“We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.” ~Voltaire
I've been lying low for the past couple months. I've been trying to tend to myself, by myself, both in real life and in my virtual life online. It is not always beneficial to do this, but sometimes there is no energy left for anything besides getting through the day, caring for what needs must be cared for, and focusing on yourself and your family. Being in a profession that requires you to be there for others can be challenging at these times. It's hard not to feel very alone and isolated in a world excessively connected but in very superficial ways. And so I needed to take this time to hide under a rock, so to speak.
I started the year facing a bit of a heath scare. This time of year is particularily hard for such things because everyone around you is excited about the a new year and new goals, and all the exciting plans and adventures to be had. And here I sit wondering if I will be able to do any of the things I hoped for.
I'm sure many of us have anxiety surrounding our own mortality. These hit us in the dark of night, feeling the moment of our non-existence. The briefness of life in the immenseness of it all hits me in the heart, and I gasp a bit as a gaping abyss yawns open to suck me in. Existential angst. We run from it. We distract ourselves from it. We tell ourselves comforting stories, all to escape from the inevitable.
So, as you can easily see, I am prone to being sucked down that insidious rabbit hole of mortal annihilation.
These past few months I've seen many friends being diagnosed with, or succumb to, scary illnesses. Healthy active people riddled with cancer. For some the prognosis is grim. A friend's fit and seemingly healthy husband dies of a massive heart attack during a training run. Perhaps this is just the new reality for me at my age: You start to see your friends get sick, and some even die. This no longer becomes the strange and unfortunate exception, but more common. And you realize that you, like anyone else, are susceptible to the same fate, as much as you want to tell yourself that that won't happen to you.
“the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn't.” ~ Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan IlychThe Death of Ivan Ilych is a story of mortality and our natural response to its manifestations in others and the denial of own mortality. We separate ourselves from that which happens to others. When tragedy strikes, we find an explanation that explains away the fear. When someone survives, we thank the grace of God watching over and protecting. We always try to find some way to sooth our fears. But, pushing it all away, and denying this ultimate end can make us complacent about living. We lose days, months, years, not really living.
So, at the end of last year some tests for one seemingly innocuous issue raised red flags for another much more serious problem. Thus began my resent trials.
Waiting for the first test, an ultrasound, for several weeks over the holidays, while others are making merry, and a short, wonderful vacation with my family, all the time feeling the sword of Damocles hanging over my head, is not the most pleasant. I tried to put on a happy face and push fear aside as best I can. It's all probably just much ado about nothing, of course. But what if...It gnaws at me.
But an ultrasound isn't a big deal. I've had those before. Nothing to worry about, I reassure myself. But then the ultrasound indicates that more investigation is needed. This time a CT scan. Reading the email and the ultrasound report from my doctor, my heart sinks a bit into my stomach and begins beating a bit too fast. Wait time for the CT scan is almost three weeks. Three weeks to worry. Three weeks of wondering what might be going on inside my body. Again I am reassured by those around me that it's probably nothing. But what do they know? They need to say these things to me now. I am by nature a worrier. But, I am also an optimist, but that can be tainted by hard reality, and the ever present: What if...
What if? "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best". How many times have I said that to myself these past couple months? Is it better to just hope for the best and not prepare for the worst? What good does it do to wonder and worry: Will I be here next year? None of us knows the answer to this, ever. Are all my plans for the year, for the rest of my life, for naught? What about my daughter? How do parents even deal with the thought of leaving a child behind? Of not knowing who they become? There are some things you just never can prepare yourself for emotionally. It really was the waiting that was killing me. I hate waiting. I want to know and I want to respond. Sitting and doing nothing is utter torture for me.
Several weeks ago I posted on FB:
"When you must wait and wait and wait to find out whether you are or are not facing a mortal challenge, you vacillate between seeing it all as a wake up call, and at the same time hoping that the call has not come too late. Of course, in the big picture, we are all facing this mortal challenge though for some it is more imminent than for others. Don't wait too long to wake the F%&k up."
Is is a wake up call, or is it too late?
So, this past Friday I went in for my CT scan. The nurse looks at me curiously, as he searches for a vein for the IV.
"I probably should have had more water this morning. I ran 12 miles but have been drinking ever since." I say.
Nurse: "So is running how you keep so slim?"
Me: "I guess." How is one supposed to respond to these inquiries?
Nurse: "Most who come in here aren't."
His first attempt to get the IV in fail. He bandages up my arm and moves to the other arm. I suddenly feel a warmth running down my arm, look, and notice that my arm is bleeding all over the floor and my pants.
"Are you on blood thinners?" the nurse asks.
Being in the Imaging Department always takes my back to my mom's cancer. How she went from one day of normal life into a life consumed with doctors, and scans, and horrible caulky drinks, and radioactive this-and-that, and cold metal machines, and scary pictures, and debilitating treatments that take you to the brink of death in an effort to save you. I remember being with her, looking around at all the other patients, feeling for them, and at the same time fearing my own eventual mortality. And here I was, having my own scans and waiting for the results.
Seeing the email notification from my doctor that afternoon, my heart races and my hands shake as I log in.
"I'll send you the full report of the CT scan but everything is normal.
The changes on the ultrasound appear to be artifact and nothing else..."
Everything seen in the CT scan is "unremarkable".
This is one time I welcome being "unremarkable"!
I still have one hurdle left to clear, but I'm feeling a bit better about things though the contrast dye has left me with a severe allergic reaction that has hijacked my training and, temporarily, my life, I can deal with that.
I can say with certainly that this experience has changed me, even though it was much ado about nothing I did not have that prior knowledge, and so the effect on me is deep. The next time may not be much ado about nothing. Or, there may be no next time. Or, I could just drop dead one day. I will say that those who claim to 'understand' without ever having been through something like this probably don't even know what they can't understand, though I try to accept their reassurances and support. I know they mean well, but they really don't get it.
And, I really don't get what it is to receive that news that things aren't good. For those who have been through or are going through the battle for their lives, I viscerally feel something for you that I never have before, though I thought I did.
So now is the time to be happy about getting another chance at the Leadville 100, though I am terrified. I have the Phoenix Marathon, Boston, The Canyons 100k, all this spring. Everything else has been on hold for a couple months as I waited. Now is the time to start thinking about my year to come and the years I hope I will have after that. Now is the time to wake the F%&k up. And though I always feel that I have avoided sleepwalking through life, there's some new imperative worming into my consciousness. When I was told almost 10 years ago that I would never run again, I used that once I could run, to do all I could do with the time I had. Now this needs to be applied to my whole life, running and otherwise.