I need to remind myself that these feelings are Okay. It seems half of the Psalms in the Bible are comprised of King David whining to God about how much life sucks and how God seems so far away or crying out for rescue because nothing makes any sense. Considering I feel a connection with the story of David in the Bible, it seems fair that I get to share in days similar to these. In fact, God said David was a man after His own heart, even though these days came. So I share these days with you because, well... it's life. So I write this, not out of anger, but out of blunt honesty that stings as I quickly type the words.
It just needs to be said that faith is always countered by it's opposition - doubt. I admit that I have faith in something that I cannot see and every once and while, my vision gets fuzzy and the doubt starts to creep it. And as much as I despise it, I can't argue that every day marked by hope and faith has a day of worry and loneliness lurking behind it.
So for all of you who wonder at my seemingly eternal positive demeanor, this one's for you. Here's a nibble of a 'full-disclosure' biscuit that tastes like crap.
The other day I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It's an incredible movie, but I just cried through the entire thing. I think I just wanted to know what it looks like when the physical and emotional elements of tragedy are aligned. What does that look like? I barely finished it because near the end there is a flash-back of the main character and his son driving through the countryside when he has a full-on seizure like I did. The camera holds on his face as his seizure starts. His eyes look like they are about to bulge out of his head and every muscle in his entire body tenses up like they are going to rip out of his body. His foot presses the gas pedal to the floor red-lining the engine for minutes. It reminded me why every muscle on my body was sore and I had trouble chewing for a full month after the seizure. I red-lined my engine for a full 5 minutes.
I have a gap that I can't figure out. It's the gap between mental and physical reality. Mentally, I know there is a problem. The memories of Stanford & Mayo are all real and I have the medical bills to prove them. That actually happened. I remember the IV drips and looking over MRI scans on crappy computer monitors that needed color-calibration. I can recall the looks on the doctors' faces when they said things like cancer, inoperable and chemotherapy. I can't put those memories away. They exist. They are important parts of my story. For further evidence, I can re-watch the videos I took or review the blog posts I wrote.
I also have a scar on my head that no one can really see. This scar reminds me that 10 or so people joined together in a tiny room to cut my head open like a tribal modern-medical scalping in order to expose my skull. Next, they drilled into my skull with a piece of machinery that probably looked similar to something made by Black & Decker. Then a long-needle was placed in my head. Into my brain. Into the sacred holy-of-holies of our bodies. This needle probably slipped rather easily through my soft gray tissue, grabbed a couple pieces of evidence and left.
I laid there looking exactly like all those patients on those surgery shows on TV, the ones where they look completely lifeless and their skin looks like plastic. That was me. I can go back to those memories or this scar to remind me that something happened. I will never be the same David again. I suppose this is my mental fall-out.
However, physically, I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine. I feel healthier than ever and look better than I have in quite a while. I've lost those pesky pounds that previously plagued me from fitting into my favorite jeans. The stress-circles that used to permanently live beneath my eyes have been stripped away over the past few months. I sleep as long as I need each night and continually fill my body with every vitamin or nutrient it ever dreamed of receiving. People always say to me, "Well... you look good!" The emphasis is always on 'look' because they don't know what is going on inside.
If I was sick and lying in a bed, I don't think I would be having this exact problem. My brain would be able to emotionally connect with the physical status of my body and justify the feelings I'm having. My brain would say, "David, I know you feel awful, but you're sick and should stay in bed! You don't need to get up and don't worry about accomplishing anything today. Just get better!"
But physically I feel 100% fine, so my brain doesn't tell me those nice things. In fact, it does the opposite. This is the origin of the gap between my emotions and my expectations. This gap makes me feel broken. It makes me want to get on a plane and fly to the middle of nowhere where no one knows me and I can't speak the language. I want to walk all day long, stopping occasionally at a cafe to point at things on a menu, not caring what the ingredients are or in what currency I am paying for them.
Last night I ate a quinoa salad and it tasted awful. Physically, I love quinoa and the salad was fine but emotionally, I couldn't stomach it. All I wanted was something completely ridiculous from a Tex-Mex place that was full of salt, sugar and processed flour. The dish should have been named "El Conquistador" or "El Angina". I wanted a beer and I wanted to drink it straight from the bottle and wipe my mouth with my sleeve. And at that turning point of any good tex-mex meal when the waiter asks me if I want a third helping of free tortilla chips, I would say 'yes' knowing full-well I won't eat them, yet still wanting the 'option' to eat them should I change my mind. You know what I'm talking about.
This tex-mex dream is what I remember of pleasure. My buddy told me about a cyclist friend of his who has lost the ability to feel pleasure. It happened in a bike-crash where he hit his head and certain areas of his brain shut down, specifically the area of his brain that regulates the hormones telling his body, "YES! This is fun! Keep doing it!". Not to discredit his situation, but sometimes I kinda feel like that. Anything that previously brought me any type of pleasure feels dead to me. I can't bury myself in work. I can't eat for pleasure. I can't go shopping and discover a perfectly tailored jacket. I can't get out and drive because my license is on-hold for 6 months after a seizure. And let's face it, even without cancer, I couldn't golf away my troubles. All of my 'life crutches' are gone and I feel like I'm going through the strangest type of withdrawal, not locked up in a room away from all my family and friends, but a withdrawal I must undergo while trying to convince everyone around me I'm living a normal life.
You know those movies (typically starring Ben Stiller) where the protagonist starts falling quicker and quicker into an absurd trap of despair that he can't pull himself out of. Every good-natured action he takes has some negative effect on the long-term result. For example: the cat annoys him to such a point that in a fit of momentary rage he throws the cat off the roof which lands on the sprinkler nozzle, which turns on the sprinkler and sprays water all over the family reunion photo that was just about to happen and in the confusion, Aunt Mildred falls into the pool and drowns. Everyone looks up at the roof and there he is, standing alone, waving. For some reason, I feel that that right now.
But when watching the movie you just want to look at the character when he's in the midst of all this crap and say to him "Dude! Stop! Get over it! It's going to be Okay! Just take a deep breath and everything will work itself out. Plus none of us liked Aunt Mildred anyway." You may already be planning a email or a phone call to me with this same message. I really appreciate this, but I am realizing that I need to be able to talk myself down, to balance the physical and emotional forces that seem to be pulling me in different directions. I have to learn to take my own deep breathes on days like today.
It's humbling to share the other side of this with you. I felt that if I could continue to be this beacon of hope I could help other people through their tough times as well, but honestly I have days where everything, even my faith, comes into question. Maybe you feel this way too. From what I can tell, this is normal. It happens to me, it happened to King David and let's face it, you probably aren't the exception to this tendency. If this doesn't happen to you, don't tell me. I don't want to know.
A friend of Anne Lamott's once told her: "The evidence is in you and your life is the verdict".
I know the evidence is in me; both the good and the bad. On days like today I feel plagued by a lot of guilty evidence that should lock me up for years. But at the same time, I see evidence of God's unexpected plan for my life that has already been shown unfolding inside me and outside of my body with my wife, family and friends. I know you have this same evidence, both the good and the bad, unfolding inside you. But despite all of the positive or negative evidence that piles up against us, at the end of our day all we have to show for it is our lives. We have to remember this even on the days where we want to throw the cat off the roof.
So let's stop tampering with the evidence (especially on these horrific days), allow ourselves to whine to God just like King David did by saying 'this sucks', and know that one day, the verdicts of our lives will speak for themselves. I have faith this will happen.