Normal

I have been watching a lot of the HBO mini-series The Newsroom lately. It’s interesting how these shows can connect with me. It’s kind of like they become my friends. I did the same thing with the shows Brothers and Sisters, Jericho, and Commander in Chief.

Anyway, the main character is Will McAvoy, a news anchor for an imaginary cable network. While in a therapy session, Will is confronted by his shrink about something odd he had done (I will avoid saying more to avoid spoilers). His therapist claimed that Will’s action was not “normal”. To which Will replied:

There are two kinds of people: Those who think they’re normal, and those who know there’s no such thing.

Which is my point exactly: Like Will, I fall into the second category. I am definitely not a “normal” sort of guy, and most likely, neither are you. But that’s OK. The folks that think they’re normal are the deluded ones.

More later.

Seratonin Syndrome

My wife is also a blogger, and I certainly do not want to tell her story. She is fully capable of doing that for herself, and I earnestly hope that she does. But I will tell my own story.

My life has been basically derailed for more than a year by a shocking (at least to me) medical issue. It seems that two of my wife’s doctors (a psychiatrist and a gastroenterologist) failed to effectively coordinate with each other well enough to avoid prescribing two of the same class of drugs called SSRIs. The result of this medical error was a well-known, potentially life-threatening problem called Seratonin Syndrome in which you have excessive amounts of seratonin in your brain. Effectively, these two physicians prescribed a potentially deadly toxic overdose of prescription medications to my wife.

In the process, my wife and I have spent thousands of dollars (still counting), innumerable hours, and enormous emotional energy for about 17 months, none of which we will ever get back. The stress on me was incredible at times: There were moments when I completely cratered and fell apart. Thankfully, our friends and family were there to support us. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done.

The emotions going on inside me right now are complex. As a result of the diagnosis and treatment (consisting of tritrating off of the offending meds), my wife is now feeling a lot better. She is eating, resting, and all that perfectly. She is fine. The way I respond to that is ebullience: I am giddy with happiness.

My other emotion is a bit darker, though: Rage. Two medical doctors, a psychiatrist and a gastroenterologist, committed serious malpractice, and in the process they severely injured my wife. In fact, if I had not gone completely postal in the shrink’s office last week, it is entirely possible that we would still be stuck in this quagmire, and my wife might very well have died. My response to that is wrath: You cannot hurt me, or my family, without incurring a great deal of of my rage. And these two doctors have certainly done that.

More later.

Strength

I have had several transformative conversations with my wife recently. One had to do with strength. She wanted to know why I have it, and what well I am drawing from.

You see, my wife is very, very sick. Her situation has gotten serious, and we are now trying to figure this out. In the process, my resolve has been tested, that’s for sure. I will say, amazingly, that I am holding my own. I do cry a lot. I won’t lie about that. However, crying is not necessarily so bad. I am kind of getting used to it.

Anyway, I used to have a pretty pat answer for the question of where my strength comes from: God of course!. Now, I am not so sure.

It is kind of like prayer. I pray a lot these days. I guess it goes with the territory of being a spouse of someone who is seriously ill. Oddly, in the process, I have kind of figured out why prayer works, and what religion is all about, at least for me.

You see, to me at least, prayer is not for God. Prayer is actually for me.

Since I have lived in a state of total doubt for some time now, I am not sure if God even hears my prayers. That’s another one: My wife asked me recently why God was a mystery. (I replied: “Wait! I know this one!”) Eventually, I did come up with the answer: Since God is completely unknowable, He / She is a complete mystery. Every experience I have ever had with God (and believe me, I have had some doozies) has been completely subjective. I mean, how can I be sure that my subconscious mind didn’t simply make it all up?

You get the idea. Since I don’t have much of what religious folks would call faith (which I regard as uncritically believing¬† propositions that are at best harmless lies), it may surprise you that I pray. But, again, I realize now that prayer is not for God. It is for me.

You see, when I pray for my wife, I let go of the problem a little. Since this is a problem over which I have absolutely no direct control (much as I would like to!), I simply must let go or I will take the problem onto myself. Therein lies the path which I cannot tread.

So, in a sense, I need divine help and guidance. I need the Strength of The Goddess. I rely on Her now. Even if I am not sure She hears me.

More later.

