The election is over and our nation is more divided and afraid than I have ever seen it. I’ve had family members chased and harassed by President Elect Trump supporters, the President Elect is attacking the play Hamilton for one of the more respectful advocacy moments I’ve ever seen, and the Raider’s are in first place over my Bronco’s (the world must be ending). Hope and optimism only seem to be found in the most diehard of the President Elect supporters as near as I can tell. If you don’t believe me, take a look into the chronic community; the legitimate fear of having Obamacare repealed on the President Elect’s first day is causing strain in the community and more importantly, friendships are being lost due to stupid politics. As near as I can tell, this is the first presidential election were whom one voted for has had direct and immediate consequences. There is no more waiting for the new President to be sworn in or for the new Congress to start after the winter break, the irony of having horrible choices this election is we are witnessing the ultimate power of voting like we have never had before in modern times.
After the year I’m having as a so-called patient advocate, I’ve been missing politics lately. Having had my feet in both I can tell you it is easier to tell who your friends are in politics than it is in advocacy. I know I’ve helped fellow patients as an advocate, but thanks to the surprise actions of other so-called advocates and conferences, I let my fight get stolen from me. If politics is a blood sport, then advocacy is a soap opera sport; only a few “it” advocates continually get the cool opportunities as determined by more often than not by a popularity contest. As others and my own self-esteem have told me repeatedly lately, this is just one loser’s opinion though. That said my hope for this post is to rise above politics and advocacy in the hopes of articulating what I’ve learned this year from my Buddhism studies. How many of you saw that coming? J
We (people) spend most of our lives trying to define life. Instagram and Hallmark types make millions off creating cards and meme’s trying to define life for us. The trouble with defining life, as I see it, is we continually let our hopes, dreams, ideas, religion, and spirituality, among other things, cloud our definition of it. Simply put, life is just a never ending bump (mogul) run with people and animals trying to create their own lines through it. (I might have watched skiing videos last night). If one of us dies, changes lines, or wrongfully becomes President for example, the bump run doesn’t change, it continues no matter what the changing circumstance is. Life, much like time, continues to play out despite our best efforts to manipulate, control, and harness it. If you have never seen a mogul run, please watch the following video before reading on:
Chances are, at least according to the numbers, everyone reading this has watched at least one bump competition during the Olympics. Most of you have probably commented on how on earth can the skiers walk after what looks like extreme knee punishment. You’ve probably cheered on your favorite country, or the skier you would most like to date, and then waited patiently until NBC started covering a different sport that you like better. However, did you know that there are multiple ways to ski a bump run? Did you realize skiing moguls is so much more than just pointing your skis downhill and turning as fast as you can? Please let me explain.
The traditional method of skiing bumps consists of imaging the path a tennis ball or creek would take through the moguls then following that path. As a long time ski instructor, this is how I would teach my students to pick a line through the bumps. This is the same technique most experts use too. Once you pick your line, then you want to imagine your knees as pistons going up and down while your head and chest remains stable and parallel with the run. In moguls, upper and lower body separation is the ultimate key to success.
Chances are that unless you are a fellow ski instructor, you didn’t know that it is technically possible to ski the top or flat part of a mogul from top to bottom. This technique is tough to teach and usually requires skiers to be intermediate to expert skiers with a willingness to attack a run. Skiing the tops of moguls does not require as much upper and lower body separation; it does require the skier to be looking 2 to 4 turns ahead in anticipation. As in life, there are always multiple ways to accomplish a goal no matter what the circumstances or how the bumps look. The trick is keeping ones eyes open for new lines or bumps.
Now, I can almost hear the “what the hell Alan”, skiing moguls and the definition of life are in no way related. Sure they are I would argue. If life is analogous to a bump run, then there are multiple lines or paths we can choose, techniques we can use, experiences we can have, etc. The bump run will be there regardless if we decide to run it or not so we might as well give it a shot. Human nature says we will fall, we will get hurt learning to ski the bumps (sounds like life to me), but when we finally learn how to link of few turns together there is no greater feeling in life; this goes for both beginners and seasoned experts. Also, without trying the run there is almost no possible way of finding love. Although physically comfortable, partners in life usually don’t just magically ring our doorbells while we hide inside. They come because they are attracted to our ability to run the bumps or life.
All right, if you didn’t like my bump analogy, let me try a different angle. As most of you know, while rock climbing in 2003 I fell off a cliff. No one wakes up one day or dreams about falling off a cliff, I’m also willing to bet even stuntmen dread that class in stuntman actor school. My fall required 10 screws and a plate to put my arm back together, 6 staples in my head, I was in a CAT scan for my spleen before they checked my neck due to the extreme bruising throughout my entire body, and I spent 3 days in the hospital before becoming stable enough to go home. In a matter of 2 seconds my life changed lines, that’s 2 random seconds in my entire life up until that point that caused massive change. Have you ever had 2 seconds change your life completely?
