Empty Calories (Or how I learned to stop feeling sorry for myself and get to gettin’)

Okay, so the title of this post is deceptive. Not the “Empty Calories” part of the title. That part is straight forward, or as straight forward as two words with absolutely no context can be. I mean the “(Or how I learned to stop feeling sorry for myself and get to getting’) part. Because you see, I haven’t learned how to stop feeling sorry for myself except for my tried-and-true instinct to write it out when I am feeling sorry for myself. And boy have I.

Beginning the first week and June, I started a new job as a Direct Support Professional in a residential home for developmentally disabled adults. It wasn’t too much of a shift since I have been working with a woman with cerebral palsy for almost 9 months now. We were going at 5 months and, wouldn’t you know, the whole frickin’ world was paralyzed as COVID-19 swept across the world and hit the United States with a bitch slap across the face.

I apologize if the term “bitch slap” is any kind of trigger to you, dear reader. But really, it’s the only term I’ve found that really applies to the way my beloved country has phoned in its response to the novel coronavirus that leads to the condition COVID-19, a respiratory affliction that is claiming lives all over the world. One rumor that’s going around is that COVID-19 was actually a virus created in a Chinese lab and therefore, since it is not a naturally occurring phenomena, effects every person who contracts it differently.

And I mean, really differently. It’s a novel virus, which means humanity has never dealt with it before. In some cases, people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, which is a great multi-syllabic word that means those people test positive for the virus without ever manifesting a single symptom.

That sounds great, right? I mean, it is great, because that means you can get this disease and you literally never show a sign that you had it.

Sadly, it seems to have a nasty habit of infecting people who show really troublesome signs of catching the disease. Like death.

I’m gonna repeat that if only for the fact that in 5 years, people including myself will read that and think “If this is a disease that causes death in some people, I can’t believe that some people get it and it doesn’t slow them down a bit.” Neither can we.

I’m gonna spare you, dear reader, of going into the political aspects of it. Now, you may say, “Andy, how can a deadly virus have a political aspect to it. Sickness is sickness and death is death and the idea that you could politicize those facts is unthinkable at best and borderline pathological at worst.”

Welcome to the United States of America, 2020 version.

The derelict, scum-bottom, delusional, narcissistic, calloused, vindictive self-absorbed bottom feeder that is supposed to be leading my beloved country out of this is so inept at his job as President of the United States of America that the articles of the 25th Amendment, the part of the Constitution that provides for the removal from office a president who exhibits no leadership skills and thus endangers the lives of his people, have been bandied about a lot lately.

Not that it will come to anything. See, the problem is that there are a LOT of my fellow Americans who also think having a vindictive, scum bottom, self-absorbed bottom feeder running the show is hunky doory and in fact would follow this guy into Hell if he told them they serve a great Baked Alaska Flambe.

I know, I don’t get it either.

Anyway, I, like so many of my countrymen, have been paralyzed with fear for months that COVID-19 would take one of my loved ones. So I’ve been doing the things that many, many cautious, sensible American’s have done. I wear a mask whenever I’m going to be in close proximity to other people in order to protect them and myself. I have been religiously washing my hands and I have been avoiding public spaces.

Not that everyone is doing to these things. I guess only the people who actually care about not getting other people sick have been doing it. There’s a LOT of my countrymen who think that these measures are useless and overly cautious. They don’t look at the hospitals who have run or are running out of beds for sick people with COVID-19 and now must shove the bodies in mobile refrigerators as much of a problem. They don’t really subscribe to the thinking that we’re all in this together and if wearing a mask and washing hands and staying away from public spaces is going to bring the collective stress-level of the American people down to a manageable level then we should definitely heed the advice of medical professionals like, say, the preeminent expert on infectious diseases that the President of the United States trusted until the good doctor started telling the President of the United States bad news. Those people almost invariably support the Buffoon-in-Chief and are members of the cult of personality that surrounds him.

Honestly, I thought we put all this nonsense behind us with W. I was oh so wrong.

Now that I have irked, alienated and/or pissed off all those readers, I’ll ease off. They’re not reading anymore. Especially the President of the United States of America because, in the event he even got wind of this blog post, he can’t read so I’m not worried about the Secret Service raiding my apartment in the middle of the night.

I had a pretty grim couple of days recently. This is the Facebook post I published a few days ago:

15 years and a one month ago was my traumatic brain injury and instead of feeling any sense of triumph for overcoming everything life has thrown at me in those 15 years (and I have, because, well, I’m here to write this,) I feel despair.I posted a meme before about how depression and anxiety has come to color my world. Really, they’ve been here all along, I just didn’t have the presence of mind to recognize them for what they were and are. I tried making a gratitude list to buck my spirits up but it just made me feel worse.

