Fog, like Pea Soup

I drove into work yesterday in some of the worst fog I have ever encountered. It was thick, oppressive, massive, and isolating. It made me think of recent news of a former student tragically completing suicide this past weekend. I know many in their family, I have taught and had multiple connecting points with them and their siblings. I feel privileged to have taught them in some capacity over the years. Driving through the fog, they taught me.
Many will look at a person’s decision to complete suicide as one of the most selfish acts someone can commit. I used to think that. I don’t anymore.
Take fog. Depending on the time of day and the density, it can be all-consuming and frightening–there are also some moments of serene beauty.  As I drove yesterday, I could not see a hands distance from me on all sides. While there may have been, (and were) people traveling the same road beside, in front of, or behind me, I was oblivious. I could not see them, and they could not see me. Normal non-verbal communication that happens with drivers was not seen. Normal signals such as lights, slowing down or speeding up, or a lane change were lost. Eye contact and the bevy of non verbals (yes, even flipping the bird) were gone. In that moment, I was alone. But, I wasn’t. There were others out there, traveling the same stretch of interstate, similar paths and goals, different destinations. I felt alone.
In the case of suicide, this description fits. It’s a dense, all-encompassing fog that breathes heavy, clouds the windows, casts shadows on what we think we see, and impairs our judgment. When the light breaks through, it is blinding in its intensity and after our eyes adjust, we loosen our grip on the steering wheel, turn up the volume on our Spotify playlist, breathe a sigh of relief, set the cruise and motor on.
Being consumed with the painful fog of suicide offers no relief. I say pain here because I believe that is what it is . Wait, I don’t believe it. I know that’s how it feels. I know this pain.
You see, when we encounter moments of intense pain, we will go to any lengths to alleviate that pain. That’s why we have an incredible drug problem out there. People are trying to survive through immense pain. Note that I said, survive, not thrive. When the pain is so crushing that mere survival hurts, a person will do just about anything to find relief. That’s not selfish.
Take a migraine. For those that suffer, it is extreme. I’ve even driven myself into clinics and endured shots to the skull for relief. When it hurts in every fiber of your being, alleviating pain is not necessarily selfish.
Likewise, a person watching a loved one in that much pain will do almost anything to help. We know how helpless we feel when we can’t take the pain away from someone…any parent knows this. Imagine the pain of a child in almost any circumstance, I can guarantee you that most parents feel that pain more intensely than that child and come almost unglued with the want to rid them of it. I have seen my sons’ in moments of pain, their howls of agony rip at my soul. I want to help them and in some instances, I can’t. This is one of them.
In the moment when pain is at its most acute, there is nothing else a person can see or feel. They are not thinking about anyone else, not because they don’t want to, but because they CAN’T. When I am in a migraine cycle, I cannot function for or on behalf of anyone else. I may have the thought that I feel bad for not functioning,but rational thought of taking care of anyone else is gone. This is not to say that I do not love in those moments. I am simply unable to see or feel anything besides the pain and a quest for relief. Relief of pain is not selfish, it is natural and necessary. How we go about that is the slippery slope.
In the moment that a note, email, voicemail, text, or Facebook post is written claiming that we would be so much better off without their existence, there is absolutely no thought to the repercussions of that action. Pain has clouded the mind and fogged judgment so severely that rational thought and action do not exist. All that remains is what the mind and emotions are screaming at that person and all they want is peace.
I am NOT condoning this action. I am trying to grasp hold of it myself and wrestle it to the ground. I want easy answers and they don’t exist. I see others in pain and I want to help relieve it and I can’t. Only the person walking in that pain can and that’s where it’s hard. At the end of the day, I can hurl every strength, show of support, courage and love to a person and I still have no control over their actions. NONE.
That hurts. That’s scary. That’s real. And. it. Sucks.
I know this world. I’ve seen it, mucked around in it, examined its possibilities, attempted to taste its fruit to find it bitter and rancid. My experience is not yours and yours is not mine. But, I have to keep reminding myself that even when I feel isolated and am fumbling in the pea soup, I am not alone. There are others in their cars, on their journeys, similar to mine. I have my own road to take and a destination that belongs only to me, just as they have theirs. They can’t fix me and I can’t fix them. As I remember moments when people wrested bottles from my grip, I recall the deafening scream of silent pain that wanted freedom, that wanted the fog to lift so that I could find relief. Luckily, pain did not win. Tormented plots and twisted thoughts eased and the clouds parted. The fog lifted. I am lucky.
I am lucky because I understand. I am lucky because today I breathe life. Many are not and have not been so lucky and I mourn for them. I mourn their opportunity, I mourn their life. I mourn the level of pain that dictated this as the answer. I mourn because the work continues. But, I also rejoice in a deeper understanding of really dark and twisty places that do not have ready answers. That sounds weird. I rejoice in a constant quest for more understanding and more places of intersection so that I, and many others, do not have to feel so alone.

I was READY….to quit.

As a little girl I was allergic to EVERYTHING!!!  I mean everything made me sick.  Sugar, milk, citrus, and most spices sent my stomach into fits of pain and bloat.  While all of my classmates celebrated birthdays with great cakes laden with tons of multi colored frosting, I looked longingly at huge slices of cake and tall glasses of ice-cold milk.  Both items would have sent me over the edge and seen me visiting the bathroom each hour.