Now, I love a big breakfast like eggs, pancakes, bacon, fruit, sausage, and lots and lots of OJ. The trouble is I hate cooking so I usually don’t eat a cool breakfast unless I go out to eat or are staying at a hotel. Needless to say, that first morning after coming home from the hospital wasn’t going to be a pancake and egg type breakfast. I did have a box of Eggo Waffles in my refrigerator and a toaster in the cabinet nearest the floor and kitchen wall that morning.
At this point in my life I was about 30 hours out from surgery and my entire body was an ugly black and blue color from all the destroyed red and white blood cells. There was no way I could bend down to pick up the toaster from the lower cabinet, I would fall over and probably hurt my surgically repaired arm. However, life said it was breakfast time and my stomach thought an Eggo would taste good at that moment in time.
Most of us never consider the thought process and mechanical motions our body goes through in order to get a toaster out of a cabinet. It is almost as automatic as brushing our teeth or tying our shoes. Due to my life at that moment, I had to adjust. After taking a few seconds to access my situation, I dragged a floor mat from my living room into my kitchen using my feet. Then I used my right foot to hook the toaster in order to knock it on to the mat. At this point I had to take a little break due to weakness. Once I felt ready again, I dragged the mat back to my living room with my feet until I could sit down into my computer chair and use my right arm to pick up the toaster. This was a tiny but hugely powerful win if I do say so myself. Life was going to continue whether I had breakfast or not that morning. What changed was the line my life was on until basically the day before I fell. At that moment in time I began to realize 2 things; (1) my ability to problem solve throughout my life would have to change quickly, (2) that there was no such thing as a good or bad life, there is just life.
It is OK to be OK
Many in the chronic community love to post and remind the rest of us that it is ok to not be ok. This is only true only if one accepts that it is ok to be ok. It is all right to be classified as a chronic patient and have a great day. Every day does not have to be worse than the last one to keep ones chronic credentials. To many us forget that a chronic diagnosis does not change our life, life continues whether or not we have Ankylosing Spondylitis, Crohn’s Disease, or Cystic Fibrosis for example I’ve discovered. What changes is the line we choose in order to accomplish our dreams, hopes, and ideas. Yes, constant breathing treatments, medications, and chronic pain burden is a heavy burden to bear, especially for younger people like myself. However, the simple truth is until they burry me in the ground I have just as much chance as ending up President or in a Warren Miller Film skiing some epic bump run with my rock climbing fall and other health conditions as someone else that does not have the same path health wise as me. I have to mindful of the choices I make in my life, but that doesn’t change my life’s possibility algorithm.
Obviously no one wants to be sick. I don’t want to live with chronic pain or with so many rebuilt joints and mental parts. Sometimes there are huge, nasty rocks hidden just beneath a bump that can cause literal sparks, equipment damage, or complete destruction of ones body or mind depending on how you hit them. This does not mean life stops, it just changed at that particular moment. I still have the right to a high quality of life full of meaning and purpose with my particular conditions and circumstances, life doesn’t give a damn about my individual circumstances or rock-climbing fall, it still continues regardless of my wishes, dreams and fall.
If I’m going to be truly mindful of my current circumstance, only my ego thinks I’m good enough to ski in a Warren Miller film. Due to my life as a ski instructor, I can still hang with those that are in the movies, reality is there are not to many bump skiers with both hips replaced, a plate in their neck, and screws and anchors in their left shoulder that have to take low dose chemo in order to cope through life. What I am good at is providing friendship, understanding politics, creating policy, and messaging on platforms like Twitter. I’m constantly improving at photography, rheum based haiku’s, and producing quality content for my website. Although Trump supporters and my own self-esteem issues might believe I’m a loser, my Buddhism studies have taught me that I’m also an in progress work of art.
Since I am a constant work of art, I want people in my life that view themselves in a similar way. I need people in my life that realize that to be searching for the Noble Truth, for the right speech, for the right effort, for the right livelihood, for the right mindfulness are positive qualities in fellow humans. In this current environment, I will stray from this journey because I know my journey is nowhere near finished. Life is bigger than liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. It is only through this journey and discovery that answers to issues like the current spike in hate crimes, fear of Obamacare being repealed, can I improve my own self-esteem, and can I still look good in the bumps will answers arise. Sometimes though, I just want an Eggo Waffle…
P.S. If you are trying in need of something to work towards that’s pure, inspiring, and worthwhile, please check out curearthritis.org. As an Ambassador and patient, I can attest fully to the good work that they are doing in regards to community development, producing quality content, and raising money to further research! I don’t care if you are a patient, care taker, or doctor specializing in rheumatology, if your hearts pure and desire to help is strong please please take a look at this fantastic organization.