The image above is an illustration that I painted during my art school days. It’s also how I felt on and off, up until recently...
It started a few months ago after getting sick with a bad flu. During and after the flu, I started feeling some odd pains/aches that I hadn’t quite felt before. And right after that, I started experiencing significant twitching in my legs. I can’t remember if it was one or both.
Blood tests came up normal and the whole thing became clouded after I started having other types of pains around my hip and legs. X-Rays and an MRI later, the consensus was an injury inflaming some worn joints. But I knew the chronic twitching just felt off and in our age of infinite knowledge, while one part of my brain knew that something like ALS would be unlikely, another part fixated on the fact that chronic muscle twitching and ALS have an algorithmic connection via Google searches. It just kept coming up.
The week before I finally booked my appointment with the neurologist was pure stress and agony. A story of a former Obama staffer diagnosed with ALS hit my newsfeed and of course chronic muscle twitching was part of the story. I never made it past that detail. I spent the next days wrestling with the uncertainty that there was something wrong with me and intuitively, I knew it had nothing to do with a sports injury. That question mark made me fear for the worst case scenario and that’s what has ultimately been changing how I look at everything.
Before I go further, a recent visit with the neurologist resulted in a benign diagnosis of a condition I’d never heard of. The doctor was confident, yet ordered additional tests sensing my distress. After the consultation finished, I felt as if a truck had been lifted off of me and research of his diagnosis only offers more reassurance because my symptoms line up perfectly.
But I found myself completely unprepared for those few days of emotional uncertainty and the bittersweet nature of the experience
The sense of dread when you think your days may be numbered and/or you will have endure terrible circumstances is like nothing I’ve ever felt. It made me realize that in all my years on this planet, that I’ve never truly confronted the prospect of intimate self suffering and death. Even as someone who rides a motorcycle, I’ve not truly confronted death as an immediate outcome. While riding can be risky, you have both the reality and illusion of control. When you are at the mercy of whatever your body may or may not be doing, it’s a different story all together.
In lockstep with the sense of dread comes the anxiety. When you don’t know what’s to become of you and you have these sensations in your body every few seconds reminding you that something is wrong, you can’t help but to get sucked up into your own mind especially during times where you don’t have the luxury of distractions like work or company.
Confronting your mortality, especially when it’s out of your control can paralyze you with fear.
But that’s not all — with that anxiety, fear and dread also comes clarity. This was the sweet part if you can call it that. Immediately, you realize what matters. The people closest to you. Friends, family, your relationships. Your belief system, whatever that is, also becomes your priority. It all sounds cliche but when you are living it, it feels like a revelation. That’s because we’re living in the most distracted period of human history, so of course it takes confronting one’s mortality to bring clarity to life.
At one point I even found myself thinking that I had a choice — to live out remaining days acting kindly or living them out bitterly because I’d been dealt a bad hand.
I’ve never been the kind of person to fixate on an illness or issue. Despite some back trouble, I really haven’t had much to deal with. And maybe that’s why this “scare” has taken me by surprise. You go from zero to:
“Wait, do I have my affairs in order?”
“Have I told the people I love that I love them?”
“What do I need to do if I have a significantly shorter time here than previously thought”?
Mantras like “live like tomorrow is your last” are BS. That’s not what pondering your mortality feels like. I know I only experiences a minuscule dosage of it and it’s more than likely a false alarm. But it’s enough for me to view the world with fresh eyes and a heightened sense of what matters.
Treating people well.
That goes to the top of my list. It was always there, but I’m finding myself to be extra vigilant. Life is too precious and fragile to be otherwise.
I’ve been told that these sentiments fade over time. I’ll embrace that wisdom from others who’ve gone through similar experiences, but I’m going to work to retain and remember the lessons and prioritize accordingly. I’ve already begun to make changes in mindfulness, and prioritizing wellness of the mind as well as the body. And being mindful with others. It’ll be a journey and process. So much growth is needed.
But the clarity is there. Politics become background noise, your perspective on your career looks different. You immediately see the garden that you’ve cultivated around you and your concern for tending that and ensuring it is maintained when you are gone become your beacon. As well as matters of the spiritual.
I’ll come to this place again. We all will. Some of you already have. I have an infinite appreciation even as I experienced this so briefly. I don’t know if I’ll be any better prepared, but I’ll be more aware at minimum. Confronting your mortality opens your eyes and puts the out of focus into crystal clear focus. It’s bittersweet but if you’re fortunate to emerge from it, you can do so as a better person.