Friday, November 18, 2011
Hope and Rope
After a week of being less social that usual, last Friday night sucked. Really, really sucked. I have no idea what triggered the mess. I wasn’t wallowing around in old wedding pictures. I hadn't gone back in time to read our Great Cancer Adventure blog (reading about our last days together still transforms me into a wailing mess of a man.) But for some reason, Friday evening was the night an ugly freight train of emotion hit me like never before. Maybe the train’s always been there but I have always had some judo to derail it before it picked up speed. Friday, it was just me, dark thoughts and a fast moving train.
From December 2006 (just prior to the diagnosis), I’ve been fairly good at staying positive or at least letting the negative waves of emotion and fear wash over me without pulling me endo via a riptide into unsafe depths. I’ve learned to control my thoughts and, when powerful negatives start echoing around in the emotion-amplifier called my brain, I just change the subject, quite literally. I don’t try to resolve the un-resolvable (“Why us? Why now? How can this happen?”) I just hear the questions form in my brain-chatter and let them run right out, giving them no energy or focus. Then I immediately change the subject to ANY other subject. I don’t avoid them but I don’t let them control me either. I just acknowledge them and move on. I’ve always been careful not to give them any energy because without energy, those thoughts starve and die.
...At least until last Friday night. That night, for some reason, I was weak. My idle mind filled quickly with widower-style un-resolvable questions (“How do I rebuild? Will I always be alone? Are my best years lost?”). Every question led to worse follow-up questions. Down and down I went. Eventually I was building doomsday scenarios, each more terrible than the previous. (Oh, I’m very resourceful and creative with my doomsday scenarios!) Each one played out like slowly falling dominoes clicking together to create my destiny. Eventually, I had built up multiple scenarios that painted my life so bleak that within just a few falling dominoes, I’m homeless, friendless, starving and living under a bridge. I’m never seen from again and no one bothers to look. Good riddance of that widower guy, they all say (in my head, of course.) My existence fades into a timid whisper between old friends at parties, much like Maggie’s has become, it seems. My life is over.
On and on I piled the punishment. For hours I whipped up a furious storm of morose self-abuse. Then came the Big Question: Why don’t I just call it quits right now?
That last question scared me. It wasn’t really the question. It was the feeling that drove the question. It felt like the only option. And that’s the key part – it seemed like the ONLY option. In a matter of hours, I had built an impenetrable wall that forced me down one path in my future that led to one inescapable conclusion. There was only one way out: call it quits – suicide.
Now this had gone too far. Something inside me sat straight up, wide awake and screamed “ENOUGH OF THIS!” But I wasn’t quite sure how to rescue myself. I felt like a panicking drowning victim, quite aware of the danger but not clear on how to escape. I was stuck under negative emotional debris while the riptide of a dismal future was carrying me quickly out to sea. It sucked. I was scared.
Then something simple and unexpected happened. I got a message with a casual invitation to lunch Saturday. It was sent from a person whom I had met exactly once but found engaging. Simple, yes, but it was just the rope I needed. That imagined impenetrable wall forcing me down the inevitable path of doom cracked. This unexpected lunch invitation wasn’t on that predetermined path. Instead, it was a trailhead of many paths, many I hadn’t considered. And if there were many paths, especially ones that I hadn’t seen yet, then there couldn’t possibly be only one option. And if there are lots of options, then there’s certainly no needed to call it quits now, with so many options still to explore. With that one simple message, the whole carefully-crafted notion of a single path of doom-and-gloom unraveled. As yet unseen options and opportunities were out there! Yay, hope! That was just the rope I needed to pull myself out.
The lesson: Even when it’s darkest, believe with all my heart a trailhead is just around the corner. No matter what, I just have to keep trudging forward. (And keep more rope handy for use around pesky sinkholes.)