How to Cross a Threshold

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.–Marcus Aurelius

I saw my neurologist today.

After reviewing a recent MRI of my brain, he informed me that the deterioration that plagued my cerebellum appears to have stopped.

“That can happen?”

“Yes. In some cases, brain atrophy can stop.”

“Well, I guess that’s good news.”

He flashed a smile, leaned back in his chair and said, “That’s great news. Four years later…your brain is showing signs of stability.”

Like every previous visit, my neurologist put me thorough a series of tests.

Follow his finger with my eyes. Touch my nose, touch his finger. Open my mouth, stick out my tongue, cluck my tongue. Snap my fingers. Clack my heels on the floor. Stand up, sit down.

He opened the examination room door, turned, “you know the drill,” and I stood up and followed him out into the hallway.

I walked to the end of the hall, arms by my side, made a controlled turn–as if vying for my driver’s permit– and walked back to him.

“Your gait looks good. You’re walking more confidently then you have in years.”

“Thanks.”

We moved back into his office and sat down. He picked up a microphone that was corded to his computer and began dictating the results of my tests. Despite extensive cerebellum damage, the patient’s gait has shown improvement… . 

I commented how when I first meet him, four years ago, he had to scribble down test results and appointment notes by hand.

He smiled, “Yes, this will definitely stave off carpal tunnel for a few more years. But to be honest, I miss the old-fashion thrill of physical note-taking.  But…things change. Do you have any other questions?”

“I do. This may sound weird…I get a little uneasy around thresholds and doorways. You know, like I’m afraid to transition or something.  Is it normal for people with cerebellar damage to have trouble crossing thresholds?”

He leaned back into his seat and crossed his legs, “The brain is wonderful mystery. Even a healthy brain can find thresholds problematic. It’s something primitive. Like the fear the primitive man must have felt while standing barefoot on some rocky ledge, looking for someplace to go.  Crossing from room to room, from one plane to next has always troubled people. Evolution has ingrained it in our psyche. We’re simply afraid of transitions.”

Of course it wasn’t intentional, but he just conducted an unauthorized, in-office autopsy on my life.

“Do you have any advice on how to cross a threshold?”

“Crossing a threshold is often mental. The initial fear of just transitioning from one place to the next often prevents us from progression. But when you find the nerve to finally cross, you realize there was nothing to fear at all. ”

I stood up, shook his hand, said I was looking forward to seeing him in six months. He smiled, spun away, opened the door and disappeared.

I slipped on my coat and strode through the threshold, from the examination room into the hall and back into life.

A life born of thresholds, waiting patiently for us to simply brave up and cross.

Be well,

Jay

Accepting Uncertainty: The Most Important Question A Chronic Illness Patient Can Ask

The following post is part of the The January Project: Chronic Illness. A month long project where I research and write about chronic illness.  The information presented in this project is intended for educational purposes only.

I am not a doctor. I am a teacher and writer who, while being afflicted with two chronic illnesses, is trying to learn how to live a productive and peaceful life. 

With this project I hope to increase awareness, offer comfort to those living with chronic illness and offer clarification to anyone who knows a person living with chronic illness.


Why am I sick?

What did I do to deserve this fate?

Like a car accident, a chronic illness often slams you without warning.

One moment you’re cruising along, windows down, radio up and the next– you and your car are cartwheeling out-of-control through an intersection.

My symptoms happened overnight.

Literally.

One day I was coaching and playing soccer and the next day my vision was blurry, my head was spinning and my legs were so weak I could barely climb a flight of stairs.

That was August of 2013.


According to the National Council of Health nearly 50% of Americans have at least 1 chronic illness.

Approximately,  161 million people are currently struggling fears and frustrations of having a chronic illness.


On September 5, 2013 an MRI of my brain revealed that I had cerebellar atrophy–a deterioration of nerve cells in the cerebellum.

In April of 2015 a biopsy of my thigh muscle revealed I had sarcoidosis– a chronic illness that causes muscular and organ inflammation.

And even with those confirmations I was still so confused, so frustrated, so angry.

Why did I get sick?

What could I have done differently to avoid this fate?

If there was a God, why was he doing this to me?

A chronic illness unnerves you.

For years I endured moral freezes. I couldn’t think, decide. I couldn’t, as my old soccer coach would bark, “get my shit together.”

Like a high stakes game of hide-and-go-seek, success in life is often predicated on our curiosity, our desire to seek until we find what we are looking for.

But what happens when you’re sick and short on energy? What happens  after years of blood tests, biopsies, scans and observations experts still shrug and admit they don’t know?

What happens when you simply can’t find what you’re looking for?

Five years ago I did not realize that uncertainty is an opportunity for growth and change.

I was obsessed with questions like:

Why am I sick? What did I do to deserve this fate?

But those question lead me nowhere. Those questions only increased my confusion, frustration and anger.

Five years later I still have those questions but I’m in a much better place.

Why?

Because I edited down all of my questions into the most important question I’ve ever asked:

I’m sick…

..Now what am I going to do about it?

This question forced me to do two things:

  1. Accept the situation.
  2. Assume responsibility and take action.

It’s only natural when you’re suffering with a chronic illness to ask the unfocused, unanswerable questions. I did for years. But those questions are like a hamster wheel. They’re exhausting and repetitive and get you nowhere.

A question like, “why is this happening to me?” gives your illness power and permission to seize control your life.

You can not allow a chronic illness to impose its will on you.

You must go on the offensive, take action and attack for as long as you can.

Because taking action builds strength, confidence and independence.

Three feelings that I had almost forgotten about.


Here’s how I attack chronic inflammation:

Here’s how I attack my cerebellar atrophy:


The uncertainties of my illnesses inspired me to make greater investments into my health.

And five years later I’m finally off the hamster wheel.

I’ve made myself responsible.

Because when you’re grappling with a chronic illness you must push back, you must reclaim your health.

Because it’s your health and only you can do something about it.

Be well,

Jay


Related Original Writings on Chronic Illness:

What You Need To Know About Men Who Have A Chronic Illness And The Shame They Feel (Published on January 5, 2018)

What’s The World’s Greatest Lie (Published on September 14, 2017)

Why I Celebrated My Worst Day (Published on September 8, 2017)

20 Things My Chronic Illness Has Taught Me (Published on June 16, 2016)