventures.