February 21, 2012
Meredith walks past me in our house and asks, “What’s the matter?” Nothing, I answer glumly. “Something is the matter,” she continues. “What is it?” If she sits down next to me, I know I am going to have to talk about it. I don’t feel like talking about how I am feeling or anything else. I can’t tell my well-intentioned wife to take a hike, though that is precisely all I am motivated to say.
Feeling off is not the same animal as pain. I have been there and done that and written plenty about the experience. Felling lousy is more of a low-key sensation, though just as real. The muted ache or subtle nausea hangs around, finally getting to me.
The fact is, I feel lousy just about every day. My chronic conditions see to that. Too often, I find myself in a bad mood. Most of the time, I feel powerless to do anything about it, except to ignore it when I am able. I just do not feel well. Or right. Or something in the middle. Usually, I want to disappear.
After two bouts of colon cancer, food is not my friend. My anatomy is a genuine original. My GI track is Gerry-rigged. I have been resected to the point where the roof is in the basement, the front door out back. Digesting anything can be the day’s most difficult task. The bathroom frequently is my office.
I used to run all over the world chasing news. I ate some pretty exotic stuff in faraway places. No dish was too spicy or just too weird. These days, I would happily swallow a pill if it could provide enough nutrition and become a substitute for food. Dream on.
And I have not even gotten to the aches and pains that were thrown in as extras when I bought the MS. Often back and joint pain dissolve to discomfort. For years, I could go for days without thinking about MS. Now that timeframe is down to hours.
I repeat what I have often written in columns touching on the issue of my health. I am not complaining. Honest. I do not like whiners and live in fear that I will become one of them. I am only trying to explain. Repeated why meing seems like an effective formula for losing spouses and friends. Then the question becomes, is chronic crankiness just traveling the same road?
I worry that I cast a pall that spreads invisibly around the house and shrouds anyone and everything in its path. Lights can seem dimmer as the clouds move indoors. The kids are grownup and out the door, so only Meredith and I are hanging out here. I must be a treat as a constant companion. Meredith is an outgoing and happy person. Yet she can seem subdued, as if she is breathing in my darkness. The energy level in the house, customarily high, can flatten, as if we have taken a downer.
Usually, we can amuse ourselves mightily. When laughter is in short supply, I know something is out of whack. Usually that signal means I am feeling down and out. Normally, we give each other a hard time, the gift of grief. That is a large part of our collective shtick. We are happy people who enjoy a good life. Silences can be long, our first date revisited.
On some days, I just do not want to do anything. Too often, a book replaces a new movie. We share another evening at home. I am supposed to meet an old friend at Grand Central Station in the morning for coffee. I like this guy and have not seen him for a while. I am sort of dreading our date. I feel crummy now and see no reason to believe tomorrow I will feel any better.
Usually I am an optimist, though you might never know that. Sometimes I peer into a mirror and wonder who I am looking at. I surprise myself with this tired sense of self. But the phone does keep on ringing. Friends reach out and want to get together. They do not see.
Even as I am acutely aware of my dips into darkness, apparently friends and acquaintances are oblivious. Even Meredith has learned to go about her business and leave me alone. She does not cause the problem. She cannot change it. Self-awareness may be my salvation. I tell my pals to get a life when times are tough. Maybe I should do the same.