A few weeks ago, I woke up one day feeling awful. I inventoried my symptoms. I didn’t seem to be getting sick. I hadn’t had too much to drink. Was it food poisoning? No—the slight ache in my stomach wasn’t, exactly, physical. And then it all came crashing back over me, and I realized the truth: I had a gossip hangover.
You know, it’s funny, how humans can be. We genuinely want to be happy, and it makes us happy to see others happy. And yet, we go to great lengths to make others miserable. As though hurting someone else is really going to make us feel better.
In a way, I suppose it does. I mean, consider the popularity of combat sports (which, based on the recent head-hunting fouls by some players, may sometimes include football). MMA, classical martial arts, boxing, rugby… and more… Not to mention Twitter. Everywhere you look, you can find evidence that people seek to relieve their own pain by visiting it on others.
I’m also included in the ranks of fans of the combat sports listed above. I’ll happily sit down to watch an MMA bout, a martial arts contest, a whole night’s worth of boxing, or a afternoon and evening full of overly combative football (e.g. Steelers / Bengals). I’m less “into” rugby (which probably sits on the cusp of not being a combat sport, depending how you play), mostly because I don’t know all the rules and I never acquired a taste for it.
And when players get hit hard enough to get knocked out, yes, I cringe. But I also get a secret enjoyment from it.
Because I’m not the only person feeling battered, these days. And when the players get up and get back in the game, it tells me that I can, too.
Now, if we can find a way to provide this same sort of community and commiseration, without causing brain damage to the players we admire and support, and tossing their futures aside for the sake of the immediate moment…
So, my “vacation” was quite different from expected. My spouse got really sick, so I spent the bulk of the time taking care of them, running errands, and making sure they stayed fed and were headed in the right direction – towards recovery.
I did almost nothing that I had planned. I had thought I’d have time to do some writing, but to be honest, when I was there, I didn’t want to do anything other than just roam around, take long walks, and explore parts of the nearby national park I hadn’t seen in years.
One thing became very, very clear to me, while I was away — I have let myself get too complacent, too lax, too mellow. The net result of my chilling out, has been putting on some pounds and also losing my stamina. Keeping up with everything when my spouse is “holding invalid court” — as a sick person who needs to be waited on like some sort of royalty — is NOT easy work. It’s pretty draining, if I don’t stay on top of things.
So, it was pretty rough. But that’s not because of all the demands. The fact is, I am not in as good shape as I need to be, and all the running and juggling (figuratively speaking) showed me where I need to improve. I used to do all this — and a whole lot more — as a matter of course, each and every day. But over the past number of years, as I’ve focused more on taking care of myself and making sure I didn’t get overrun by the craziness of my employer(s), spouse, and TBI recovery, I’ve lost my edge.
And I need it back.
I’ve gotten way too lax about things, and I’ve “let myself go”, for the sake of just enjoying myself and taking things as they come. But you know what? That’s not me. I am by nature a very “on” person, who needs some “off” time on a regular basis to recharge. I’m not meant to be an “off” person who occasionally “turns on” to kick into gear. I need to stay active and involved in my life — to live my life to the fullest, and really keep my energy high. If I don’t, the feeling seems to backfire, and I end up having a whole lot of energy “double back” on itself… it eats me alive.
So, I need to live. And live fully. Not with panic, not with anxiety, but fully alive.
Just kicking back has become a way of life for me, which is not good at all. I’ve gotten into that habit in part because of my past job that had me commuting so much every day. It’s tough to stay active and engaged, when you start and end your day with an hour’s worth of driving. What a horrible life-suck that was.
All that sitting got me tightened up — my muscles, my fascia, my mind — and I was so full of resentment and anger that I had to continually manage, to keep it from wrecking my life — that I got sucked into a downward spiral that shot me straight into the doldrums, where I languished. Hoping against hope that something would change. Eventually it did, but what a miserable time thatwas.
It was like renting a room in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell — Anger — and not being able to get the money together to move out to a better place, and having to make the best of it by getting to know my neighbors, have some barbecues, hang out… you know, make the best of it, all the while wishing to God something would give.
It didn’t give. For three long years. And it really was hell.
Now I’ve been out of that world for three months, and I’m starting to normalize… get my balance back… remember what is important to me. I don’t have to put all my energy into dealing with the emotional flack of a horrible workplace, barely being able to function on the weekends, just spending all my free time languishing like a glorious lump.
I can start putting my energy into the healthy things again. And I can get back to my practice — my martial arts of living.
Over the week when I was balancing work and vacation and my spouse’s illness, it became clear to me that I needed a better way of handling their mental illness. They have suffered from panic/anxiety and depression for almost 20 years, and it has wreaked havoc with their life. All the while, they have been unable to admit that they had a real problem, and that it was hurting them. They have treated it like it was protective for them — living less of a life was keeping them safe from untold dangers. I know where that comes from — their childhood, and also their family story, which is all about unseen threats which must be managed.
Over the years, I have dealt more or less effectively with their mental illness, seeing to various degrees, the depth of their dysfunction. I actually dealt with it pretty well, from the start, even when they were absolutely nuts with anger and rage and fear and a seething cauldron of hyper-fight-flight reactions to everything, including their own shadow. I could keep my own attention trained on my own activities and issues, and I could steer myself (and sometimes them) in a better direction.
