I’m an optimist. I’ve come to realize this over the past few years, much to the surprise of many. I always hope for the best but am afraid of the worst. Maybe I’m a little more manic about my fears and concerns now that I have faced cancer, but I am essentially an optimist. It’s been very hard to remain optimistic this past year, and now that I am on the cusp of my 41st birthday I have been doing a lot of thinking about my 40th year of life, and how unbalanced it has been.
It was an interesting year, filled with many highlights and, unfortunately, more than my fair share of low points as well. It was my first full year married to my gorgeous wife. I hit the 2-year cancer free mark in my 40th year. My job was great and I got to travel quite often. I managed to squeeze in a few mini-vacations throughout the year, including an almost 2000-mile motorcycle road trip and a cruise. My grandfather got a pacemaker installed and his quality of life improved dramatically. My brother, sister, and I grew closer than ever as a result of the trials we endured together. All good things.
I also suffered for months in abdominal pain until my gall bladder was finally removed. My wife and I had to deal with miscarriage. I lost my mom after a 3-month battle for survival. I lost a dear friend to cancer.
Now, here I sit, typing this blog while in severe shoulder pain. I didn’t do anything significant to cause the pain, but it has been constant and relentless for almost a month now. I’m fairly certain that all my years of martial arts and boxing have caught up to me, but I won’t know for sure until I see the orthopedic surgeon next month.
I often wonder, is this my new life? A life of constant anxiety about my medical condition? A life of fear, seeing a recurrence of my cancer in every ache or pain? One where I start revolving around my medical condition(s) and the medical conditions of others as the central theme in my life? Is it all downhill from here?
Have I become . . . old?
Honestly, sometimes, when I hit a low point, I think maybe I am getting old before my time. Cancer has left me with a nasty condition – a kind of PTSD. It’s a psychological trauma that affects me every second of every day. While I have a much greater appreciation of every breath I take, I also am acutely aware of how fragile life is and how little control I have over . . . well, anything. I fear the future while at the same time being so happy that I am alive and able to contemplate my future. I sometimes fear my coping mechanisms are stressed and I may have a mini-breakdown.
I feel that way sometimes, but then I remember that last year was a year when my entire life was out of balance, for all the reasons listed above. The Hopi word for that is “koyaanisqatsi.” It translates to “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.” This is not the way I normally live my life – external events impacted me to such a degree that my entire equilibrium was upset. My life was thrown out of balance.
All sorts of things happen when your life is out of balance. For me, I gained more weight than I wanted, I worried (still do) incessantly about my health and harbored a fear of my cancer recurring. I let stress affect my health, my outlook, and my behaviors. I focused on the wrong things in my life and didn’t give enough attention to the things that really mattered. I was filled with self-loathing and self-doubt. I was Out. of. Balance.
Like I said, though, I am also an optimist. I can get my balance back. While I have all the fears and angst mentioned above, I feel strongly that 2011, my 41st year, will be better and less stressful than my 40th. Every 3 months I get confirmation that my cancer is still gone. My abdominal issues have all but disappeared. My shoulder pain is trivial compared to everything else I have gone through. My wife and I are moving into our second full year of marriage. I have wonderful and intelligent kids. I have good friends and a good job. Most importantly, though, I choose to be happy and reduce the stress in my life. I choose to focus on the positives. I choose to regain my balance.
Carey and I made a commitment to each other when we rang in the new year – a commitment to relax more and stress less this year. A year to focus on our health, both mental and physical. It’s not easy – but I know that it’s the right thing to do. Last year I lived koyaanisqatsi. There has to be a better way to live – and I will find it, with my wife and my family.
41 is not old. It’s not all downhill from here. I know I’ve had a rough few months and I need to let myself recover from that stress. It’s natural to be a little burned out and even a little depressed coming on the heels of such a traumatic event as losing my mother.
A lot of you have expressed a similar feeling – a feeling that your life is out of balance and that events are out of your control. I can’t help you with control – except to say that the sooner you realize you don’t really control anything the better you will be. Balance, though, comes down to choice. And the choice is yours. If your life is koyaanisqatsi, choose to change it.
Personally, I’m only as old as I feel, and I really don’t feel that old. Just . . . a little tired and out of balance. But that’s changing.