Sunday, July 13, 2014

Joy...and Terminal Illness

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Today I did something I really needed to do for my own health.  I went outside and enjoyed an afternoon of inner tubing on a river about a hour long drive south of the Twin Cities.  I enjoyed the July sunshine, an ideal outdoor temperature, the beauty of Canadian geese along the river shore and some relaxed playfulness among a group of gay men in recovery.

Though my father and I are not on good terms he has shared some genuine wisdom with me throughout the years.  One piece I still recall now is his admonishment to enjoy life.  I agree.  Life is too short not to enjoy the gifts that you have.

Yesterday I awoke with the topic of terminal illness on my mind.  Why that particular topic was on my mind then I do not know.  To my knowledge I have no friends who are currently facing the grim experience of a terminal illness.  When I re-entered therapy last summer it took me a while just to work through the anger and frustration I felt when it became clear that I could benefit immensely from a conscious choice to do more 'work' on myself.  I had already invested a lot of time and energy (earlier in my life) in the veritable odyssey that personal healing can sometimes become.  So going back into therapy yet again was not something I relished.  But I called on what my therapist would call my 'mature adult self' to do more work.  And here I am a year later in a much better position.

Sometimes we can lose the proverbial forest for the trees and fail to find joy in the small pleasures of life.  The prospect of becoming terminally ill can lay waste to unfounded assumptions we may nurture about the future of our lives.  While in a state of somewhat morbid curiosity yesterday morning I decided to google the topic of 'living with terminal illness'.  I found some good resources including this article.

The stories of four people's lives upended by the sudden intrusion of unexpected and immense illness contained in this article are sobering to read.  But I also took some solace in reading the brief descriptions of these four people's journeys; I was able to see threads weaving through their lives that hold something in common with my own life.  Though I thankfully was not diagnosed with a terminal condition the very fact that my health issues are primarily attributable to circumstances I was unable to escape from which first occurred decades ago when I was a child renders me able to sympathize with those who fight long and hard battles...only to ultimately lose their battle nonetheless.  Some battles take immense amounts of energy and determination to fight.  And when we finish such battles (should we survive them) we can emerge feeling a bit bewildered as to whether the battle was worth the cost.

The young woman's comment about crying for a week hit close to home.  I can recall how upset I was last summer.  I still remember breaking down in tears one day at Abbott Hospital after getting blood drawn.  I was feeling the fear that many feel when they still do not know what they are sick with and why.  Healing can be an emotionally demanding process.  When you don't have a family that supports you in the ways you most need to be supported you can feel quite isolated and alone in the world.

Indeed, illness can itself compound and result in secondary issues.  When the AIDS epidemic burst upon the world in the 1980s the eventual infection of millions with HIV was just the beginning.  As people needlessly suffered and later died during the early years of the epidemic (long before the medical community could adequately respond) their effective disappearance left immense holes in the lives of those they left behind.  One book I read long ago (written by social worker Rik Isensee) noted that the AIDS epidemic was a source of trauma for many, many people.

Though the advance of medicine in the last thirty years has now made it possible to seriously no longer consider seroconverting to an HIV positive status as being a defacto death sentence I still do not generally consider it 'sexy' to be HIV positive.  But there are some men (I have heard them called 'bug-chasers') who find 'risky' sex to be appealing sex.  And I would be hypocritical if I were to deny that I cannot understand the appeal...or refuse to attempt to contemplate it.  I once dated an HIV positive man...and there were moments when I could somehow appreciate how being HIV-positive could appeal to others.  In a sense it is easy to project the archetype of the powerful warrior onto men (and women) who have overcome immense obstacles that most have been destroyed by.  I do not believe we should limit how love enters our lives.  Love is love...regardless of age, orientation, socioeconomic background and the like.  I believe people should be able to define relationships in ways that will serve their needs...even if they do not align with the prevailing social standards of the day.  Had gay people continued to think and behave in hetero-normative ways we might never have seen the eruption of Stonewall here in the United States.

I feel as if I have digressed a bit...but I think it is a good digression.  We're all going to die at some point.  The surest way to die is to be born.  The better question is this: What are we going to do with the time we have?

Like one of the four people profiled in the above referenced article I chose to make some major changes  in my own life after last June.  I simply could not be the 'old' me.  The reality of the trauma in my life history had long ago influenced my outlook.  I had learned to behave like an adult even when I was a child...because I had to do so as a way of adapting to my circumstances.

I see one theme that runs through the lives of all four people well as my own.  Illness (and trauma) has a way of upending our sense of time and thus the value we ascribe to it.  When people receive terminal diagnoses their experience of time can shift dramatically.  For some it might feel like decades of time has compressed into something incredibly small.  Victor Fournere, profiled in the article, speaks of "60 years of memories at once".  I was attempting to describe what I would guess is the same phenomenon when I recently wrote a daily posting about what I call 'scrolling'.

Time feels very precious to me now.  And I therefore have little patience to include people in my life who live lives that so defy this, well, timeless truth.  Procrastinators beware...I would rather live and engage with the proactive and passionate.  If I am going to be alive I want to be really alive.  I want to feel the sun on my face...and actually feel its warmth!

Change comes to those who will commit to it.  It rarely comes overnight...but it will come to those who are determined...and who have the support they need to transform their lives.

I love the power of July sunshine.  There's nothing much better to metabolize Vitamin D!

Rather than attempt to blot out old memories focus on creating new memories filled with joy and love.  And if the old memories deeply haunt you then it's perhaps time to go to therapy.  With the help of a skilled and compassionate therapist it is indeed possible to create a new and rewarding life.

I cannot remember July 13, 1982.  But I will be able to recall that July 13, 2014 was a fun day for me.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!