During last admission, round #2 of chemotherapy, an RN walks into my room who helped me through my darkest hours on my first admission. Her presence brought peace to my soul. Knowing her capacity for a healing touch, allowed me to rest.
I had one moment first round of chemo where I had an emotional melt down. It was a terrible sight to behold and to experience. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Somewhere between the intersection of fatigue, fear, medications, combined with the reality that I could be dead in a short while if the chemo didn’t work, pressures of debt, how my family is hurting for me, the reality my life was on hold, rational questions of what if I lose life insurance and leave horrible medical debt for my wife and daughters to manage, and, the inner trembling from chemo and steroids, my world crashed hard and sudden.
I couldn’t see the inner turmoil coming and could not have stopped it if I had seen it coming. She listened as I agonized over the natural darkest emotional and mental human fears. I believe these fears are common but not spoken of often.
Any person can only carry so much burden. This deep weight moves beyond what a human can control. I watch it in the parents in the NICU where I work. I do for them as she did for me. When the moment hits and it is time to let the worries and angst out, she slowed down to listen to me, to honor me, as I attempt to do for NICU parents. It is a nursing “holy moment” where a tender stressed heart is placed on a table raw and bleeding. It is an honor to breathe just a moment of hope back into a weary soul. Being refreshed is letting one’s guard down to receive the refreshment.
Moments like this can help restore hope to a burdened soul and build trust. What a great opportunity to touch another in their most vulnerable moments. The patient can be guided beyond an uncontrolled release of pent up emotions and thoughts, and sanity brought back into vision. Hope is fanned back to flame; just a tiny flicker of hope is powerful to regain momentum for a heart stalled with weighty matters.
Facing long term struggles where your life is on the line, you will have your moments where something deep inside your being powerfully emerging spontaneously to stop you in your tracks. Staring directly into the depths of our humanity disrupts immediate plans. Your disruption might look different than mine, but you will have some time and place when you unexplainably withdraw and shut everyone out, or burst forth with anger, or move into a depth of fear and sorrow, or move into denial and carry on as if you have not a worry in the world, or you will have this messy display of unconventionally powerful emotions erupt. You cannot contain the cries of the soul forever. These cries demand to be heard.
I call this “the other inside of me.” This stranger inside (although it is me) can take over my body and make me do things that cause me to feel very much less a man and a poor example of how to behave. I know it is human nature; I know in reality I am more of a man for walking through this and facing my fears and pain, yet the process is so…messy. Ugh! Who likes to cave into convulsive releases of emotions and thoughts with such pent up power? It has caused me more than once to consider if I was losing my grip on reality when I have those rare moments of losing control.
This other inside of me is sneaky. I can’t really detect it most days. I believe Freud called it the “id.” Some call it the subconscious. I like to think of it as a part of our complex human spirit, something residing deep within, some other part of me that is still me, but with its own independent operation. I believe there is some function in the human soul that is so deep that it is almost like a feature of my own being that maneuvers independent of me, hard to detect at most any moment, yet is very much alive and active. When it desires to rise up and be known, there is no stopping it from rearing its ugly head. The cries of my human heart emerge whether I want them to or not and the force of the emergence is usually surprising to me.
In younger years, when I heard the concept of “an inner child,” I scoffed at the thought. Well, maybe not fully disbelieving, but I knew it wasn’t real for me and suspected that was an explanation, an excuse, to allow certain behaviors of immaturity for another person when they surfaced. Grow up I would muse. Don’t be like that.
Other times, what I thought was a touch of compassion and understanding on my part would emerge and I’d “allow” for such a concept for abused people who had to compartmentalize their lives in order to maintain sanity under extreme circumstances. This really wasn’t compassion on my part as much as an immaturity and lack of personal experience with my own life. My understanding and compassion have changed over the years as I’ve had to deal with my own trauma and problems. God and many turns of events in life have taken care to show me how I have this seemingly “other” (a young man inside?) present that will catch me off guard on rare occasion.
I’ve been humbled over the years. I finally have had enough of my own junk build up deep inside, only to burst to the surface over my adult years to the point I am a believer in this other, this inner psyche, the subconscious. Starting in 2008 with my initial Burkitt’s diagnosis, inner pressure continued building out of my control through circumstances that ensued for years. And now with a second diagnosis of Burkitt’s where I am undergoing chemotherapy again and needing a stem cell transplant, this is it for me folks. It is all or none. I am at the end of my rope and not much else medically awaits me but a most difficult path, and that is if it even works. No wonder I had a powerful cry of my inner man explode beyond my control spontaneously late one night.
Consider the following. When we have something so far beyond our control happen, death in the family, medical horrors, torture during war, or whatever the case may be, it is human nature to kick into a high gear of protective mechanisms. Despite our best coping abilities, something is deposited deep deep inside the human soul, something that shakes us to the core of who we are. We choose mentally how to respond and behave, yet under these best choices we make, the inner being echoes with untold aftershocks.
Many men and women who return from the front lines of war are given the label of Post Traumatic Stress (disorder), a recognition, a nod if you will, that they experienced horrors that do something inside the human psyche causing erratic behaviors for years or for life thereafter. It simply changes them from the inside out. Some men and women control the distress better than others. I have heard many WWII families over my life speak of how so and so returned “changed from the war;” they were never the same. Nightmares would randomly erupt. Their behavior would have odd “ticks” as the old timers might say. It was the wording of the time to say that something profound had changed in the core of the person and there was no going back for them, only a management of their current state of being.
