Matt With MS

I am uninspiring, fairly lazy, living in denial, and think I'm having the time of my life 90% of the time. Let's change that.

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“What would you say to yourself 3 years ago?”

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I feel that I’ve written in detail of the biggest struggles I’ve had since diagnosis with MS: depression, anxiety, and coming to grips with the longevity of the disease, and the meaning of life in entirety.   I also feel that these struggles may be more specific to myself in their enormity and significance.

Recently I’ve been inspired by my few days in Mexico City, where I’ve walked into a young, professional, and thriving Mexican culture; that seemingly takes from it’s thousands of years of heritage to develop a level of pride, exuberance, and blunt acknowledgment of reality to develop it’s attitude.

With this in mind, I got to thinking about an interview I did with Healthline, two days before I left on this trip.   In it, they asked what I would say to someone just diagnosed. I, being me, tried to say something simple, but then got caught in a long diatribe, and struck some good points amongst a bunch of rubbish.

“MS isn’t a piece of you, or a part of who you are, it’s something that you will have to confront and deal with, but it’s not something that will define you. I’ve had the best three years of my life since my diagnosis.” Then I stumbled into my own self-realization/justification for the second part of that sentence; about how I struggled hard for a bit but now know myself better than ever. The interviewer asked, “How has your life gotten better?”

I think I did a fairly decent job paraphrasing that day, but I wanted to take the time, mostly for myself to do that now.

In three years since I was diagnosed, I moved from the comfort of all that I know and set out West to San Francisco and the Bay Area.   In those three years, I’ve kept multiple friends from my past, while making new friends in new situations. I’ve learned more about what I truly believe about myself and the world around me, by being confronted with many people with differing beliefs and engaging on conversation and dialogue.   I’ve learned more about how I feel about my hometown and childhood, by learning about people with much different backgrounds, and by moving away from all of the people I knew before.

While the move to SF is an easy thing to point to, that simply, doesn’t explain the best things about the last three years.   The fact that I made the move, which for some of you will sound simple, almost like a “no-brainer” decision, and for others sounds like such a big risk, is a huge factor. Being diagnosed seems to have opened up a thirst for living life, that I didn’t have before. This move was a part of that.

Professionally, I’ve grown and learned to be more of a leader. I’ve been a part of something special, at RockIT Recruiting, which I will also have to add; I got very lucky to be a part of. Through the people here, I’ve learned to push myself, and that I’m not “that” smart, while gaining confidence and a more accurate view of my own intellect.   I’ve gotten lucky to meet a ton of people I consider my close friends, in the offices that we’ve inhabited.   Few have moved to new things, and are still in touch, but, in another lucky event, most are still working by my side 3 years in.

I’ve learned a bit more about myself in dating.   “How do I date girls if they know I have MS?” was the first thing in my head when I left my one, long term, and hectic, relationship with the only person I ever loved 3 years ago.   In the years since, I’ve dated a lot of women in many different circumstances, and I started off not talking about MS, ever, then decided I was going to be open with it.

I can’t point to one person who walked away from me because of it, and I can only say that it changed relationships that I’ve been in. It’s made me confront my own health a bit, as I realize that MS isn’t too scary for women I will date, unless I’m being particularly unhealthy.   The things I put up with in relationships have changed, and the things I look for and think about for the future are constantly being updated.

While I’m not where I’d want to be in this regard, I can take a lot of solace that in the last few years I’ve hung out with, hooked up with, and dated a few people that are excellent, and were positive influences on my life.   MS didn’t make this easier, but it sure as hell didn’t take it away.

I’ve traveled more than I can comment on. I did a lot of travel in the US, which I feel is under rated. The United States is huge, and starting with my 3 week road trip from Lambertville, NJ to San Francisco, CA, I learned I wanted to see more of it. Big Sur, Tahoe, Seattle, New Mexico and Arizona, San Diego, Newport and Laguna Beach, Denver and Steamboat, Sonoma and Napa, New Orleans and my possible favorite, Austin are all places that I’ve fallen in love with for sometimes surprising, sometimes not, reasons.   The country I live in is huge, and there are a lot of places that I just don’t feel happy in. But, all over, there are places to love, and places where I didn’t think about before I saw them.

I’ve gotten the chance to explore outside of the United States, and awaken a hunger for more. I fell in love with Barcelona at first sight, and then stumbled into Lisbon, missing Barca until I saw the wonders of Lisboa, Cascais, and Sintra.   I had more than a few pints with some wonderful people in Dublin, and thoroughly enjoyed the Irish culture. I am, right now, reevaluating everything I would have ever thought of Mexico City, as I sit in a wonderful flat in El Condesa, and feel that same fire I did in Barcelona. This city and the wonders I’ve seen here, have been amazing, and it makes me feel alive.

I used to strictly travel to beach towns, as I love warm weather, and I love the ocean. I love the coastal views, and I love the sun. But, now I’m realizing that there are many other things to explore, and I want to see Central and South America, and more of Europe, followed closely by my first glimpses into Asia, Australia, and Africa.

