Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In the Fog of Frustration

Once, on a flight home from LA, I sat next to a woman who had been legally blinded by a botched eye procedure.

She was a writer who had become well-known in the craft community for her books on beading. I remember thinking how bizarre it was to become well-known for a book on beading. But she was also involved in writing screenplays and she created jewelry for Hollywood actresses.

I later learned that my co-worker had witnessed the woman in line waiting to board the plane. Someone had complained that the woman cut in line, to which she yelled something like, "Hey! I'm fucking leagally blind, OK?"

(Back to the plane...) At some point in the conversation, I opened up to the woman about the past year of my life. I told her about my dad's cancer and later paralysis. I told her how the experience completely unraveled my world view and damaged my sense of self. The woman shook her head and muttered something about the tragic mess of our healthcare system.

The woman described how deeply she had suffered from her condition. She spoke of falling into a depression so thick that there were multiple days when she could not rise from her bed. My ears perked up and I oh so subtly encouraged her to reveal more juicy details about just how bad her life became. (One thing I have learned in the past fifteen months is that misery does indeed love company.) Noticing this, the woman turned to me in her seat and announced something so profound that I couldn't even understand it at the time.

"You know what? The hardest thing in life is not sadness. It's not even depression. It's frustration. Prolonged frustration will kill you."

My reaction to this was along the lines of, Wow, this is one angry woman, but I have had months to let the comment soak in and become true for me too. When you are stuck in a tail spin of a situation, and there is no foreseeable future of getting out of that situation, what starts as shock, sadness, anger and grief eventually boils down to a simmering frustration that clings to your shoulders like a cold wet towel.

Every human being hits adversity at some point. If you plan on living a full life, you will at some point hit a rock bottom experience. Perhaps you already have. These are the times when you absolutely never, ever think life will be the same again. For whatever reason, I've been given several of these experiences in my twenties. Experiences when I was convinced that the fun was over for good and the rest would just be a stumbling struggle until total defeat.

It is that time in between, the time between the initial shock of crisis and the sense of relief in recovery where the frustration happens. You get stuck in the fog of frustration when you cannot see how things could possibly improve. It's when you lose your confidence, creativity and hope. It's when you give up on Team You. And when you get to this point, it completely sucks. Not liking yourself is not a place where you want to be.

I would take disapproval of the masses to gain approval of myself. 

Nobody told me me that my father's pain would become my own pain. I didn't know that his paralysis would creep inside my body too, making me doubt my decisions, my abilities, and my future. It's one of the after-shocks of an unexpected loss. A stone thrown into water makes many, many ripples.

Eventually the brain does something weird where it fogs out just enough of the hurt to leave you in a vague cloud of frustration. I get frustrated that I can't make decisions. I get frustrated that I can't sleep, I get frustrated that I can't make a joke. 

I get frustrated that I am worse at everything.

But then sometimes I remember. I remember what a strange journey this has been. I remember the nights at the hospitals. I remember the beeping and the bright lights. I remember the fact that our family TV room is now a miniature hospital room, complete with ventilator, feeding tubes, and a vast array of life-saving equipment. I remember that this has been going on for nearly a year and a half. 

Maybe it's normal that I am only functioning at seventy-five percent.

I walk into that room and look down at my dad, sleeping soundly. I see his birthday balloons swaying above his bed and I watch the low light glinting off the silvery letters that say CHUCK. I observe the omni-present nurse (whichever one is on shift that night) and I feel a sense of total unfamiliarity. I do not know this place, I do not know this man and I do not know myself, standing above him. 

Then, in an instant, my mind snaps back. Oh, there's dad, breathing through his trach, and the nurse is Tammy, who has just heated up her coffee. My dad looks comfortable and peaceful. His numbers are good. Night Dad, I love you.

I walk away from the room, say goodbye to my mom and step outside. The air is slightly chilly and I smell the cozy scent of a fire burning at a neighbor's house. I remember how my dad and I used to look at cozy houses at night. I look up at the stars. The night is clear so I can see everything up there. I think about how long it has been since I've been camping. I think about how I don't do much of anything except travel for work. Do I even have hobbies anymore?

I feel like kind of a loser. 

I wish I could talk to my dad. He always made me feel better about myself. I know I can talk to him but I can't talk to him. It is actually pretty difficult to talk with a person who cannot talk back. I am sorry that I cannot do a better job of talking to my dad the way I used to. He is right there and I just get stage fright trying to carry on a conversation that is one-sided. But I selfishly want our talks to be the way they used to be. I want his advice. I want to know what he was thinking about when he turned 30. I want him to help me get through this fog.

I know that ultimately I am the one who has to fix it. I have to find my own way out of the fog. Do I take up Buddhism? Do I start meditating? Do I grow herbs out of a Dixie cup on my kitchen counter? I do not know. 

What does not kill you eventually makes you stronger but in the meantime makes you frustrated as hell.

1 comment:

  1. everything you feel is perfect and terrible. and it's the right decision because it's made with all you have at the time. which is right now. i'm wishing four particular things for you. but i can't tell you now because you're in it and it just wouldn't matter. but i'm wishing it, so at least we've got that covered. and i love you.