I used to believe the label of PTSD was reserved only for persons in a military or battle setting, severe trauma need only apply. I have modified my belief on this in recent years. After my first battle with Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 2008, I came out a changed man. Eight months of intensive sickness and chemotherapy took its toll. I mentally compensated, didn’t do a really good job, but made it through. I was an angry man. My emotions were thin and on the surface. As I look back, I can see where some part of me had been changed and a form of death occurred inside. But the death that had been inserted into me interestingly enough caused a cry for life to arise within me even stronger.
Cancer was just the beginning of the conflict between torment and meaning. Then came the loss of loved ones and new medical problems after I was through with chemo. I thought when one was finished with chemo, their lives returned back to normal or they died. I was wrong. For many, there is a “new normal” that has to be accepted (or fought against) based on the aftermath and severity of the battle. Alive, but in a different body scarred from an intensive medical regimen. Overwhelming life changes scar the emotions and change thoughts.
It took a while for my natural defense mechanisms to break down under continued distress of losing loved ones, new onset of medical problems, and then a powerful whopper hit me: loss of my faith in God. In my most fundamental beliefs as a Christian man, I changed. I thought God was no longer real or cared, that he was not a good Father. I rejected Him and His love. How can a good God allow such things to happen?
Mind you, it wasn’t what happened with me that caused the final blow to my faith, it was what I saw happen to other sweet sincere people around me combined with what happened to me. Where was His love and goodness? I found reconciling pain and love to be intolerable and could no longer listen to sterile proclamations of love without the recognition of the pain in life. How can one be separated from the other?
I finally had someone suggest to me in the Burkitt’s Lymphoma private group that I had a type, a form of PTSD. My initial reaction was to scoff. But then some still small voice began to speak gently to me to consider the wisdom of such a thought, consider it being presented as a gift to me. A certain curiosity to study what PTSD was about, how it impacted people, and how it manifested began to surface to better understand trauma impacting my own heart.
A crack appeared in the wall around my heart. I began to loosen my narrow understanding and realize it very well might apply to non-military settings. This was revolutionary to me. Can a human soul not in the front lines of a military exchange become a hardened angry entity, a shadow of what it was created for? Can circumstances in a civilian setting produce similar results as what occurs in a military battle for life and death? Can I develop my own “ticks” and compensatory habits to cope with deep wounding, or the perception of such?
Then began a revolution of understanding in my own mind and heart. People can be traumatized in non-military settings. There is a limitation of pain that the human soul can take before some kind of alteration occurs to the inner being, some kind of energy builds deeply in a man or woman’s heart. The resulting pain has to have its day in court, of coming forth and saying “no more, I’m really deeply angry/hurt/wounded/suffering and cannot sit still any longer.” What was building slowly and usually imperceptibly suddenly emerges as this strange other beast, something foreign to me that I don’t want, can’t contain, and have to deal with anyways.
Consider a dam. It is constructed to withstand most any circumstance to stop the flow of a great power, natural surges of water, forces nearly unimaginable, and energy unending. Yet under the right circumstances, the dam can remain intact yet be overrun with rapid surges of extreme amounts of water. In rare moments, it gives way and no longer can hold back the flood. Everyone, everything, has a limitation to how much it can withstand before being over run or broken completely. There is only so much energy that can be contained before it will take a natural path of release.
One of my conclusions I’m currently working under is that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is unbearable pain and separation. I don’t believe pain comes from hate, but the opposite is true. Some kind of painful event or series of events manifest, causing such a depth of pain that bitterness can set in, hatred, anger, mistrust, and deep fear.
I am a changed soul. I am not who I was when I began chemo. I am not the same man I was after the loss of loved ones. I am not the same man I was after learning of my permanent changes to my health. I had to study, to search, pray, work hard at times to ask “why Lord, why?” My concept of what is love has been steadily evolving. This is hard work, continual hard work.
Getting stuck in pain is the real problem I conclude at this moment in life. Setting up a camp and staying in a broken place is what stalls a human soul to corrupt in one location. I finally had to come to terms with the reality that life isn’t fair. I eventually moved from the “why” to the “what now,” what can I do with what I have left with my life and those around me. My resolved and focus switched from the why to the what now, how can I accept my lot in life, find joy and love, and move forth accepting my place in life despite overwhelming changes. I had to let go of my right to hold onto pain and all the tentacles it spread.
Acceptance is powerful. I can make the next best decision. Such small good decisions lead up to bigger change and acceptance over time. I found I had to get out of my small world and begin to help others.
I made one wrong assumption though, thinking my giving back was to be on a big scale. My impact would somehow be in the form of a book, speaking platform, or something with a public measure. Instead, my giving back was helping another person make it one step at a time. One person at a time. One phone call at a time. One email at a time. One conversation at a time. It was in these one on one interactions that I started finding meaning in life. Each seemingly small interaction produced encouragement in others and my encouraging them brought life back into my own soul.
And in the finest fashion of nursing and medical health, this RN last admission was able to breathe one on one in a quiet dark small hospital room, some life and hope back into my spirit.
My soul had its night in court last admission. It can only take so much before it has to discharge this energy and pain. It indeed burst over the natural defenses and it was a miserable (yet healing) experience in the hands of a skilled caregiver. I thank God for compassionate people like my nurse who gave of her heart and time to minister to the darkest part of my human agony.
Can I be such a person to another wounded soldier in life? Can you be someone to make a difference when someone has a meltdown beyond their control? Can we be Jesus in the flesh, a Mother Theresa of sorts, to those in the most vulnerable moments? Do we need large platforms to get something significant done? Can helping just one or two people a day in small seemingly insignificant ways help them change and accept who they are and how to move forth in life?
May it be so.