I haven’t totally gotten a grasp on my health and my internal feelings towards myself, but I’ve made strides forward and steps back in this regard more so than I ever have.   I’ve learned more about healthy eating and how it makes you feel to really cut all of the toxins out of your life. I’ve learned more about falling into despair and adding all of the possible toxins into your life, and the way that effects anxiety, depression, memory, attentiveness, and just day-to-day life. I’ve struggled to quit smoking like 13 times, and promised to myself that I won’t stop fighting it.   I’ve learned that my vanity and confidence can be quickly boosted, if I just fight to stay in better shape. I’ve learned that that is worth it for my happiness.

The one thing I’ve learned most, though, is that while you are alone on this Earth and can’t really count on anyone else, like you can count on yourself; there are still people, knowingly, and unknowingly, around to help you find your way and help you evolve as a person. As you meet more people, you will be given a chance to think about the bad in people or the good in people. I have to admit that there are many times, since MS came into my life, where I focused on the bad in the world, especially the bad in myself and my thoughts/actions. But, I still haven’t lost that overall outlook, that optimism that keeps me palatable to myself.

MS, and other diseases, can’t take that from you. Nothing can. It’s yours and yours alone.   Don’t look to friends, family, dating partners, or anyone to define that part of you. Don’t let experiences, some that are horrific, define how you approach life.   And keep going. The more inquisitive and explorative I become, the more I like myself, the more others close to me seem to like me.

I still haven’t figured out the meaning of life since my diagnosis, and I am fairly sure I never will, but my overall understanding, empathy, and compassion for other people, and my understanding of my abilities to affect others, and to lead and even, at times, inspire, has only grown the more I learned.

Don’t let some outside force hold you back from what you are curious about. Yesterday I climbed the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. I struggled to get to the top, and then stood there looking out over the valley that was settled almost 2000 years ago by pre-Hispanic Mexican tribes, and I was suddenly overwhelmed. Without being diagnosed with MS, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now. And that’s fucking awesome.

Whole 365?

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So I finished Whole30 on Feb 4th.  I felt great.  I was actually scared to start reintroducing foods that I used to eat every day back into my diet.  Then I drank alcohol.

The first night after I started eating gluten-free grains, I decided to have a whiskey.  Then I had a second.  It was a blast, and I was just hanging out with my roommates in Alameda.

Nothing too fun, nothing too bad for me, and a great time.  I woke up the next day a little more tired than I have been, but all in all, felt great.

Then the weekend hit.  It was just Super Bowl 50 week in San Francisco, and the town was bumping.  I had a great time at my work happy hour, and then rolled to a few parties at clubs and what not, and ended up getting back to Alameda at like 4 in the morning.

After sleeping, horribly for about 5-6 hours, I ventured into North Beach for a Mardi Gras celebration, and decided to see Metallica at ATT Park that night.

I felt horrible showing up, like I’d forgotten what hangovers felt like.  I also utilized the age old recovery method of having another drink to get going.  I will say I had “fun,” but I’m not even sure that I totally did.

It was great to see all of the people I haven’t seen since I was a mainstay at these same bars, and Metallica absolutely destroyed.

But, the next day, waking up, I didn’t really remember most things, and I couldn’t find anything to be happy about.  I struggled through my day, went to a super bowl party and went to sleep early, figuring I needed to recover for Monday.

Reading all of this just feels weird now, where just two months ago that was my usual weekend routine.

The problem was, I didn’t recover how I remembered.  The last two days have been anxiety filled, lethargic, and just plain depressing.

Things I looked at a week ago and came away happy now bring worry, fear, and hopelessness.  When I looked at myself I say “yeah, you lost weight, but you’re still fat.”

Within hours of my work happy hour, I had bought cigarettes, and I spent yesterday coughing up shit, and fighting the urge to buy them again.

I’ve sat here all day on Tuesday, working from home, and trying to keep a focus that I’ve mostly had for the past month without really putting too much pressure on myself.  I am starting to feel like I miss home again, time to time, and wondering if I’d want to stay in the same bay area, that 3 weeks ago I remember saying, “is the only place I can see myself feeling at home now.”

So what does this mean?  I’m sure there are a good amount of people that know me, that would say “stop drinking, stay eating healthy and keep this going” without thinking, and where I’d usually make a case against that here, I think I agree.

I am going to go to Mexico in a week, and I’m going to probably party a bit in Puerto Vallarta with my company after doing some exploring in Mexico City for the first few days.   After that, I’m going to cut out meaningless drinking entirely until March (and only if I go to the first weekend of March games).

Then, I’m going to go full Whole30 again, and push with that until I’m in New Orleans in late April/early May.

I may realize that this is hard, and have to just stop drinking.  I personally believe that there are different levels on a spectrum of all types of addiction, and I think the way I react when cutting something addicting out of my life is a sign that I’m not one of those people who would need a drink every day, or someone who even struggles saying goodbye.

My problem, as with anything in my life, comes from my view of myself, my self confidence, and my feeling of missing out on something exciting.  I drink to get the confidence to do things that I would be scared to do, mostly with women.  I feel bad, and realize that I can have fun soon as I break down my inhibitions, so I mend the pain with some alcohol.  I keep pushing, thinking that if I stay out a little later, I’ll meet that one girl, or get that one text that leads to something else in my night.