Worse because I turn 45 in December and I have nothing to show for it except snatching my life from the greedy hands of bacterial meningitis. Everybody said I was a miracle and I guess, in a medical sense, I am. But that does nothing to make me feel better because I just can’t shake this feeling of uselessness. Of despair. Of knowing all the things that 28 year old kid was gonna do and the places I would go and the things I would accomplish.

I haven’t accomplished anything. I haven’t written the book about my ordeal that was going to be the immense catharsis I hoped for. My brain is too damaged to remember if I have clean gym shorts at home, much less remember the intricacies of any job that pays better than the lower middle class income I live on.

I never had kids and I wanted kids. Before 3 women kicked me to the curb for getting sick and being too self-involved and being a raging alcoholic. I sobered up 8 years ago, but the acute pain of all the years and money and potential that the sickness and alcoholism stole from me still sticks in my head and heart and spirit and I feel that much more worthless. When I sobered up, I had dreams of traveling to the places I’ve always wanted to see. 8 years later, some days I have difficulty seeing the point in leaving my apartment.

Honestly, where my head and heart are right now, I have a very difficult time pulling myself up when I am this far down. I have a difficult time seeing a point to my life. I have a difficult time seeing how I could ever bring another person or people any joy and the pandemic has only made things darker, bleaker, sadder. I know that I won’t feel this way tomorrow (at least, I dearly hope I don’t.) But honestly, sometimes the thread that connects me to sanity and optimism just seems too frayed to hold much longer. I know it will, but it’s tough to see that when the demons come.

Some days are just worse than others I guess. This is one of the bad ones.

I don’t have some uplifting moral or life lesson to impart. I still have dreams of finishing the memoir of my life and the lessons I’ve learned, but an hour in my skin and I’m wondering if I have the wherewithal to clean my kitchen, let alone write a book or a blog that anyone would or should care about in the least.

And I’m wondering if there is even a point in doing so. Some days, I just feel like a complete disappointment to my family and friends. And too myself.
Some days are just darker than others. This is one of them.
Thanks for listening.

Since then, I have received concern and support from many people. Family, friends, even total strangers I know only as Facebook friends flooded the comments with encouraging words. I guess the most pronounced sentiment in many people’s comments were compliments on my ability to write still. 15 years post-TBI and these people have told me on this and other posts that they enjoy my writing and think I’m pretty good. One comment, though, honed in on the writing and I’ll share it because it came from a fellow traumatic brain injury survivor whom I met a couple years ago and his comment hit me where I live:

Andy, you had a path all planned out and illness redirected you. In the great plan of life your original path wasn’t going to affect too many people, in a good way or a bad way. However, you were redirected to a different path, one which has the potential to touch millions more than your original path. And you have the potential to bring others hope and healing. You are having a bad day comparing what might have been to what is. When you level out again, start writing. Write. Just write. Some might be good, and some might not be so good. You are eloquent and you have a powerful gift of words. Mourn on the bad days and write on the good days. You were brought to this time and this place to make a difference and you have the gift and experience to do so. There are millions awaiting your advice, your humor, your insight, your wisdom of the journey. Write every day. Edit twice a month. Find the gold in your words, find the pearls of wisdom that you possess and share it with those wandering the path, looking for some direction and comfort. Write for the parents sitting in the ICU at 2:00 a.m. Write for those who need hope. Write for those who need comfort. And mostly, write for yourself. You need the comfort of your words as well. This is how you are going to change the world. This is how you are going to succeed. Let the knowledge flow. We can all see it in you. Know that we see the successful you, even when you don’t see it in yourself.

It was that part at the end that starts “Write for the parents sitting in the ICU at 2 AM” that really got my attention. 15 year ago, my family had to sit by my bed in the ICU, afraid of the unspeakable. Afraid they were going to lose their son/brother/friend. And even that sentiment, although profound and moving, isn’t what, ahem, bitch-slapped me.

This is how you are going to change the world.

That was it. No discussion. No debate. He nailed it with that one sentence.

So it’s time to get to gettin’. Empty Calories is the working title of my first book. I don’t know when I will complete it. But I’m going to complete it. I have been given the expectations and, frankly, demands of the people who are waiting.

I don’t know if I’m gonna disappoint but I have enough evidence that a memoir of a man’s endurance of a traumatic brain injury and alcoholism and the lessons gleaned will crack at last a few bindings.

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