Monday, August 27, 2018

It Never Rains, But It Pours...

For those of you keeping up: thank you for your interest and your support in helping us navigate Cathy's cancer diagnosis. This post is not about that. She's hanging in there, and we're just working toward getting her chemo done so we can do a scan and see how much the tumors have shrunk. It's a waiting game, and we both suck at it.

This post is about me, and a recent diagnosis I received, because, apparently, Cathy's cancer was not enough drama and excitement for us. I wanted to talk about what has been going on with me since October of last year for a while, and was planning on doing so, but Cathy's diagnosis has taken priority for obvious reasons. I can't do that any longer, as my situation has come to something of a head.

What follows is personal and dark and kinda gross. If you bail out right now, you won't have to read it and I'll completely understand. This is deep dive stuff and it may be more than you want to absorb. We're living in weird times right now. You do what works best for you.

If you're still with me, read on. It's a little longer than I've been posting lately, but I wanted to get it all out in one fell swoop.



Probably the best picture taken of me at WFC. Notice the
smile never reached my eyes. All of the pics of me
from WFC look like that. 
Last October, I had something of a nervous breakdown. Several incidents piled up at once and it flipped my breaker switch. I won't go into the specifics, but it was essentially overwork, poor health, lack of sleep, a series of personal losses, and financial strife. It all hit like a bomb going off, and I was out of control, swinging wildly from one emotional extreme to the next.

Some of you saw me at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio, and I watched you walk up to me, smiling, and then all of you dropped the smiles and looked frightening, shocked, or concerned. To a person, you all asked me "What's wrong?" I couldn't hide it any more.

I was, and have been, clinically depressed for at least seven years, and probably much longer. If I'm being completely honest, it goes  back at least a decade, when Cathy and I first moved from Austin, a city that was slowly crushing our spirit, to North Texas, which promptly finished the job. The culture shock was so profound that it felt like whiplash. We went from being in the center of a vibrant community of like-minded artists and creative types, people we knew for a long time who really "got" us, and who were making art and theater with us, to a community of people who...weren't. And didn't. And wouldn't. Any of that. At all.

Understand, these were not bad people at all, and many of them have become good, close friends and allies to us, but--well, let's just say that of all the places in Texas I've ever lived, North Texas stands out as the most casually, indolently, truculently indifferent of places; the combination of apathy and entitlement has to be experienced to be believed.

It did a number on us both, but I think it hit me sooner, and had far worse effects on me. It continues to challenge me, to this day.

Add to that the stress of starting a new business, with a steep learning curve built into that new business, and the subsequent removal of one's art and means of expression, one's friends, one's support system, and the stability that came from having a place in the community and, not to put too fine a point on it, it really messed me up. That's a clinical expression, by the way.

When you pile all of those stressors on top of my existing damage; not really ever getting over the death of my father in 2002, for example--it's no wonder I collapsed when I did. I'm really surprised that it took 10 years to do it.

All of that fear, that anger, that rage and sadness, it all came tumbling out of me, like clowns bouncing out of a circus train wreak. I never let go of it. It sat on these compartmentalized shelves, like the world's most depressing library, for a decade. Last October, those shelves got hit with a massive earthquake that sent all of my shit to the floor. And I couldn't pick it up anymore.

I got some help. I went to my doctor and he got me calm. We took an inventory of my physical problems and made a priority list. Number one was to chill my ass out so I could think again. After that, we started working on my high blood pressure and my lack of sleep. Then we started talking about my weight.

ArmadilloCon circa 2006; probably the last time I really
felt like my old self. How screwed up is that? 
I've never been a skinny kid. I've struggled with--agonized over, more like--my weight for as long as I've been able to make a choice between eating and exercising. I won't go into all of the ways that food has been a crutch for me, but suffice to say that I ballooned like a ball park frank during my tenure in North Texas.  I knew it; I could see it, feel it, and be impacted by it. But in my depressed state of mind, I couldn't, or wouldn't, do anything about it. I felt like I deserved what I was getting. It makes no sense, I know, but hey, if it was fun and logical, they wouldn't call it depression, now, would they?

