“How are you doing?”
It’s such a loaded question. I fear that if I gave the real answer, it would overwhelm the person who asked it and they would never ask again. I’d be surrounded by people who were all too afraid to ask how I was and I’d feel more alone than I already do.
Most people get the obligatory “Good, thanks, how are you?” Closer friends may get more of the story. Maybe not the full story, but some of the mechanical bits about how tired I am because I never really sleep. But we don’t talk about how sad I am, or how much I worry about the future or what would happen if something happened to me? I’m not sure that I even talk about that with my wife as much as I should.
It’s isolating, this not wanting to burden the people around me with the depth of these issues. Besides, I’m a man. It’s not in my nature to share. We internalize, and apply logic, and try to solve an impossible problem. We certainly don’t talk to other people about it. It’s a sign of weakness. Even if other people are going through exactly the same thing and talking about it would be the high tide that raised all ships, it’s better somehow to keep all the boats stuck in the mud.
I know it’s bullshit. At least, my head does. I think. But after so many years of figuring it out myself and seeing where that got me, it’s hard to let go of the idea that the things that got me here are the things that are going to get me to where I want to be. After all, I have a pretty good life. I’ve done some amazing things and traveled the world. I have a Master’s degree and a good job. These successes are the result of my figuring out how to survive in this messy, hard and sometimes cruel world.
Those tactics, though, serve only to protect me from the outside world. Their side effect is to isolate me from the people around me. My wife is going through the same things I am, and when she is looking to me for support and a connection, I’m nowhere to be found, lost in my own inner workings. She may push and poke to see if I am there and I respond by pulling further away and burrowing further into my hole. In the end, we push each other away when we should be moving towards each other, we are left angry and frustrated when we should be comforting and empathetic, and we find ourselves alone when we should be together.
“What got you here is not what will get you to where you want to be.” That is the type of insight you get when you open yourself up to guidance and support. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It shows my commitment to my family and my belief that the stronger and better connected the unit is, the better capable we will be to face what is in front of us together. It shows that I don’t have the tools to solve this impossible problem and that it’s important enough for me to develop a new set of skills. It’s setting a good example for my son so that he doesn’t follow the same path of pushing people away and trying to do it all himself. It breaks my heart to think about the difficulties that he is going to have in his life and the idea of him facing them alone.
What got me here is not what will get me to where I want to be. It’s time to work on what will get me there, together with my wife, my family, and my friends.
After three weeks of traveling, we headed back to Philadelphia. My son laid with his blankets against the window and we watched Colorado disappear in to the distance. The cars and the people were the first to fade, including the friends and family that we left two years ago when we moved east. The roads and the buildings were next to go as we climbed higher. Finally, the mountains were gone beyond the horizon as we straddled the line between the life that we had and the one we are trying to build in our new home.
It was good to be in Colorado. It was good for my son to be there, surrounded by people who love him. Surrounded by some of the only friends he has. Even though we’ve lived in Philadelphia for two years, for most of that time, he was sick and wasn’t able to make many strong bonds. Colorado, for him, still represents his universe, where everything is except for us. Philadelphia has only a smattering of significance, with a few friends but where most of his connections have come through the hospital or his condition.
It was good for me to be in Colorado, too. It was good to see my family happy. It was good for me to be able to talk face-to-face with friends that knows us from before and after the move and from before and after the seizures came. I move around a lot, and I don’t tend to keep people in my life that span the transition. It’s hard for me to maintain the connection, even though technology has in many ways made it easier. So those connections usually fade, just like the landscape passing by the airplane window.
But leaving Colorado was different. Those connections that we made there were stronger than I have ever had before. The life that we had there carries more weight than the life here that we have still yet to build. In many ways, Colorado still feels like home, but I force myself to respond with “Philadelphia” when I’m asked where home is, as if I’m trying to train my brain to actually believe it.
That makes it hard to come back. To leave a place where my son wore a constant smile. Where the faces of the people who looked at my son were those that love him and accept him and that weren’t only doctors or nurses or therapists. Where we were graced by a few seizure-free days. Where, when we lived there, anything was still possible.
I looked out the window from 35,000 feet. The landscape was a wash of browns and blues and greens. There wasn’t anything to identify where we were, and I felt the pull from both the east and the west. Between the future and the past. Between possibility and acceptance. These two places that were my homes…that are my homes…that mean completely different things.
As the plane hung in the air between those two places, I thought how hard it was to come home.
Especially when you don’t really know where home is.