Foggy Days

Days like today are traumatic.

Most of us who are over 40 have times when it’s difficult to remember or think clearly. But this is different.

Today, I am lost within my foggy mind. Today words get lost in the fog. Words like “refrigerator,” “door,” and “broom” just won’t appear when needed.

I’m also lost in space. In our little, temporary, home (all of 225 ft.²) I can’t seem to find where the door is or the refrigerator. There’s no panic like being lost in the woods. It’s just that nothing seems familiar, neither this cabin we’ve been living in for a year and half or my mind trying to find words in this brain I’ve been using (on and off) for the past 65 years.

This is the first time in the last six months or so that I’ve been lost in the fog. I don’t know what brings this on, nor what will make it go away.

I’d like to be able to say that writing this post is a stream of consciousness effort, but it’s not really. I really don’t have a stream of consciousness. That is, that there is no flow from one thought or one paragraph to another thought or paragraph.

Writing in any intelligible form is an immense effort to maintain a deep writing meditation. I imagine this will require a lot of editing, but I feel that it’s important to share what it’s like to have aphasia along with some other stuff. [“Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate. It can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language, both verbal and written.” Mayo Clinic]

On these foggy days it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, to think things through:

When the peanut butter, jelly, and bread are on the table with a butter knife in my hand, what do I do next and where’s the butter knife?

With my wife asking me how were going to pay for snow tires for car, how do I add $400 and $500, and what’s a “snow tire,” and I know she was asking me a question but what was it?

My wife says “Hey Hon, there’s more carrots in the refrigerator that’s in your office.” [Yes, I share my office with a refrigerator, a pantry, a water heater, a washer and dryer, and the freezer.] But my mind freezes when she says the word “refrigerator.” I hear the word but I don’t know what it means and I can’t ask her because I can’t say the word, no matter how hard I try.

These are just three of the myriad of things that happened to me today in this foggy world.

I used to get very disturbed by losing my way in the world and in my thoughts. But that didn’t lead me anywhere near joy. So I searched, and thought, and prayed, and I found the blessing.

I’m a brilliant guy with a good heart. But viewing the world from this honored place is not where the majority of people live. Living in this fog has helped me realize how very special that other place is and how much I want to use those abilities, to be of service to others.

I guess I’m done because my mind is going into a deeper fog. I need to go lay down and take care of myself.

Balancing

Today is my day in the hospital. That sounds so dramatic.

Every month I’m here in this sweet little rural hospital – kind people and a world-class view. But it’s still a hospital with all the smells and sounds, being stuck indoors, the loss of autonomy, and all coupled with a slight tinge of fear.

I’m a trained chaplain and I have some questions for me:

Chap: This morning, did the fear start before, during, or after your ride into the hospital?

Me: Part of it started long ago, but it really built up on the ride in.

Chap: Going back – hours, days, months, and years – when did you first feel this way?

Me: In Rhode Island, I think. I’m about six or seven, we are on the way to the hospital. My parents are scared and anxiously whispering in the front seat. I have a high temp and am in and out of hallucinations. Then I’m in the hospital with the noise and smells and nobody telling me anything. It was terrible with no anchors to ease or life.

Chap: And how is that similar/ different from today?

Me: The sounds are the same, but less sharp. The smells are similar, but less acrid. There is the same sense of being stuck somewhere I don’t want to be. And there are the same fears – fear of dying, fear of not knowing what might happen next, and the fear that this is the end.

Chap: What is the difference between the fear of dying and the fear of this being the end?

Me: The fear of dying is about the process being tough. The sounds of alarms going off, people in panic but mechanically holding it together. The bodily abuse as they try to hold my body to life. The fear that this is the end is about all the tasks I have yet to do ( more books, more seminars, more loving, more helping). So many things incomplete.

Chap: Which feels larger or more significant?

Me: The fear of dying feels more like a little kid thing, for me. Whereas the fear of leaving so many important things incomplete is with me quite often, especially when I’m in the hospital.

I’ve been working on moving some big things to a state of temporary stability, but my health keeps getting in the way. Frequently my frustration is way bigger than my fear. The two mix together into an anxiety about bringing things into semi-stability, and a fury at the disease for causing so many obstructions. This anxi-fury becomes especially acute when laying here in the hospital.

Every hour I lay here feels like a wasted hour. I’m here because it is necessary for my body and will aid me in the future. In a way, this down-time aids me to understand the anxi-fury and how it moves me, sometimes, in a not-so-good direction.

For example, rather than my taking this day as a healing day with meditation, prayers, and rest, I’ve pushed myself to write a blog and think deeply. These are good things, but today is supposed to be a healing day: a day for helping my body to a quieter and healthier state.

Living with the anxi-fury and healing my body is a difficult and dynamic balancing act.

The Muddle of the Future with the Present

Each of us has our own way of pulling ourself through hard times.

One of my main methods used to be: “There is an end to this. Things will be better.” This doesn’t really work now that I’ve been sick for over a decade and facing an illness that may kill me sooner than later.

Sometimes when I’m in bed, and the pain is bad, I’ll think about “How do I keep going?” Over the past ten years my answer has been to throw a hook into the future and use that as my lifeline.

For example, I find something that intensely interests me and then commit to it. My latest lifeline has been teaching a seminar on leadership this fall. I deeply believe that the way we do leadership in today’s world is really messed up. Leadership seems to be more about power and control than understanding and help. But many of the models I’ve seen, even of servant leadership, where the leader is supposed to be the servant, don’t really put understanding as primary. [You can’t truly lead people if you don’t understand them first.]

Lately I’ve started to see my energy wane, my pain increase substantially, and my future horizons seem much less sure. My old way of pulling myself through hard times, with an anchor into the future, isn’t working as well anymore.

This is not a crisis of faith. My faith in God is stronger than ever.

I am facing a crisis of not knowing. Not knowing how much longer my body can hold on. Not knowing what the true diagnosis of my ailment is, not knowing if I’m going to make it to the end of the year or the end of the decade. Not knowing if my next trip to the doctor’s will help me or hurt me.

This crisis of not knowing is not a terrible thing, but it is a very human thing.

Would knowing that I only have a few months to live be any easier? No. It would just be a different type of crisis. The one I am facing now still needs a lifeline to pull me through, it just needs a different one.

As I ponder this issue, I feel joy.

Figuring out how to pull myself through this moment and these times is a living problem. That is, it’s the recurrent issue all of us face in life. It’s just that now it’s presenting a different set of challenges.

For me this crisis boils down to two questions:

  1. How do I find joy?
  2. How do I grow ever closer to God?

For me, working on these two questions, in and of itself, brings me joy. At heart I’m a scientist and a Rabbi. As a scientist it is the search for answers, not the answers themselves that is the work. As a Rabbi, the work is to help others along their pass towards God. As a Rabbi, this blog is part of my work.