I snuck it when I was a kid, even retreating to the basement to drink a shot of pure syrup out of the bottle.  I got in major trouble when I was a kid and my parent’s found out, it is a little funnier now that I am older and can picture my sons doing something similar.  I think that most of the time I was not sneaking goods out of some evil plot to undermine my parents, I think I wanted to know what it was like to eat and taste like everyone else.  I got so sick of diet candy, many of which contained some dye or sweetener that I could not stomach either.  The sight of diet pop==TAB cola made me want to yak a good yak.  I had uncles (my uncle walt) especially, who would throw me a treat at special holidays once in a while–usually my mother saw what it was…hours later as I was sick in the toilet.  To say that I was stubborn and unwilling to listen was an understatement.

All through school I watched what I ate, what time I ate, and how much.  I got so sick of peanut butter sandwiches that I cannot stand the sight of them to this day.  Remember they would be only peanut butter no jelly.  My fruit and veggie intake also had to be monitored because too much citrus or too much ruffage caused even more problem. Dry cereal took the place of dry toast, and hot dogs and hamburgers were eaten with no ketchup.  I grew used to this, and sometimes my parents would make something special.  I craved rice with raisins and cinnamon.  Today, I would rather have a meal of “real” food than a bunch of junk,  to eat a donut in the morning is almost unheard of in my world.

After years and years of battling I got pretty good at predicting what I could and could not do.  As I aged and stress levels increased I noticed some other issues arise.  With the more stress, the more intense the pain I carried.  The more worried I became, the more intense and sick I felt.  My stomach became a barometer for what was happening in the environments around me, and for many many years it has been hell.

Tension and stress gave way to acid creeping up my stomach into my throat and I choked back chunks daily.  This got worse and worse until doctors discovered that I could lean over and cause acid and reflux to rear its ugly head.  My first colonoscopy was at 25 when I ended up in the Spencer, IA hospital for a couple of days.   Procedure after procedure I endured…radioactive eggs, barium drinks, more radioactive eggs, CT scans, more endoscopes and colonoscopies than any person should endure.  I endured.

In the last 3 years I have seen almost 20 polyps some of which have been cancerous, many pre-cancerous.  I have awakened at night in pain, refrained from eating because I was in pain, and undergone a laparoscopic nissen and the removal of my gall bladder.  Whatever organ which is not necessary has been removed, except my appendix.   Up until the last month, I believed my life was sentenced to this roller coaster called my stomach.

You see, not so long ago I sat with my adopted file and it spelled out in great detail much of my early life, including how my biological parents interacted with me.  The file described a pre-mature baby who had really bad gastro problems from birth.   The implication was that there was not adequate pre natal care and improper feeding taking place.  There was also mentions of bottles of beer being fed to me as well as bottles of straight formula given to me as a newborn.  This caused so much internal damage that we believe it will take a lifetime to recover-if ever.

Knowing this information, coupled with my track record had me so depressed and downtrodden.  I felt like I would always battle to feel level.  I was ready to quit.  I dreaded every doctor appointment, had seen too many ER visits, and found most pain medicine made me sicker.  I hated get togethers where good food was on display, I ate but within 20 minutes I would be sicker than a dog and regretting that I had eaten.  I lived this way, day in day out for 38 years.

Until now.  I found  a gastroenterologist who told me that he would not stop until he had come to the bottom of the pain (no pun intended).  No one had ever treated me like that before, no one had promised to care for me until the pain was gone.  Every other doctor looked at the symptoms and treated them, making me endure procedure and haphazard guess, none of it alleviated the pain.  I cried at night, dreaded every meal.  Now that I am in a drug test where it appears I have received a drug which has cut down on the pain and other unpleasant side effects, I can think of more than where the closest bathroom is.  I can see beyond the last meal I ate to thinking about how to feel even better.

I did not care, really, until a couple of weeks ago, what my future held.  It felt like each day was more of the same and the colors were always grey and dreary.  Never did I feel like running down the hill, grabbing after the sunshine and laughing.  Today, I feel a bit differently.  I am just under halfway through the drug trial and my pain has decreased from a solid 8 to a 1 or 2 and the number of bathroom visits down from 8-9 to 1 maybe 2.  This is monumental in my world.  This is freeing in my world.

The effects of all the damage may not be gone, I will have to watch the inflammation and scar tissue for the rest of my life.  There will never be a time when I won’t have to have endoscopes and colonoscopies, I will have to watch them carefully–constantly aware.  Today, though I received my next dosages of medicine.  I am more hopeful than I have ever been.  In fact, I made a decent batch of banana bread and am looking forward to eating it.  I want to eat it.  I am thinking about a work-out regime not for 2013, but for me personally.  I want to feel better, I want to feel more physically strong, and if the insides are healing, I want the outside to match.  I want to experience what WHOLE body and soul healing looks and feels like.  For the first time I am willing to consider what tomorrow looks like…I have never lived like that.  I never wanted to think that there would be a tomorrow.  I was ready to quit…to embrace the rest of my life in a dark tunnel where everyday looked exactly like yesterday.

I don’t want to live victim to a past, a present, someone else’s reality, or a pre-conception of things being one way because they have always been that way.  Damage may have been done, but I do not have to exist victimized as a result of other’s actions or inactions.  I can live–I can live healed.  I am not sure what that looks like, but in the days and weeks to come I intend to explore that idea…I invite anyone and everyone to come along on the journey…if you have ideas or comments….please let me know.  Let’s do this together…let’s live this journey together.

Shalom,

cahl.

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