Health Crises and Coping

August 22, 2016

There is no right way to deal with the various crises life throws our way, so we try to make sense of them and love through it and live, despite the inevitability of our existence.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” It seems for anyone I know who is going through or recovering from any kind of health crisis, including families and support systems, everything hurts. It seems that even when there can be a clear recognition of joy, gratitude or peaceful moments, the fact of the matter is that some things just hurt. It is easy to rush to the side of those of us who are hurting with attempts to cheer us on or patch the cracks that have become visible in our foundations. It is an inclination I witness around me and, however useless it may appear in my own recovery processes, it is an inclination that is hard for me to resist. In retrospect though, I couldn’t muster gratitude for it at the time, I was thankful for all the love. Regardless of love and support, the issue at the core of us remains: the frailty of our lives, the fragility of all that we hold dear and that the contingency of our everyday is not something that can be fixed, patched or repaired — nor should it. The mortality of the living can only be reckoned within life; it cannot be solved. So while we look for cures for our diseases and ailments, while we search for and advocate for ways to improve our quality of life, there is only one fate that will befall us all. This is not to say we shouldn’t do those things – quality and fullness in life are some of my greatest passions for myself and others.

Our collective fate seems grim, I know. Or perhaps peaceful? It’s hard to contend with ideas that bring us into the existential realm of who we are and who we are meant to be. It is tougher to watch others contend with those unanswerable questions and sit in helpless wonder of how to cure the things medicine rarely attends to, like how to cure our hearts, mend spaces of suffering and fully present spaces for negative feelings to exist, be felt and be grieved. If we do not grieve the nature of our very existence, there is no point at which we can participate in the present of it, especially during crisis, when we are forced, without our consent, to face the finality of existence head-on. Even those crises we survive will break our hearts and make us look sharply at the lives we’ve led with questions as to what remains for us and what legacy we will leave behind.

Last year, I spent the majority of the first six months of the year firmly cemented to hospital rooms, constantly and consistently feeling frail, weak and powerless. I had distrust for all those who were working to save me because their best ideas didn’t work. I was frustrated and sad. I had a dear friend tell me then, and still remind me now, that we can place expectations on our lives, circumstances and people, but there is no guarantee. If we consistently expect the road to rise to meet us, we may find in disappointment that it never does. If we expect what we cannot know and what we cannot guarantee, we will invariably be disappointed at the result. Being present, however, is a calling that we cannot respond to in our grief and suffering, and perhaps that is okay. Maybe it’s fine to not have any answers, or be able to fix things and have the need to wallow or cry. The range of human emotions and complexity do not make us weak, they make us human.

In my professional life, I am a scholar that studies, quite fortuitously, the way trauma and media interact. I try to understand how all these tools we use to speak to one another and share our narratives help or harm us. I try to understand why a crisis or a life trauma either brings us starkly in front of our existence and all those in it, naked and vulnerable, or alternatively, causes us to shrink away. The magnitude of life is responded to differently by different people at different times. There is no answer. There is no resolution, just hope, joy, fear, love, faith and a host of other ways to feel in our daily lives. Our yearning for a different life is just that — yearning. We can yearn, yet our present will be our present, our past cannot come with us and our future is untold. You’d think, given the fact that every human story ends in roughly the same way, that the uncertainty of how we get there would be disquieting. In fact, for me, given the years of hospitals, surgeries, cuts and scrapes, and of being on the other side in waiting rooms and at bedsides, the unknown is pregnant with opportunity, hope, sunny days and love to be given. The unknown is not the source of fear; it is a space of opportunity. We don’t know how long this pain will last, and in not knowing, we don’t know that it will get worse. We cannot say that it won’t get better. And if it did get better, and the clouds broke, and joy snuck its way back into every day as the wreckage from the crisis falls away, wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

Until then, I’ll be here, “writing hard and clear about what hurts,” and in that way maybe we can hurt together. Maybe we can get stuck in the mud together, and when it’s time, we can dig one another out.


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