Dead Already

When my family and I traveled to Cozumel one year for a much-needed family vacation, I carried the book Shadow Divers by John Kurson. This book describes an incredible dive performed by Richie Kohler and John Chatterton to identify a German U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey. One of the divers was a Vietnam veteran, and described the set of rules for life which he developed while in Vietnam. I don’t remember them all (except that they were excellent), but one of them deeply affected me. This is the gist:

There is no force in the universe more powerful than a human being who knows he or she is already dead, and thus has nothing left to lose.

I found this transformational, you see, because I have been very, very ill, and at times was completely convinced that I was dying. I have psoriasis, which is pretty serious, but mostly not life threatening. However, I became very severe in 2012, and thus was in a lot of pain, and definitely not doing well. I will not belabor you with the gory details, but suffice it to say, I was in very bad shape at that time.

I am fine now, thank God. There are several reasons for this, one of which is my loving and beautiful wife who never ceased to pray and fight for me. Ultimately, I was able to find a treatment which has been remarkably effective, and I am now about 90% improved. In the autoimmunity world, this is called remission.

My son made an interesting statement to me recently: He said of all people, I should be the most happy, because I have cheated death. I have come to the edge of the abyss and backed away from it. I have looked the grim reaper in the eye and spit in his face. You get the idea.

I find that happy is not the word I would use to describe the experience. Certainly, I am grateful. I live in a state of continuous thankfulness. I give thanks for each and every breath I take, because I am aware that each breath is a gift.

Now, I am watching my wife go through a similar journey. I must admit that I find her courage inspiring. Yet I also desperately wish that it could be me, not her, that is sick. No matter. I simply have to be there for her now. She was there for me, after all.

In the end, there is nothing else. All we have is each other.

The Way of Assisi

I have found a way. This way is working for me. Perhaps it can work for you too.

It is the way of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the Christians whom I most admire. It seems very simple to me now. Strange that I did not see this for so long.

The essence is:~

  • Focus on this present moment. This, after all, all I have.
  • Forgive yourself and everyone in your life. Live in a state of continuous forgiveness. This is harder than it sounds. You cannot fake this one. My good friend Les Floyd is good for this stuff.`
  • Perform many small, simple tasks with a loving heart.
    • Give myself over to taking care of someone other than myself.

    That’s it. This is certainly the way Assisi lived. He washed the lesions of lepers. He supported the poor, but he did so in a very direct way: He did not write a check to an institutional ministry. No. He handed a loaf of bread to a hungry person.

    I have now looked deeply into the eyes of a person who needs my help, and found myself caring about her. This person is my wife. My love for her is palpably strong now. I find myself moved to tears frequently by the power of it. Right now, as I sit in the cariologist’s office, watching my wife’s echo cardiogram, I am struck again by how much I love her, and how connecte I am to her.

    You see, my wife is ill. She has been having some strange symptoms for a long time now, and we are trying to get a handle on it. In the process, I have become responsible for her care. I am with her all the time. I make her food. I get her a pillow.

    This has led to me become her servant. I do this gladly. In the process, I have found this way.

    Right now, my wife is the only person that I love in this manner. But, I can see that this compassionate, active and devoted love could spread to others. My children come to mind.

    More later.

Present

I made an interesting shift today. It started with my Yorkie Diogee. Diogee is now 10. That means, in dog years, Diogee is 70. I realized that Diogee is now older than I am.

Actually, this has been true for a while. However, I did not realize it until today.

You see, I really, really love Diogee. Although he is strange, and a little crazy, he is still a wonderful animal, and I have actually learned a great deal from him spiritually. I honor him as a fellow traveller on this tiny world of ours.

Anyway, I was processing all of this, and I found myself, as usual, balling. Yeah. I cry pretty much all of the time now, including as I write this. I cry for Diogee because I know his time is near, and he is probably closer to the Great Divide than I am. I will grieve for him when he goes, although it will very likely be by my own hand. Not a chore I look forward to, that’s for sure. I will probably be pretty broken up that day. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

I petted Diogee for several hours, bathed him, as well as our other Yorkie, Napoleon, all the time crying off an on. It was then that I realized that an important shift had taken place, like I said earlier.

All of the internal work I have been doing recently has been about processing the events of the past. As I have said many times, I have suffered at least as much as any human I have known, and far more than most. At times, I have found myself actually glorying in my own suffering. I had nothing else left, I suppose. Anyway, all of that trauma and all of that pain apparently needed to be released. So I wept. I wept for Debbie. I wept for my brother Jim. I wept for my mother. And, finally, once forgiveness came, I wept for my father. Oh yes, Howard J. Browning. I weep for you as well.

