Runnin’ by David Dallas invigorates my ear lobes; a horizon of open road immersed in bush is in my view as my calves’ pound tarseal roads. My RunKeeper activity interrupts the tracks motion, time 33 minutes, distance 6.8 kilometres, average pace 4.54 minutes per kilometre. A smirk of achievement overcomes me, in this moment I’m in control, out here on this open road I’m winning, I’m strong and I’m a man with the stamina to punch another 4 kilometres of open road and beat another personal running best. I reach the summit of a hill peak and the Melbourne cityscape engulfs my vision, I capture an Instagram photographic souvenir. From one photo post, three of my social networks will see the view in front of me right now. Some may regret not completing a run themselves this morning, others may yearn to travel somewhere beyond their current destination and some may just see it as another post of social spam clogging up their newsfeed. Yet what they won’t see is the moments after the flash, the loud scream I shout at the infinite abyss in front of me that is invisible to the world but two metres ahead of every stride I take. It’s not easy projecting an image of wellness to the world, being Bruce Whane by day and the Dark Knight behind closed doors as you organise your daily medication cocktail, drift between hospital corridors and breakdown in tears under the shelter of a shower head. But accepting a life changing illness does fuel you with the drive to make every today more successful tomorrow, because achieving beyond the lows becomes an addiction that we are motivated to do for as long as we are here on this earth.
When we get diagnosed with a life changing illness, we are no longer the epitome of strength that we once were. Men handle illness differently that woman, we may have been represented as the stronger sex throughout history, but in all honesty females have a stronger sense of acceptance when it comes to accepting illness. They will share their diagnosis, they will process it faster and they won’t hide it from view in their own internal Gotham like we do. As children we relate to Batman more than any other superhero and as men this affiliation with the Dark Knight only grows. This is because he’s human by day with an alter ego by night, his alter ego is flawed and it features a darkness that he continues to battle everyday. Getting diagnosed with a life changing medical illness whether it’s cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, a sexually transmitted disease or renal failure can often feel like our own personal arch nemesis and our journey towards battling this villain is one that many of us choose to complete alone, to avoid burdening those that we love with the strains of our diagnosis.
Whether you’ve overcome a life changing illness and came out on the other end, whether you have just been diagnosed with one or you have accepted and embraced your medical diagnosis as a part of your being, but not a limitation of your existence. How you accepted, overcame or connected with what your illness means to your daily life is unique to you and you alone. Yet we all undergo, slur and endure a similar set of sonnets before coming full circle in accepting our illness and living beyond this diagnosis.
Sonnet # 1: “You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house? You May ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?” – Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
Sometimes our biggest fear isn’t necessarily the illness itself but our battle with our perception of who we were before the diagnosis became a part of our life, before the medication, before the blood tests, before the lifestyle adjustments, before our health was a daily concern of our being. We will think to ourselves I was stronger before this, I could do more before this and waking up feeling this bad after a night out didn’t happen when I was well. We will be walking to get takeaways and pass a chic modern furniture store window display and wonder if we will live long enough to set that scene with a partner and family that we love. A scene will unfold before our eyes on a train of a father and son experiencing their first train ride together and our gut will sink and churn as we internalise over the possibility of this experience not being a reality for ourselves a few years down the track. Everything and anything that once was meaningless before being diagnosed and was infinitely possible before our illness, becomes marinated with the thoughts of will I or won’t I and where does possibility lie beyond this disease? While every possible fear that you experience, every limitation you uncover post diagnosis is valid and needs to be processed for you to move forward. Eventually you will realise that living and living life to the fullest and completing what you want to complete in this lifetime, far out weighs the limitations of this illnesses prognosis.
