Yesterday was a dark room day.
One of those days when the medicine, meditation, and mindfulness can’t seem to make a dent in the sound sensitivity, loud ringing, disorientation, and migraine that are too often part of this post-concussion syndrome (PCS) era of life.
I started out with high hopes, endured as much as I could, and finally listened to the wisdom of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. That meant making my way to a dark, quiet room in our house where my brain could rest and continue its healing.
The best way I can describe the sensation in my brain is that it is boiling or close to boiling during these troughs in the waves of PCS. Whenever there are competing noises, too much light, stressful events, etc., my brain moves into a full and rapid boil. My body temp rises, my eyes squint, my head throbs, my palms sweat, and I become extremely agitated.
I am by nature a push-through-it guy. I have an extremely high pain tolerance and it was a source of pride on our farm to endure pain and continue working no matter what. There have been seasons where I have actually enjoyed pain and my ability to take more of it than others. But I don’t want people to see me in pain, so I became great at acting like things didn’t hurt until I was alone.
I have always been able to push through. That has sometimes meant doing even more damage to my body, but I’ve been able to do it. I’ve been proud of that.
But we all know what happens when you turn up the temperature on a boiling pot and walk away. The liquid becomes a gas and eventually we even destroy the pot.
Pushing through with this brain injury ironically means extending the timeline for recovery, both short- and long-term. Boiling over is destructive. Pushing through, in this case, is destructive.
I have tried to push through. I have used anger and even rage to try to beat it into submission. I have gone into our back yard and destroyed things in these fits. I have destroyed a door frame in our basement. When I decide to push through, I turn up the temperature to an already boiling pot and the effects are devastating to all involved.
I simply cannot make this go away by trying harder or pushing through.
The way through is in.
It’s the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn. And I don’t really want to be learning it.
A key to health and healing is to learn how to “be”. If there is a pushing through, it is pushing through the ego’s tight grip of control to get to a place of peace and wholeness. Pushing through the messages the ego broadcasts to get to a place of stillness. Putting the ego in its helpful place.
Pushing through to being.
This is life for our family right now.
Not very sexy. Not a parade of success. Not the life I thought I’d be living almost two years after the most recent brain injury.
But I am living the life I can.
Not the life I want. Not the life I imagined. Not even the life I imagine others imagine for me.
But the life I can.
To the hilt.
To the fullest.
It’s not very Hollywood. It’s not attractive. It’s not very becoming. It might not look like a full life from the outside. This part of the script loses readers and viewers. It is mundane and slow and difficult. I’m looking for the fast-forward button.
However, one of my goals during this period of my life is to share the process of living a whole life in the midst of these difficult circumstances.
If Hollywood won’t show us, then I will.
For my sake. And for your sake and others’.
We as humans love success stories. We love stories about overcoming obstacles. About grit. About perseverance. And we especially like to read books/articles and watch movies about people’s struggles AFTER they have been victorious over those struggles. After the end of the story has already been written.
In real life, though, we’d rather that the “strugglers” go away during the messiness. And then show back up to our show when they get their act together. At the very least, we like them to keep relatively quiet.
“Don’t ruin a perfectly great time for the rest of us. Surely you’re over that by now!”
Chronic illnesses are inconvenient for everyone.
They are like having an unwanted new member of the family. One that gets in the way. One that we all wish would just pack its bags and leave or at least be agreeable and stop messing with our plans.
There are many times that I have wanted to act like these dark days don’t exist. Most people outside of our immediate family don’t really have to feel their effects.
A select few friends have had the wherewithal and grace and patience to enter into the muck. To be by my side when it’s unpleasant. When I’m unpleasant. When I’m hard to be friends with. When I don’t know how to help them be helpful. They’re persistent in their pursuit of me, they are not easily offended, they hold no strings, they simply love me as I am. I cannot express how important they are.
I am the luckiest man in the world to even have one such friend. But I have numerous.
There are many who don’t know what to do or how to help. They stand on the edges. They want to help and they genuinely love and care for me and my family. I so appreciate this group. Their thoughts, prayers, and good wishes.
Other folks are waiting on the outside for this part of the story to be over. Waiting for a celebration. I greatly appreciate them, too. They’re holding a light up at the end of the tunnel.
I need them all. I need you all. And you need me.
You need me to show up when I can’t show off, especially when I’m bringing my mess to the table. When it’s difficult for me. And perhaps for you. To show up even when I’m in a dark room like today. Writing and sharing life in these moments – like this – is one way I can do so.
Grit. Perseverance. Courage. These are present-centered qualities. They are not lofty ideals that we can absorb during an ESPN 30for30 and a bowl of popcorn. They won’t grow in us, regardless of how many times we watch Rudy.
They develop as we live the life we can. Right here. Right now. Fully present. Fully alive. Awakened. Engaged.
You don’t have to be pretty to show up to life. You just have to be willing.
Willing to be. Willing to stop acting in the pretending sense of that word. Willing to stop trying to live the ideal life or someone else’s version of your life or what you think their ideal version of your life is.
Willing to be a human being who does. Being is never devoid of action. But it is action centered in wholeness, not action to achieve wholeness.
I think we sometimes have this idea that we’ll show back up when we overcome. That can be an inner voice, or it may be the real voices of folks who would like you to stop talking about your life until you’re better.
But overcoming isn’t a final product.
Overcoming is a moment to moment process.
I understand there is a fine line between complaining and showing up.
The former involves an external locus of control and the wishing for things to be different. It leads to misery and isolation.
The latter involves welcoming life, engaging with it, and living out the life you can as best you can. It leads to peace and wholeness and joy and love and gratitude, no matter what.
Yesterday, I overcame my fear of what others might think when I listened to my body and walked out of a setting where my leaving was obvious.
I really didn’t like doing that. I didn’t want to create a scene or offend anyone. I wanted to turn the boiling back into at least a simmer. But as I listened to my symptoms, as I meditated, as I breathed, as I used the practices of mindfulness, the message was, “It’s okay to leave. It’s time to leave.”
For me, taking care of myself before the symptoms were completely out of hand (and thus last for many more days) – that was a moment of overcoming.
On the outside, perhaps to others or out of context, leaving may have looked like a step backward, a failure. In reality, it was a moment of living the life I can, a moment of grit, courage, and withitness. A moment of listening and responding with right action.
So, today, don’t let others’ expectations or even your own keep you in a land of living some idealized fantasy life, which is not really living at all. It’s a show. It’s pretend.
Show up today even when you can’t show off.
Show up on social media when you don’t have it all together. Meet that fantasy head-on and let it fade out as reality comes into focus.
Let your actions rise up from being all here, all now.
Live the life you can, awakened and engaged.
It may not be pretty on the outside, but it will be real and authentic.
You will be filled with a sense of groundedness and well-being that have their roots in the integrity that awaits our attention and corresponding action.
And you will revel in the peace and wholeness that you will find right here, right now. No matter the circumstances.
May you have a wonder-filled day, fully present and fully alive.