But today, for the first time, I did not weep about the past. Today, I wept for something that is happening right now. I wept for the present.

I am finally, once and for all, emotionally present. I am experiencing what is happening right now, including my own emotions. I am not saying I do not have more to process concerning the past. Far from it. That work is happening and it will continue. But nonetheless, my focus has shifted.

Thanks to many for this. Most of all to my loving and beautiful wife, Elizabeth (most know her as Ruth, but she will recognize this as her new name). Of course, to my family, about whom I now weep daily. And my best friend Ray. May your God be with you, my friend!

More later.

Compassion

Human compassion is a funny thing. I have tremendous compassion and empathy for folks that I know. Strangers or people who are far away do not touch me in the same way. I do not think I am unusual in this respect.

The “Baby Jessica” phenomenon is a good example of what I am talking about. In 1987, 18 month old Jessica McClure fell down a well in her home’s yard, and was stuck 22 feet below the ground. For 56 hours, the entire world was convulsed with sympathy for this one small, helpless baby girl. The 24-hour media circus, led by then-fledgling cable network CNN, was avidly watched by millions.

How many other innocent babies died during that two day period? Many, I would guess. According to World Hunger, approximately 40,000 people were dying per day from starvation alone in 1992, 5 years after the Baby Jessica events. That number is probably fairly close. Why then did we respond so much to Jessica, and we can turn our faces away from the 40,000 others who are dying as well?

Because we knew her name. Once we heard about Jessica’s plight, she was real to us. Our hearts went out to her. We felt her pain, loneliness, fear and grief when she was lost in that well.

The others are simply nameless, faceless strangers.

It would seem that our capacity for empathy and compassion is limited. Perhaps in the process of evolving as a species we can learn to have compassion and empathy for everyone. But perhaps as well, it is enough for us to simply practice compassion for those in our own lives.

Comments?

More later.

Tears

I have made a discovery. Tears are powerful.

I have been crying a lot lately. I am not sure what to attribute this to, although I am not really complaining. Suffice it to say, I am getting in touch with my emotions. My wife and I sat in our bedroom today and wept together about how much we love each other, and how grateful we are for our marriage. That sort of thing.

I do not just weep tears of joy, though. Sometimes I weep tears of grief, longing, and regret. I have been doing some deep spiritual work, and the pain of that work is often accompanied by tears. My point: I have been around folks a lot lately while I was crying, and frequently communicating with them my deepest thoughts and feelings, including my feelings about religion.

Here is the thing: Tears are powerful. I said that before, I realize, but it bears repeating. What I find in my own life is that if I state a message, no matter what that message is, and I accompany that message with tears, the message will then be believed. And it will be believed powerfully by whoever is receiving it. That is the power of tears.

Your sincerity is never in question if you are crying. It is impossible (at least very difficult) to fake tears, and it never really works anyway. You simply have to be genuine. And if you are genuine, then tears will flow. And when they flow, you will be believed.

I have had personal experience on the receiving end on this one, actually. I have previously told the story on this blog about how my father gave my sister a gun and told her to go home and kill herself. Which she did. Oddly, my father had a rather strange reaction to this event: He wept. Although she had done exactly what he told her to do, he in some twisted way thought that he was giving her a wake up call. So when she actually did commit suicide, then he was devastated with grief, and he wept for days, pretty much 24 hours a day.

In that case, the effect of tears was lost on me. It did not work. I did not receive my father’s message. Although I had no doubt that he was sincere, I was so enraged with him that his message was lost on me. I was not sympathetic to say the least. I was dry eyed and stoic through the entire experience of Debbie’s funeral.

I suppose this is the exception that proves the rule: If you truly hate the person who is crying and want him to die, then, no, tears do not suffice. I did have hatred in my heart for my father at that moment, and later, when I failed him and abandoned him on his deathbed I wrecked my vengeance.

Did it make me feel any better that I made my father’s passing more difficult? Did I benefit in any way? Would it have been so difficult for me to go down to that hospital and sit with him there in those last few moments of his life? (Tears are flowing again.)

But I did not do that. And now I wish I could take back that decision. I wish, more than anything, that I could look into my father’s beautiful flinty blue eyes, those sea captain eyes, and admit that I truly love him, and that he has had a more powerful impact on me (both for good and for bad) than any other single human, with the exception of my loving wife.

More later.