Today Is Not Yesterday

I was recently in Colorado and had a chance to catch up with friends that I have known for more than ten years. We knew each other before I was married and before any of us had children. They’re also one of the few people who knew us before epilepsy.

We reminisced about the days when our lives were simpler and had much less responsibility. Adulting is hard. The weight of trying to focus on a career but still spend time with the kids, friends, and each other gets to be too much. We’re all exhausted and come home and want to do nothing but go to bed early.

Ten years ago, we thought it would all be possible. Ten years ago, we thought nothing would change. Now, we’re tired and depressed because we couldn’t maintain our lives from the past. So it made sense that we would be nostalgic for the time before we felt like we were failing.

But we’re not failing. As much as we thought we could, we weren’t supposed to keep things the same. We couldn’t just sprinkle on new stuff like kids or a more senior job. Our lives evolve and become something else. Today is not yesterday. It’s something new.

Instead of trying to fit my new life into the old one, I’ve tried to figure out what my life should look like now. Instead of focusing on what was important to me then, I’m trying to focus on what is important to me now and build my life around that.

But it’s hard to let go of the past, especially when there are days when the present seems impossible. Every seizure, every outburst, every time my son can’t remember what just happened…I just want to hop into a time machine and go back to before any of this happened.

I think that is what my brain is doing every time it compares today to yesterday. It’s trying to bring me back to the past. But it’s wasting energy. It’s swimming against the current instead of letting the current carry me forward. Worse, the past that it is trying to bring me back to isn’t real…it’s a distorted version made better by years of distance.

It’s not always easy to focus on the present. The present is hard. The present is real. But instead of using my energy to try to make my life what it was, I should be using it to make my life the best that it can be now. Because the present is where my life is. The present is where my family is. The present is where I am needed. The present is where I am supposed to be.

Nostalgia is a necessary thing, I believe, and a way for all of us to find peace in that which we have accomplished, or even failed to accomplish. At the same time, if nostalgia precipitates actions to return to that fabled, rosy-painted time, particularly in one who believes his life to be a failure, then it is an empty thing, doomed to produce nothing but frustration and an even greater sense of failure. ~R.A. Salvatore

The Sleepover

A few weeks ago, my wife and I spent our first night away together since my son was born. Individually, we’ve been away. I’ve gone on work trips, and my wife has gone to visit family. But we’ve never both been gone for the night and let someone else watch our son.

In some ways, it wasn’t practical. We don’t have family that lives near us, so leaving him at grandma’s house wasn’t an option. But there is also the reality that our son has seizures almost every night. Spending the night isn’t just about giving him a place to sleep. It’s an active task that involves monitoring him and responding to seizures.

Our son is never alone. Even sleeping in his bed, we have a camera pointing at him that I watch all night long. When he is in his room playing, we keep a cautious ear listening to what is going on. He receives individual attention at school, and his nanny is substituting for us when we aren’t there.

That level of involvement is not something that transfers well to someone unaccustomed to that level of care. It’s not something that lends itself to people lining up to take on the responsibility. It’s our every day, but it’s not theirs. I can imagine the conversation with the parents would go something like this:

As you know, our son has epilepsy. And it’s very likely that he’s going to have a seizure really early in the morning. Probably more than one. The seizures are likely going to wake and frighten your child. And you’ll need to help my son reorient to the world as he comes out of it and make sure he doesn’t fall out of the bed or try to walk around and fall down your stairs.

[silence]

If the seizure lasts too long, his rescue medicine is in his overnight bag. The good news is that we haven’t had to use it in a while. The bad news is the delivery mechanism.

[silence]

Also, you’ll need to make sure he doesn’t eat or drink anything we don’t send with him. He’s on a medical diet and if he eats anything else he could start having seizures.

[silence]

Oh, and don’t let him stay up too late. The more tired he is, the more likely his is to have seizures.

[silence]

His medicine is also in his bag. Make sure he takes all of his pills because if he misses any…you guessed it, more seizures.

[silence]

Other than that and, I guess, his depression and behavioral side effects of his medicine, I think you’re all set. Ok, goodnight!

[overwhelming silence]

I couldn’t burden someone with that responsibility because nothing could prepare them in one night for what has taken us years to adapt to. But I would also spend the night worrying and wondering. It wouldn’t have been a good night for anyone involved.

I really struggle with the idea that no one else can or will want to take care of our son. But at the same time, I find reasons why no one else should. They don’t know my son. We can’t prepare them for what it is like. What if something happened?

In the end, our nanny provided the perfect opportunity. She has been working with our son for over a year. She’s seen his seizures during his nap, and she’s helped him manage his behavior and emotions. We trust her to keep him safe. When she agreed to an overnight stay, it felt right.

Even though it was only one night, it opened my eyes to a new possibility. I’m not going to say that I still didn’t worry or wonder. But coming from a place where I didn’t think it would be possible at all, that first night was huge. It may not have addressed all my fears about the future, but it was a good first step.

 

The Art Of Disappearing

I’ve perfected my ability to disappear. Only, it’s not a magic trick. It’s the way I have trained myself over the years to deal with difficult situations.

I developed this ability at a young age. For most of my childhood, I navigated the world alone. I figured things out by myself. Sometimes, I figured out really hard things and I was rewarded with praise that reinforced my growing belief that this was the way to operate in the world.

I wasn’t quite a loner. I had friends, but I found comfort in being alone. Friends were for making mischief and playing sports. But when it came to solving problems, I worked alone, whether the problem was a difficult project or the increasingly complex emotions that come with growing up. I solved those, too, internally, in my way, and away from everyone else.

Again, I was rewarded with harder projects and better opportunities. At the time, I saw my detachment from other people as an asset because it made it easier to shut them out when I faced a problem. But as the matters of the heart got bigger and more complicated, I started to put those matters on a shelf and not deal with them at all. I would find distractions or try to solve other people’s problems so that I didn’t need to face my own. Even then I was rewarded by better opportunities and more people coming to me for help, feeding my ego if not my soul.

But in the last few years, it became clear that what got me here was not what was going to get me there. Where I wanted to be. Who I wanted to be.

I had this moment of clarity after taking a leadership class that included a behavioral assessment. When the results showed that I was a thinker, I beamed with pride. It described me perfectly, solving hard problems, concentrating on my thoughts. But then the instructor talked about how thinkers are perceived by the people around them and I felt a wave of reality crash into me.

The thing about disappearing is that it leaves the people around me alone. It leaves them wondering where I am. It leaves them wondering if they are important to me. It leaves them disconnected in times when being together…being connected…is what is most important.

Clips from my memories started playing in my head. My wife and my friends told me in their own way that they felt alone or wondered whether they were important to me. Bosses wondered if I cared about the project or the job. And my response to these big questions was to disappear so that I could think and process. I thought about how I would feel if someone did that to me and it made me sad. I thought my wife as we watched our son get poked and prodded and seize and as we listened to doctors tell us more bad news. I thought about how when she turned to me for comfort or connection how I wouldn’t be there because I would be off trying to deal with it by myself. I felt sick.

What got you here won’t get you there. ~Marshall Goldsmith

It’s not easy to face the realization that such a core part of who I was had such a negative impact on the people around me. It’s even harder to change more than forty years of programming. But there is no question in my mind that it needs to be done.

Even with the small progress that I have made, I can see changes in my relationships. I may not be able to stop myself from disappearing, but I feel it happening so I tell the people around me so that they know I am still there. I’m more aware when I am in that place and it’s less comfortable than it was, so I don’t stay there as long. I’m getting braver and facing challenges instead of avoiding them. Most importantly, I’m starting not to do it alone. Because no one can. And no one should.