I think I’m having an existential crisis, far as I can tell, about my life. Since I’m kinda old, I won’t call it mid-life. But I’m having it anyway. (By the way, this started out as an email to a few friends, then I remembered “naked honesty” so it ended up here.)
I was bubbling along after my transplant, feeling great, happy that was all done and thought I was on to the life I had been dreaming about during 11 years of being sick. Then around October I began to feel sad and anxious, just blue. It didn’t make sense to me – well, except about money which was running out and I couldn’t get work. Otherwise, my daily life was excellent. But then one day I woke up from a nap sobbing and couldn’t stop. I called Adrienne, who lives in Denver, and after a few minutes, she asked, “Are you having a panic attack?” I had no idea how to answer that since I’d never had one. We decided that’s what it was. I just had tylenol and that doesn’t fix panic attacks but I took some anyway.
I went to see my internist and told her about it, she prescribed a few Xanax and referred me to a therapist who saw people (just women, it was a women’s clinic) in that clinic. I saw her and she suggested I was depressed. How could I be depressed, I asked, I just had a liver transplant that I’ve been wanting for years? Well, it happens. I had never been depressed before and two other therapists I’d had long-term in the past said I didn’t get depressed, I got sad. With sadness, I could process through that in about a week or so, and there certainly weren’t any accompanying panic attacks.
So, long story short. She sent me to someone who could see me long-term (which I really didn’t want) and that woman told me I was grieving. OH. I could buy that. Grieving the loss of more than a decade of my life to a really crapass disease that stole my career (first thing, right out of the blocks), my condo and the neighborhood I loved, made it impossible to buy another car (mine is 21 years old now, but it runs fine), and gave me two brushes with death in the hospital that each scared about 10 years out of me, and isolated me from life and friends and beauty and nature because I was too fatigued and busy being sick to enjoy any of what was my former life. I got that. So I’m grieving my former life and all the losses that a bad illness can bring into a person’s life.
I’m sure you’ve watched others who have experienced chronic, debilitating disease and seen what it can do. I survived mine. I’m very fortunate for that. And I thank everything and everyone possible who helped make that happen – if not aloud, quietly to myself and in my journal. And I’m thanking each one of you now who prayed for me (even though you know I’m not a religious person – spiritual yes, though a lot of my belief evaporated then would return, then go away again), who cheered me up, who treated me like a normal person (even though deep down you know for certain I really am a Crazy Person – truly), who were friends through all the hard times and the good times.
I’ve had three panic attacks now. One was really bad and I had all kinds of physical symptoms with it. That day I called the transplant office at Cleveland Clinic and my beautiful, wonderful, loving transplant coordinator Tracey Raleigh recognized what was going on right away, and she talked me down and was just kind and loving – she took half an hour out of her busy day to just chat with me. Once again, I want to move to Cleveland just to be near those incredible, compassionate, highly competent people at Cleveland Clinic. I hardly need them anymore, but I just want to be there ….. in case.
I’ve been reading a lot of inspirational books and watching videos and listening to podcasts of inspiring people – a guy named James Altucher who introduced me to some great ideas and people (including Tony Robbins who is a crazy man but totally awesome), Wayne Dyer, and some local people I know personally. For a couple of months I couldn’t write at all. But then I started reading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” (from James Altucher) and that got me back in the game. I’m working on my transplant guidebook and promised Tracey a first draft when I go to Cleveland in May. But truthfully, I’d rather write the romance novels. They’re just fun and funny and I want to entertain people more than anything. I want to help people who are chronically ill, too – along with their caregivers – but I’d much rather make someone smile or laugh. So I’m working on one of the two novels I wrote while I was still sick – the one about the surfer dude and his jazz musician girlfriend in Hawaii – because it really was too sappy even for me. And I want to publish it – end of summer? Something like that. I have plans.
If you know anyone who is or has gone through a long chronic illness (mine had an endpoint, too), please please don’t forget them, don’t leave them out, and simply reach out to them. What is said about long, big illnesses in the U.S. is – just not enough. You literally lose big chunks of your life that really matter a lot to you. And you don’t get them back. And I’m going to finish that transplant guidebook and publish that and promote it through transplant centers in the U.S. It’s going to be short because sick people don’t have time for wordiness – which this missive is getting to be.
I’m not writing to you for sympathy or money or anything tangible. Just for more of the love you’ve been sending me over the many years we’ve known each other. And in return I am sending you a fleet of aircraft carriers full of gratitude and love your way.
*“You may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?”
—“Once in a Lifetime” by David Byrne