Over the years, I’ve had my own issues to deal with, and many of them have been really hard for my spouse to deal with. The old anger, the rigidity in my own mindsets, my outbursts and unpredictability… I was a real piece of work, I can tell you. I’ve been brain-injured a number of times, which made me incredibly difficult to deal with, when I was tired or overwhelmed (which was a lot of the time).
But we had a kind of balance going on, that worked for both of us.
Then I fell in 2004, and everything came to a head. Everything really fell apart, and we were on the verge of breaking apart after 14 years. I didn’t even realize it, at the time. I was really out of it, had no idea what was going on with me.
Anyway, what I realize now is that things have often sucked with us, from day one. But the things that have been good, have been well worth all the suckiness. It’s like the suckfulness didn’t even matter, because the good was more than enough to offset everything. Plus, no marriage is perfect, so was I going to just ditch the love of my life because not everything was idyllic all the time? Nope. I dealt with it.
And now I need to deal with it again. I need to deal with my spouse’s demons, their mental illness, their panic and anxiety and encroaching dementia, with a form of martial art. Keep calm, keep centered, and be ready to deal with the demons that threaten to attack. They are very real demons, and making light of them doesn’t serve me at all. Denying that they exist doesn’t help. And avoiding confronting them is the worst thing I can do.
I need to deal with this. Because try as they might, my spouse has limits, and there are things they just refuse to do for themself that will make things better. They’re trying, yes. They’re really trying. But the demons are always there in the background, with an eye out to get hold of me, too.
They’re greedy demons — panic, anxiety, fear, aggression. They feed on the energy of others, and how they love to feed. They are insatiable, and they will stop at nothing, till they get what they need. I can’t forget that they exist. I’m not saying I have to live in fear. Far from it. I just need to live with awareness, and figure out how to keep my own essence safe and protected, while the demons swirl around, seeking madness.
It can be done. And I’ve been working out, first thing in the morning, for the past four days, strengthening myself and doing exercises to stir up my stagnant “chi” and get good energy flowing in me. It’s helping. And I need to stay with it, not get bored and go do something else, when it all feels too familiar and boring.
One of my favorite things to do as a teenager, was watch Kung Fu movies on rainy Saturday afternoons. I had an active childhood, so if the weather was nice, I was usually outside. But on rainy days, the next best thing to be running around raising hell, was watching other people do it — and with poorly synchronized dubbing.
I just loved those movies, and I watched another one last night.. while eating Chinese take-out, which was perfect.
Now, it’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m hankering for watching more.
And thinking back to the movie last night, I remember noticing how very many times people in the movie got hit on the head, smacked in the face, pounded and knocked around. They all got back up immediately, of course, and went right back into the fray. And their characters never seemed to show any sign of diminshed capacity after their rigorously violent battles.
I enjoyed the movie, but I found myself cringing a lot while I watched. Knowing what I know about brain injuries and how even a minor impact can cause larger problems on down the line (which is a lot more than I knew when I was a kid), I have to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to consider that sort of thing “entertainment”.
Still, I must admit that I really do enjoy watching the fighting. The choreography. The physical prowess. The warriorship. It’s very cool. And I have to wonder, at the same time, if head trauma isn’t actually just a part of the human experience that we somehow have forgotten how to accommodate or heal in our modern society.
When I think back about the past 10,000 years of human history, I come across a lot of warfare and conflict… burning and pillaging and pitched battles… invasions and conflicts… many of them hand-to-hand, not conducted at a distance with computers and remote controls. If you think about it, human history is full of head trauma, from the injuries sustained just by working jobs of hard labor — as in, most work that was done, until about 50 years ago, when so many of us migrated to inside work — but from fighting and falls and accidents and warfare that just kept coming in waves and waves of invaders.
Truly, human history has been fraught with head injuries, and the complications therefrom have probably had a greater impact on our species’ experience than we realize.
That being said, I have to believe that head injuries are meant to be survived. If they weren’t, we’d probably all be dead — or would have never been born.
I mean, think about it — how many soldiers have come back from how many wars, with headaches and cognitive issues and mood disorders and PTSD, and still got re-integrated into society? I can think of a lot of WWII and Korean War veterans who did. In fact, I suspect that the elder generation of soldiers had a far higher incidence of head injury than they let on. But because of their cultural training and expectations, they didn’t let on. I’ve known WWII veterans who — upon close scrutiny — had the hallmarks of TBI. And yet, they participated in society, married, raised kids, had careers…
And how many children throughout history were beaten by other kids or adults, or had falls or accidents… sustained head injuries, went on to lead regular lives? Lots and lots, I believe.
Like the fighters who were on my t.v. screen last night, I’m quite sure that many, many people throughout history have had head injuries, but continued on in spite of them. Some may have fared better than others — I’m sure of it. But they fared. Hit on the head or not, they fared.
And so do I.
But still, I don’t go looking for a fight.
And I can’t help but cringe, when someone lands a hard punch and knocks someone out.