Sonnet #2: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel, I focus on the pain the only thing that’s real” – Johnny Cash, Hurt
When we get told life-changing news, when the life we once lived must change and the fear of the unknown, the realities of this diagnosis sink in, we fuck ourselves up literally. Whisky hues, cocaine highs, never ending blunts and living life on the verge as destructively as we possibly can to feel alive, feel invincible and to have more power over our destiny than this illness, is essential. No man is an island, but no disease is accepted with assured consciousness either, it’s fought and numbed with anything we can find to forget that it’s going to change our lives forever. Masking your illness and wearing a mask of moderately destructive behavior is fine initially and in all honesty it’s a natural process that no matter how bad it may become needs to be experienced for you to move forward in your acceptance of your new found health ailments. But ultimately drinking to excess, indulging recklessly in any substance that you can get your hands on, so that you can feel invincible against your illness and remove the constant thoughts about this prognosis from your mind, will leave you sober in the realities of your diagnosis post every escape. Once you realise that no drug, no escape or no act of fearlessness is going to alleviate this diagnosis from your life permanently and that the only person you’re hurting is yourself, it will hurt. You’ll become more and more attuned to every reality of the now and it will be a constant continuum of feeling elated and confident in overcoming this illness and then feeling defeated by your illness again and again. Yet whether you realise it in those moments when your highs and lows seem more manic than a Paula Abdul interview, by surviving every low and strengthening yourself in every high that comes from your illness, you are in fact accepting it so that it becomes less and less of a burden of your being.
Sonnet #3: There’s a limit to your love like a waterfall in slow motion, like a map with no ocean there’s a limit to your love – James Blake, Limit To Your Love.
When it comes to love and being diagnosed with an unexpected illness all that once was becomes a series of blurred lines. Whether you’re in a committed relationship, whether you’re single, whether you have a wealth of friends and whether you’re incredibly close with your family, post diagnosis your relationships are going to change. This is not because peoples perception of you changes, in fact all they want to do is help you and get you through this, so that you can live the life you deserve with this illness just being a minor ink splash on the blue print that is you. These relationships change because you create distance, you choose not to disclose every detail about your health and you assume that a life without burdening others who love you with your ailments, is the right decision for everyone. If you’re single you’ll remember waking up next to someone, someone you once loved and fear that you may never wake up everyday with someone you love and in their embrace again, because like it or not once they know that you may not be around forever you’re limiting their perception of love and the possibility of you both working as a couple. So instead you’ll choose to sabotage every potential relationship and boot possible lovers out of your bed when things begin to get to frequently intimate, out of fear of burdening them with your uncertain health. The same can be said for your friends and family, they have their own problems and you deflecting every health concern you overcome in your journey towards wellness or living post diagnosis will burden them too and change the dynamic of your bond, so you choose to survive as a lone wolf even though all of these people would be at your side every step of the way if only you had the balls to ask them. It’s true everything is different now you are not who you once were and your life will never be exactly how it once was, but part of accepting an illness is knowing that your illness is only a burden on you and you alone. Your friends, your partner and your family love you for you and want you to be in their lives for as long as possible, so if you need too, talk to them. If you need them to distract you from your health concerns or if you need them to cook for you for a night, all you have to do is ask. After all even Batman had Alfred and Robin by his side in times of crisis’.
