You sweet little motherfuckers might have noticed my absence the last few weeks — that wasn’t because of something you did, though I’d love to blame it on you. Really, I would. But, unfortunately, even assholes need a chance to reflect sometimes. That’s where I was. I was in my Thinking Hole ™.
Something many of you don’t know about me is that I’ve spent the last five years living a nightmare of epic proportions. My health has been very bad, I was told by doctors not once, but twice, that they believed I had liver cancer. I’ve had a dozen surgeries, been on a zillion fucking medications and been snatched from the jaws of death more than once. I’m not even being hyperbolic.
As it turns out, it’s not exactly an easy process to be a patient in the American medical system. In fact, it can be the most difficult thing you ever do. You have to fight for yourself while doctors glare at you and ask condescending questions like, “Do you have any medical background?” I won’t go into my string of issues, but needless to say I’ve spent as much time in medical facilities as the doctors and nurses who ask those sorts of fucking questions.
The Concept of Strength in Tragedy
I saw a post earlier from a friend on Facebook from an atheist perspective that discussed how she (the writer) was offended when people say that so and so was given strength from God to get through something hard. That’s sort of what prompted this post, actually. Because I spend a lot of time thinking about that concept — the idea of Strength in Tragedy. That’s what I’ve been pondering in my Thinking Hole ™, actually.
I don’t think people who have never been in a bad place really get it. I don’t think they understand what this idea of Strength in Tragedy actually means. When you’re at the brink, when there’s no more rope and you’re being told on December 23 that you have to be evaluated right away because liver cancer, there are literally only two ways you can respond. You can shut down or you can stare that fear right in the eye and boop it in the nose. Some people have to do both. On December 23, I opted for door number three.
I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for my family, but I also didn’t want to go to St. Louis for this evaluation and then spring a cancer diagnosis on them out of the blue. So, I waited until after the holidays to say anything. I shut down because I couldn’t handle the thought of fighting another day, I didn’t think there was any way it could end well — I just… didn’t want to deal with cancer on top of Christmas. It was too much.
I cried for weeks until my appointment. I managed to tell my parents before I went, but it was hard. I made funeral arrangements (Holman-Howe in my hometown, if you’re wondering where to send flowers in 100 years), I tried one last time to get life insurance (failed miserably). All the while, my close pals cheered me on. All the while, they held me up when I was dying inside.
Later, after the cancer scare was over and every test in the world for tumor markers came back clean (I now have to repeat these yearly), people praised me for my strength. How they could never go through something like that, so on and so forth. I know, in my heart, that these people mean well. I know they do. I appreciate that they were trying, because I know it’s hard to know what to say in these situations. I usually call someone a cunt and then ask them if they want to get some tacos, but that’s just me.
But the idea that you couldn’t walk through fire if you had to — that anyone would do anything differently — it doesn’t truck with me. I think you would do exactly the same thing I did in a time of tragedy. I think you’d reach out to your friends and family, I think you’d find it within you to face that fear headlong, I think you’d mourn and I think in the end you’d be ok. I think it’s within us all to do this.
Depression and suicide in the face of these things — that’s something else. That’s a person who is already suffering from a separate problem being pushed too far. Depression is another thing. If you’re mentally healthy, you’d respond the same way. And I know of that which I speak. In late 2011, I was faced with the same diagnosis — but back then, I was freshly divorced (literally like two months out), I had just lost my farm and my little dairy goats and my fucking dog. I mean, I had nothing. I was living out of boxes in a friend’s apartment, I was in a bad way. I’d had my gall bladder out, then the cancer thing… and another surgery — I couldn’t bear the strain, mentally or physically.
It was too much and I jumped hard. I own it. I did it. I tried to untether myself from this mortal coil. I never told anyone my gruesome plan, because they would have been markedly more horrified than they were when they found me unconscious from an overdose of narcotic pain medication. But it would have been a death fit for the level of emotional pain I was in at time time — betrayed by my ex, by my body, by the world. As I laid in my bed, waiting for the pain meds to numb every inch of my being, to calm the consuming fire inside of me, something else moved in… something comforting… and that was the night I lost my fear of death.
The following weeks were hard, I was forced into a mental institution because suicide is illegal here. It is a crime and I was treated like a criminal. There was no therapy, there was no help — only TV time, sleep time and group activities that mostly consisted of coloring. They talked at us about how taking a walk outside could help curb stress while we were locked in a building that was smotheringly hot, where the windows couldn’t even be opened — we had no way to go outside for a walk, or even a long-distance stare.
I have a book outlined about my experience there. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write it. The first 22 pages were written while I was inside, using the only implements I could get at the time: a golf pencil, a marker and a crayon. If anything could convince a chronically depressed person to succeed at suicide, that facility would do it — you never wanted to go back to that den of isolation and hypocrisy for any reason.
The Moral of the Story, I Think
Anyway… the moral of the story is that there’s strength in each and every one of us, a deep, deep strength that keeps us moving — maybe it’s hardwired in our DNA — but it’s there. You can and you will pull through, there is not a tragedy so large that a mentally healthy person can’t overcome. Yes, it will hurt like a sumbitch, and you’ll cry rivers of tears and you’ll think you’re completely losing your mind and coming apart at the seams, but you’ll get through it.
Someone has been through that same shitpile you’re going through now, someone else has plowed their way to the other side. Their example proves there is an other side and with enough pushing and screaming and punching and weeping you’ll get to it just like they did. Whether that strength comes from God or your strong belief in vaccines or your dream of one last tasty cream-filled donut, I don’t know. I think it comes from without and I think it comes from within. I think we all have someone watching out for us. Even if that someone is a buddy masquerading as a guardian angel.
So, I think the next time someone you know overcomes a bad situation, you need to say “Way to go!,” or “You’re awesome!!” or even, “Hey, cunt! Let’s get tacos!” instead of telling them you couldn’t do the same. Because you can.
Now go back to writing or I’ll find you and beat you to death with a golf pencil.
PS. I’m much better now, in case you were wondering. I’m in full recovery, everything’s peachy fucking keen, except for these enormous medical bills and prescription prices. Get on that, would you?