With my birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, my 20-year high school reunion in the books and the five-year anniversary of my battle with encephalitis in the rear-view mirror, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about age and mortality.
There are many moments in this crazy thing called life that are wrought with hilarity – when circumstance and happenstance collide in perfect comedic timing to deliver a small moment of unadulterated joy. In these precious moments, we smile, giggle, chuckle and laugh for a number of reasons. But ultimately, we laugh because, for the most part, LIFE is fricking FUNNY. Sometimes it’s funny-ironic, sometimes it’s funny-peculiar and sometimes it’s funny-ha-ha.
And, sometimes, life is not funny at all, and yet, we STILL laugh – as a way to cope or escape, as a distraction or to hide more intense emotions. Sometimes we laugh simply to keep ourselves from crying. We laugh in the face of adversity because on some days, it’s all the emotion we have left.
I recently visited my hometown in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The brief trip was a welcome respite from life as I currently know it and, if only for a short time, it allowed me to escape back to a time and place that I’ve always considered the “good ol’ days.” During the visit, I caught up with long-time friends at one of my old favorite hangouts. Simply spending time around people and places that feature so prominently in my cherished memories of the time BEFORE any hints of illness existed was good for my soul.
Three years ago, in the year 2013, I “misplaced” approximately 175 days of my life. I suppose my body decided that all of my life’s energy during that time was better spent on battling the monsters in my mind than retaining cognitive memory. My recollection of that time period disappears (quite conveniently) nearly the exact same time I was rushed to the emergency room — almost to the hour, in fact. It vanished rather abruptly, like a power outage; all of a sudden there was just blackness. And, in stark contrast, when conscious awareness finally returned, it was more akin to the dawning of a new day in winter; it came back slowly, a little at a time and never to its full strength.
Living with an autoimmune disease means living with many uncertainties. But there are many things you come to realize in time, that – had you known before – may have provided some small comfort along the way. And, let’s be honest, upon initial diagnosis when the whole world seems to have shifted and the life you had planned has been forever changed, we’ll take all the comfort we can get.
We, as humans, have contemplated, deliberated and sought to understand the concept of time, since, well… the beginning of time. The inevitability of its passing and the ensuing impact of its very existence on human lives has been a source of constant wonder in our ever-increasingly hectic lives. Each and every moment seems to be dictated (directly or indirectly) by the omnipresent ticking away of seconds, minutes, and hours.
My body is marked from head to toe with physical evidence of my various medical battles. First and foremost, there is proof of the gift of life bestowed upon me by my mother nine years ago, an approximately 3-inch-long scar that runs along my lower abdomen. Then there are smaller scars on my neck and upper chest, where various tubes have been inserted, connecting my body to machines for life-saving dialysis and plasmapheresis treatments. My arms host a few more, even smaller, nicks accumulated from bad needle pokes, the dreaded arterial blood gas (ABG) draws, and even one or two resulting from an encephalitis fit where I yanked out my own IV. Just below the surface, the veins in my arms are so scarred that these days my blood draws often must be extracted from other, more sensitive areas such as my hands or even feet. And, more often than not, bruises and small scrapes of unknown origin can be found along my legs and arms, a result of chronic anemia and post-encephalitis balance stability challenges.
In December of 2013, several media outlets had put together their usual round up of that year’s hot topics, trends, and newsworthy items. While others watched with amusement or recollection and even dismissal at things they’d already seen one too many times as they had unfolded in real time throughout the year, I sat enthralled, soaking it all in for the first time. For me it was like watching a documentary on the history channel – occurrences based on truth in another time and place where I couldn’t quite envision myself.
Even before I went autoimmune-crazy, I was boy-crazy. Because of that affliction, I have inevitably gone through a fair amount of breakups. There is little in this world more heartbreaking than detaching yourself from someone you loved enough to build your life around. In the most severe cases, going through a breakup can often be as painful and dramatic as the death of a dear friend or family member. These devastating losses can inflict a range of emotions so intense that emotional pain becomes physical. And in breakups and death alike, you often go through a complex process of grieving.
Growing up in my family, little kids were welcomed to play board games with the adults, but they could expect no quarter from anyone at the table. Anybody of any age could sit up and play, but nobody was going to throw the game just because an opponent happened to be young, old or infirm. It was cutthroat for sure.