Sonnet #4: “Well I met you at the blood bank we were looking at the bags, wondering if any of the colours matched any of the names we knew on the tags” – Bon Iver, Blood Bank
No matter our diagnosis terminal or temporary, we all battle a war against our treatment everyday. We loathe the medication and the fact that we have to take it and we hate the side effects too. But then we also acquire a strange affiliation for the place where we began to seek treatment or continue to seek treatment for our illness, no matter how frequent or infrequent our visits to this place become. In those hospital wards we feel a strange sort of comfort. Amongst those doctors, nurses and specialists we feel at home. Sometimes we’ll even find ourselves going to the park opposite that hospital when our diagnosis gets the better of us and we need comfort to ease the thoughts that are overcoming us. Instead of sharing them with those that love us. We’ll just sit there watching the motions of that hospital unfold, we’ll see people like us surrounding it. This sterile building filled with happiness, sorrow and fear strangely comforts us more than the company of friends, because in this space no judgement is cast upon us, in this place us talking freely about every detail of our illness is not burdening anybody else and in these walls we are safe. We are also fortunate to be living in the information age, one where support groups for every diagnosis possible exist and are accessible via a keyboard or mobile phone. These networks make us feel safe, they allow us to share freely about living with our diagnosis and from our peers within these spaces we find support from individuals scattered around the globe. People who are living with our diagnosis and that we can share our feelings with, without having to expose our suffering to our immediate circles. Treatment can come in many forms depending on the individual, medicine can be the perfect sling for some, talking with others is the ideal remedy for some too and sometimes a space is all we need to alleviate the pain of our diagnosis and every health related obstacle we face. Yet the most important thing to remember is that once we find the treatments that work for our physical, mental and emotional well being with regards to our diagnosis, we must keep using them to help both ourselves and others in a similar situations to us, whether they are on our latitude or continents away.
Sonnet #5: “Oh it’s such a perfect day I’m glad I spent it with you, such a perfect day you just keep me hanging on” – Lou Reid, Perfect Day
There will be times when everybody’s problems seem more menial and trivial. Hearing friends stressing about weddings, bitching about relationships, and fearing they will remain single forever, will make you want to scream “Fuck try just trying to keep alive”. They’ll be other times when you dwell on what you can’t eat, what you can’t enjoy and when you feel that you’re a shell of your former self due to your health. But then suddenly a shift just happens, you begin to appreciate your illness, you begin to see that the lifestyle changes you’ve had to make due to it have actually improved your overall well being and outlook. Everyday somehow just becomes a perfect day, well maybe not everyday but you start to see the glimmers of perfection, the beauty in life that comes in fleeting moments with more resonance. You appreciate people, places, sensations and experiences more and more because you’re just happy to be experiencing them and ecstatic to not be ailed by your health in these moments. Those of us who are unwell, those of us who have to accept an illness as part of our daily life become like a Lester Burnham from American Beauty type of antihero, objectively looking at the world with a detached acceptance of the beauty in everyday and a gratitude to be fortunate enough to get to appreciate this for a lot longer than others. This is not to say that bad days don’t resurface, that our diagnosis won’t have a continued period of troughs and lows, but from medical misfortune we do find a greater awareness for who we are, where we want to get to in this lifetime and who we want to be by our side for as long is humanly possibly.
It’s a lonely place living with an illness, you don’t want to burden others but it is a burden that we have to live with and will live with for the rest of our lives. It becomes manageable but we will always look at those with trivial problems and a healthier existence than us, with a glare of cynicism, because they really don’t know how lucky they are. Yet eventually you’ll also smile, a smile as bright as the 5-year-old San Francisco Leukaemia sufferer did the day he became Batkid for twenty-four hours and became a superhero of his own. This smile comes from the realisation that you actually are living a healthier life than you once did pre-diagnosis, it comes from your newfound drive to live and achieve more and make every ambition you have possible, so that if your life is shorter than you expected you will have lived a life that fulfilled your dreams and yours alone.
If all we breathe is our illness, if all we feel is our resentment for our diagnosis, if the limitations that have stemmed from it outweigh the possibilities that may abound us and if the burden that our illness has placed on our existence is something that we dwell on, then we are not really living. After all living scared is wasting time, but fearless inspiration that will leave you fulfilled once it’s gone.
Written by Samuel Elliot Snowden
I am a 5th year MoBro and continue to participate in Movember to ensure that more brothers, fathers, grandfathers and males in Australasia voice their health concerns and support each other by talking more about their health, particularly their mental health and well being.
To show your support for Men’s health please visit my MoSpace via the link below!
About samuelelliotsnowdenDigital creative by day, frolicker of Fitzroy and crafter of narratives in 12 point-courier fonts by night, fond of quirky adventures with strangers & blogging.
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