Monday, July 18, 2011

Affirming Previous Changes

(from The Surgery Diaries)

In talking about changes going on with my body, with my self, through this extended surgery and recovery cyclic process, I find myself impatient at times. I'm on that threshold where I feel better, sometimes very well, but it's at least partly an illusion. I'm not really ready to do the things I almost feel ready to do. There is a common wisdom in athletic injuries (in sports medicine) that when your previously ankle feels like it's fully healed, you still have several weeks to go. Because something newly-healed is still brittle, still weaker than it was. It might feel all right, but it still needs more time.

And that's exactly where I am right now. I need more time. I still need to take it easy. Impatience can be a whip.

My surgical incision is healing well, but it was a deep cut, a deep interior wound, and so I am still restricted in how I can strain the incision. I am not allowed to bend over too much, or to lift too much weight. I can feel the inner wound when I lie on my side in bed, in just a slightly bad position: shooting lines of sensation, not quite pain but not quite neutral, travel from my belly through to the root of my groin. One side is easier to lie on than the other. After awhile, the discomfort becomes too much, and I have to shift. I'm trying to not take any more pain pills, except at absolute worst need, but I've been glad one or two recent nights that I still had some left. Sometimes falling asleep is really difficult, because of the body's discomfort.

People tell me they're impressed with my positive attitude, but I don't feel very positive very often on the inside: I feel necessity, perhaps desire, most definitely determination. Some days this is mostly grim determination; and not at all some clichéd sports-biography inspirational-movie overcoming-obstacles-and-setbacks sort of guff. My attitude only seems positive sometimes. I can and do make grim jokes, gross jokes, at times, to help stay sane: the well-known black humor or gallows humor that existential hospital humor. I can make jokes about things that I find too disgusting to contemplate, those mornings when I'm tired from not sleeping well.

Some days it's really challenging to find any sense of humor at all. Even grim hospital humor.

Some mornings I would give almost anything for all this to be over and done with already. It's really hard to endure.

And I must give the negative feelings their due; it's important to get them out of your system, so they don't fester or linger or become toxic. But when you do get them out of your system, indeed they don't get stuck and toxic, they don't fester, and that's all to the good.

What I find myself increasingly impatient with, perhaps to the point of offending some folks, is those milestones I've already reached, when I bump into someone who has not.

First let me say that I do know that I'm not the most patient person in the world. Impatience has always been a vice, for me. I use the word "vice" deliberately, because it can become like an addiction, a psychology-altering habit: skewing your perception of reality in ways not dissimilar from those addicted to gambling or similar "vices."

I try to be polite, when the impatience is up, but I admit a few times I've snapped. And needed to apologize. Being my mother's son, I also sometimes have a bad habit of apologizing too often, even for things I don't need to apologize for; so I have to watch out for that, too. I know that both of these tendencies—impatience, and the compulsion to over-apologize—are rooted in my birth tribe's expectations of perfect behavior. I know that both of these tendencies are part of being a recovering perfectionist. I know I mostly slip into them when I'm vulnerable, tired out emotionally and/or physically, and my resistance is down. Mostly they're manageable, and sometimes they're not.

I think you can say "Sorry" too often. But I don't think you can ever say "Thank you" often enough.

Saying "Thank you" serves us well, on so many levels, from the social to the medical to the spiritual. I'm grateful to be alive. I'm grateful to have the energy, this otherwise blah morning, to be able to write down my whining complaints. I'm grateful to have come through this first surgery alive and relatively intact. I'm grateful to still be here. Period.

On a fundamental, daily, ordinary as well as extraordinary level, I feel that saying "Thank you" is the core of anything I might call spiritual. One of my favorite sayings (on the level of a slogan for contemplation or meditation) is a saying from the great Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you ever said was "Thank You," that would suffice. I believe that on every level, and I have done my best to practice that. (Which is why every year I write Gratitudes instead of New Year's Resolutions.)

As I write, my surgery was happening exactly three weeks ago this hour. The doctors and nurses, and everyone else, keep saying to me that I doing very well, that I'm ahead of the curve. For example, the surgical staples came out a week ago, which is considered a week early, for most cases. I've been healing more rapidly then expected. I have to take their word for all this, because it's all new to me. This is my body, not some theoretical story, and there are times when I listen and absorb what they're saying to me about how well I'm doing, but I don't feel it. I still feel like crap. This is my body, and it's a new experience, and I have nothing in my past experience to compare it to. I do listen to the tales of other patients that I am told, and some of those are comforting, even affirming. They remind me that there is still healing to be done, and miles to go before I sleep. They also validate that the goal of being able to go back to a regular life is possible, and going to happen, sooner or later. This period I'm in right now, which breeds impatience, is turbulent in part because I want to be there already, and I'm not.