In the midst of this course correction, I decided that I needed some therapy. There were flaws in my thinking that I knew I wasn't able to articulate, that I needed to identify and fix, and I couldn't do it myself. There's a Jewish expression I've been living by for a while, now: "When three people tell you you're drunk, go lie down." In this case, if, when you say to people who know you very well, "I'm thinking I need to see a therapist to help me work through some stuff," and they say, without a second's hesitation, "Yes, that's a very good idea," get yourself to the psychologist, post-haste.

So, I did. One of the good friends we made here during our voluntary exile is a clinical psychologist, and he was able to recommend to me a doctor that I was able to really connect with. She and I worked for six months, going through my thinking processes, moving old baggage out of the way, and giving me some tools for coping with the regular ups and downs of daily life; tool I'd never had before because, prior to moving to North Texas, I never needed them. I had enough outlets, enough sounding boards, and enough support that I could more than handle anything that was thrown at me.

The thing about cognitive behavioral therapy is that it doesn't rely on long-term couch sessions; that's a cliche and probably an outdated stereotype. We were working on figuring out my damage and fixing it. And I was really into the process, too, so the work went faster than either of us anticipated. I had already committed to taking a year off from conventions and travel to work on this, but I made an exception for Robert E. Howard Days, in Cross Plains, because that's less a convention (or a Relax-A-Con) and more of a family reunion.

I was pleased to hear from many of my long-term friends how much better I looked; indeed, there was a noticeable difference. I had my spark back. My sense of humor. And I was happy to engage with people again. Therapy, Wellbutrin and sleep; who knew?

I was on the verge of dealing with phase 2, my weight, when Cathy got her diagnosis. I've had a hernia for the past four years, and maybe longer, that has been getting gradually worse. Not one of those undercarriage hernias; a front-end hernia. I really thought that the hernia had displaced some of my belly fat and pushed it down into the front of my groin to create "an apron of fat," which is the medical expression for it. So, we made an appointment to see the specialist in the area who repairs hernias.

To cut to the chase, my apron of fat has a medical name that ends with an "osis." Turns out, it has nothing to do with my hernia, which is actually very small. But the apron of fat has become a problem in that it is restricting blood flow and other related fun-type things and it has to be removed. Not vacuumed out, or anything like that; the treatment is to cut the whole thing off, at the surface level, and then stitch groin back together again.

Yeah, I'm cringing, too. Independently of that, the doctor can fix my minor hernia. But it's that last part that brought me up short: he also thinks I need a gastric sleeve. The permanent kind that means you can only eat four forkfuls of food per day or you get acid reflux. He assures me that if I don't have the surgery, it will cost me my mobility and shave ten to twelve years off of my life span. Only, see, no insurance covers the surgery. Because, see, fat people deserve what they get. This doctor kept looking at me with barely disguised contempt. The guy's supposed to be a fucking gastric specialist, and he's staring at me with that incredulous look that says, "Why didn't you just put down the sandwich and talk a walk, Fatty?" To him, this is all my fault. He actually said to me, if my insurance doesn't cover it, I should think about going to Mexico to get it done. Such a bullshit thing to say because he knows good and well that my insurance won't cover it.

I get it, I've got problems. But he doesn't know me. He doesn't know what I'm capable of. He also doesn't know that I'm smarter than I look. That I don't know the ins and outs of gastro-intestinal medicine doesn't make me an imbecile. In six months, I've bought my blood pressure down, started sleeping through the night, and used a variety of techniques to calm down when he treated me like a petulant child. I've lost some weight, changed my eating habits, and started taking care of myself again. The only reason I am not walking and exercising every day is because of this fat apron that is impeding my mobility; it's the thing I came in to get fixed! Fuck that guy.

I have two surgeries to do. There will be considerable out of pocket expenses. But I will be damned if I just cannonball into a third surgery that costs twelve grand, completely out of pocket, that will permanently alter my eating, without first trying to lose as much weight as I possibly can on my own. I may not lose it all; I may hit a wall. I may get only halfway there. In the end, I may end up having to have a surgical procedure of some kind to get me down to my fighting weight. But I will be damned if I'm going to give him the satisfaction of thinking he was right about me. I already had the will to make this change, but now I have this real need to tell mister "Do you have a problem with your tummy?" that he was wrong, dead wrong, about me. 

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