I’m a very rational human being, in fact it’s something I say with pride and a swelled chest, as if making a grandiose statement that will shock the world and humble those around me. I am a firm believer in the physical laws of the universe – inertia, momentum, gravity, particle / wave duality, mathematics, biology, quantum physics, all these things make sense to me and have performed spectacularly in explaining the world as I experience it.
Even for emotional experiences and the kingdom of the heart, psychology, biology, and neurology have explanations; while some might argue that some of these disciplines are less rigorous than what goes on in a particle accelerator, they are explanations nonetheless, grounded in the context of science, and have borne fruit in a wide variety of contexts.
Despite the science behind continued drug and alcohol abuse, I made many decisions throughout the course of my life to engage in these behaviors, and test the limits of my survivability, as well as the depths of what life has to offer. After going into a very deep health spiral in late April and early May of this year, I was diagnosed with acute liver failure and informed that my liver was in shock, in the process of shutting down, and I should probably start considering final plans.
Shortly before or after the liver punched its own ticket, my kidneys and other organs would begin giving up as well. As if to mock me, the instrument of my pride, my brain and it’s rationality, would begin to deteriorate as I experienced encephalopathy – which, according to my consumer-grade understanding, is a rise of toxins in the blood (because the liver cannot filter them out) which begins to erode normal brain function. I would be confused, and what I would regard as rational would, potentially, be utter nonsense (some might say I’ve always been like that, but this is my blog not theirs!). This is usually a mandatory hospitalization and ICU (some health professional correct me if I’m wrong; I also profess ignorance as to what exactly constitutes a “mandatory hospitalization”).
Sitting across the table from my doctor, he laid out the scenario – we could transfer me to the hospital for monitoring and a potential transplant, or we could keep doing blood screening to see if the blood levels (bilirubin, AST, etc) would start to normalize even a little bit. I’m rational dammit! So, I said something to the effect of “well, if this is the end, what’s a week or two difference going to make in terms of getting a liver?” “Not much.”, was his honest reply (which I very much appreciated – just give me the facts, sir).
I was later informed that some of the experts consulted regarded my timely demise as a foregone conclusion. No one said that to me, of course, because professionalism is important; I hold no ill will or resentment towards anyone who had such a disposition towards me at that particular time. In my own professional life, many serious and deeply important aspects of a client have wound up on the business end of jokes, mockery, and outright contempt.
It went about as you might expect – a week or two later, I could barely make it from the front door of my house to the road, because by the time I got there I was so out of breath and exhausted, the journey back was like Frodo climbing Mt. Doom. And Samwise was back in the Shire making shit up about potatoes, so no help there. I tried to do something constructive with myself, and really learn to cook, but the simple act of slicing up a tomato would drain me so badly that I had to hold on to the counter to avoid passing out or falling over.
It’s the usual suspects here – what I listed above, and all the rest. The really interesting part is that as I was going through this, and having literally everything that I used as criteria to define myself (physical, mental, sexual, emotional, literally everything) melted down, I actually found out who I was. The veneer, the armor that we wear as individuals in this life, began to peel back; and while I always knew who I was, this was different.
As a person who is self-compelled to be the best in everything I do, I had asked myself why I was like this – and I had come up with all kinds of answers: some people are lazy, some don’t care, some are dumb, some are addicts, some would rather kiss ass than work hard, if only we lived in a meritocracy where my worth would be recognized, and many more. But, the truth of the matter is that I was my own taskmaster because I was inexorably afraid; terrified that people would find out that I was not the lie that I projected to the rest of the world.
Fear is a strange thing, in that it transformed me into a hyper-controlling individual; but I didn’t realize it. In fact, the lie that I had created of myself was for myself, and the fact that the rest of the world believed it was just convenience. And this also reinforced my ego that I was smarter than everyone else because only I knew the truth. Every person I met, every encounter, every miniscule event that elapsed where I wasn’t “discovered” served to reinforce this illusory version of myself, until who I actually am was buried under countless layers of “facts” (i.e. encounters I escaped from without being discovered) that proved the lie.
Along the way, I also was observant enough to identify the qualities in people that I was envious of, and which others seemed to respond to positively. I would treat this as any other obstacle to my doppelganger self: something to be conquered. So, I would meticulously study the behavior of people who had these qualities, and embed them in my own projected personality. The end result was a laid back, humorous, intelligent, and observant person, who was morbidly terrified of the nightmarish scenario that could result upon being discovered.
Whenever something would threaten this hand-crafted facade, I reacted viciously: with anger, ad hominem attacks, prying out weaknesses in the attacker to deflect the attack, doubling down on the armor by not caring anyway, or logic games to confuse and confound the understanding. And at the core of it all, somewhere in the depths of our self-conscious and reflective nature as human beings, was a profound sense of aimlessness, no direction, a whimsical regard for myself and my own well-being, and a rat’s nest of unanswered questions and interconnected half-truths and theories about why I felt this way.
Reading this, it’s obvious! That’s one of the particularly interesting things of the human mind – our identity is so fundamental to our perceptions of the world around us, including ourselves. It’s the general thesis behind sayings that go something like “if you want to be X, then be X” – even if the author is ignorant of the underlying psychological or other reasons, the message is basically “you can shape yourself however you want”.
And while that can certainly be a very liberating and freedom-oriented idea, the practical application of this in a world that is overflowing with negativity, fear-mongering, insecurity, expectations, and literally everything you can imagine, is that more often than not we develop our identities based on these negative principles, and so the similarity to the world around us gives us security in our insecurity.
As my health rapidly deteriorated, all these meticulous things I had built for my identity were burned away without recompense; and the usual coping mechanisms, either substance-based or psychological skullduggery, were inadequate to fend off this latest attack. At the end of this phase of my personal collapse, I had to scramble to find anything I could grasp onto.
But, the leering demon of encephalopathy meant, to me at least, that even my own thoughts were up for grabs. Was I thinking or feeling this because I’m losing my mind? How can I find out who I really am when I can’t trust my own thoughts? Am I only asking these questions because of my failing health? Do I really feel that I need to rebuild myself, or is this another phantom thought from an unforgiving mistress? It’s a level of uncertainty and terror I had rarely if ever experienced, and most of all it took my most prized possession from me: my mind.
So, I figured I’d write about “it”. I love writing, but was so fearful that anything I wrote wouldn’t be an earth-shattering magnum opus; what if what I regarded as a valuable output of my mind wasn’t recognized by the world? What’s the point? I knew the truth of it’s value, and no one else would, so there was no point in undertaking any effort to produce anything of value. Quite the logical convenience, in retrospect.
Obviously, I am somehow still alive; and after going through it all, I don’t regard very many things as “scary” (in that naked grandmother way). It’s at this point I would normally try to do something like “David Letterman’s Top 10 Reasons I Shouldn’t Do This”, and preemptively respond with witty things. Instead, it feels like I want to do it, it feels like I should do it, so I’ll do it. It might help somebody, and that’s one of the new aspects I discovered while taking this journey – I like helping people, and so I’m very much about that jazz. Plus, it feels like therapy, and I can’t afford real therapy right now, so, I mean, the obvious choice is, like, blogs and stuff, right?
I’ll try to add something frequently; some maybe more relevant than others, but then again, relevance is so relative.