To return to the point, finally, I find myself impatient with those same things I have already let go of, that others have not, when I encounter them. Some milestones are ones you need to learn more than once, till they sink in. Others are not.

What I want to do is affirm that some of the changes I had already made, before surgery, before the current changes in my life, I would do all over again. They were the right choices.

The choice to strike off on my own artistically, and not give much time to workshop situations anymore, where many of the same beginner-level lessons continuously cycle and recycle, and where the personal drama can often sink any interest in the arts.

The realization, which became a conscious choice, that making art is the best way to cope with whatever it is that is bothering me. Whether that is medical, personal, or psychological, making art is the best way I know to stay with it, and stay sane,

The decision to cease second-guessing the creative process. I can't direct it or guide it, and I choose not to. I follow the intuition and imagination wherever they want to go. I make art by listening to those inner intuitive voices, not by pre-planning an engineering scaffold.

The dietary changes I made some time ago, including the decision to go gluten free, that have affected my health positively, and supported my health through the worst of recent times. Some of these dietary needs might no longer be necessary, now that I no longer have an ailing colon; but some will be permanent changes.

The list could go on, but that's enough to make the point. I'm still searching, still exploring, still figuring what my body is like, now, still looking for the "new normal," whatever it turns out to be.

My impatient may indeed be a vice. I try not to let it dominate my discourse, but I do confess that when I am suffering, sometimes the impatience leaks into my discourse as a sharp-edged tone that suffers fools poorly. I suppose I've offended some folks lately. I make no apologies, though, whenever it becomes clear that their choice to take offense had nothing really to do with me, and everything to do with their own neuroses.

And that's another change: To not spend any of my energy accommodating the neuroses of others. It's not my problem if your life sucks. It's also not my fault. I have more than enough to deal with, just managing my own life, for now. I have no time for personal drama generated by people who have the luxury of wasting their time and energy on such things. I have enough real drama, of late, in my own life, that I have neither need nor desire to take on any more, be it yours or mine. It's nice that you have the spare life-force to burn, it's great that you have the luxury of burning your life-force in personal drama; I don't. And even if I did have the energy to burn, what I have learned from chronic illness, major surgery, and recovery, is that I would never choose to waste my life-force, ever again, on that kind of meaningless waste of time and energy. Life is too short to spend it on such inconsequential matters.

I make no judgments when I say that. I am speaking purely tactically and logistically, with no blaming or shaming involved. This is the big lesson from when you are forced to confront your own mortality: Life is precious. Life is short. Life is limited. Don't waste a moment of your life on anything that doesn't really matter.

I've given up blaming, and I've given up victimology; I've given up both of these in favor of a radical acceptance. First and always, to move forward, you have to simply accept things as being the way they are. You can't do anything to change them if you live in denial that anything might need changing. Acceptance precedes action. Just as self-esteem is the fundamental power of selfhood, far more important any other; because self-esteem is what makes all the rest possible. including genuine love. Toxic love, you will observe, always goes hand in hand with poor self-esteem; genuine love always is comfortable in its own skin, and need not possess the other, nor control.

Peace. Be still. Thank you.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

When I’m depressed I find my sense of humour improves. I asked my doctor if he had ever heard that one before but, needless to say, he had not. I’ve never had much interest in studying humour. I’ve always had the feeling that if I pulled it to pieces I wouldn’t be able to put it back together again and it is too important a thing for me to lose; lop off my leg if you will but don’t ask me to part with my humour. I don’t often see your humour in your writing. You tell me you have one but you might let us who can’t keep company with you see it a bit more especially in these little biographical pieces. I think joking is good for those around us when we’re ill. They see us joking – even if those jokes are in bad taste and at our own expense – and they say to themselves, “Well, if he’s got the energy to joke about it then he can’t be that bad,” even if they know you are that bad.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, this isn't a venue where I usually show my sense of humor, because that's not what it's about. I have posted a few funnier essays from time to time, though; including that one about being a recovering perfectionist. But this isn't a blog intended to be funny; although hopefully sometimes it is, at least in a quiet way.

Humor for me isn't jokes, frankly, it's situational, existential, and often quite dry, even oblique. I laugh a lot at the absurdity of life. My friends who know me, and my family, know that I can be quite witty and dryly funny, but it's often very sideways. That's me in a nutshell, though: an outside the box thinker, a sideways thinker. I really don't do jokes. I do situations.

My medical situation is one of those, "laugh or cry," things. That's the choices. Sometimes it's hard to laugh, but I can usually come up with some kind of dark, hospital, gallows humor. I've learned that lots of folks think my sense of humor is really dark and twisted, not to mention obscure, so i don't go out of my way to show it off. Really, it's just that I grew up around hospital humor, and am willing to go mental places reasonable people generally avoid.

7:42 PM  

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