All of this, I’ve known for some time.  The thing that a month of whole30, a month of focusing on me and making myself feel good, has changed in me, is that I’m realizing how this cycle exists in me.  The after effects are almost unbearable, and last night I sat here in my apartment, knowing that if I drank a few drinks I would feel better, the anxiety in my chest would calm down.  The running thoughts in my head may keep going, but they’d slow and I could find myself distracted by a tv show or movie.  I’d wake up today, and feel better, to an extent.

But this didn’t feel right.  And this felt like the saddest way to live I could imagine.  I think what I liked most of the last month, is that the happy times felt more sincere.  The best times I had and the conversations I had (which I have a lot of) were deep and thought out.  I didn’t just say things to placate or to make others happy as much, because I was more skilled and smooth about disagreeing.  Sobriety made my mind clear, and made me not feel like jumping from moment to moment to get away from bad thoughts.

This is something I liked.  This is something I already miss.   My health is a big deal.  My life is a big deal to me.  I feel like in the last three years I’ve changed more than anyone I know, and tried to stay the same in ways that are unhealthy.  Something as simple as realizing a lot of people love drunk me, because I’m fun, makes me feel like I owe it to them to give them that.  I think I’m getting closer to realizing that the people who truly cared about me are the ones that were over the top telling me how proud they were to find out I was doing this healthy change, and they are the same ones who would look at this weekend, and say, “it’s ok, just keep going.  If you need anything, I’m here.”  Which many have.

I feel like I’m finally ready to start joining that team and really focusing on moderation.

 

 

Back At It.

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As I wait to board my flight back to San Francisco I got the itch. The itch to jot something down. To jump back into telling a story, the story of me. The story of who I want to be, and who I feel like I am.

I stopped writing at the end of last year because of many reasons, but aside from not having time around travel, work, and losing my mind then regaining it, there were two main reasons.  One, the pressure of putting so much of my personal life out there was getting to me. Two, I wasn’t being totally honest with everyone.

I didn’t want people to worry about me, and I didn’t want family and friends to know that things were really fucking depressing at times, or that I was doing wreckless shit to avoid worrying about it all the time. Or that I made a huge mistake staying in SF for the holidays and was on the brink of losing my mind at all times.

I didn’t want to tell anyone about it, and I was hating myself for pandering to make people feel better when I wrote the few times I did in the end of last year.

In the summer of 2014, it was easy to write. It wasn’t easy to live, but it was easy to write, because I was doing everything I can to go over the top to be healthier, and to beat back MS and all my other demons every day.

You want the honest part? I hated it. I hated not doing things that I wanted to do, when I had free time to do it. I hated living every day in my own head, and I hated using every waking moment to walk, or write to just quiet the screaming inside my brain.

It’s a weird feeling to explain; when you actively wonder to yourself if you are insane.   When you take apart every idea that is thrown at you, because you have taught yourself to apply critical thinking, but it ends up with you wondering if anyone else lives inside his or her head like you do. I’m sure some of you will understand, and it may be more than I know, but after my last 3 years of life and self exploration, I ‘m not sure whether I’m just like everyone else, or completely different when it comes down to the things I internalize. I basically don’t know if most people have the internal conflicts and communications, as I do constantly.

I know I’m sane, I know that I care, deeply, about others at times, and that I sort of hate that moving to SF has killed a little of that part of me off, and that I’ve become a more selfish person from my diagnoses and from shooting for the stars with my goals in my career and seeing that pay off. I know that I never want to hurt others and I know that I want other people to like me, to a fault.

I also know that I have it in me to hurt the ones that care about me most, through my own actions that I see only as affecting me.   I know that I don’t think about circumstances in the moment and love to just live life on a whim. I know that I think different and don’t usually take hard sides on an argument, leaving room to be convinced of something I haven’t thought of. Well, unless it’s something huge like LeBron vs Kobe (Witness, baby).

I know that I don’t care about the things that I used to care deepy about. I still love watching sports, and I still love arguing politics but I’m more about picking apart daily life and arguing over ways that we could be better as a society and as a people.

I don’t intend this blog post to be all about me, so this seems like a good time to talk about something I’ve noticed in myself and in friends and acquaintances.   We’ve lost the ability to truly care about others to a small extent.   Now, to be clear, I feel like society is fine, better than ever even. We are kinder to each other and more and more of the world is at peace as time moves on.   News travels fast, so we see all the horrible things that happen quicker, but in reality the % of problems is getting lower and lower.

But, how about just being nice to each other, and caring for the ones that need it. My big realization came to me while venting about friends that I have and about colleagues and people that I meet at work.

Even though these instances are about people that I care about, and actually like, I was still complaining a bit to make myself feel better about me.   When I have a weekend bender I look at my friend that’s still partying on Sunday and talk about them like I’m doing better. When I see someone miss something at work or leave out details I bitch about it to someone to make me feel better for my own laziness at work.

Why do we do this? Why do we feign care, and sling judgment to others when we really should do the uncomfortable thing, reach out, and try to make those that know us better?

Probably, because life is fucking hard. It’s not easy to go through death, heartbreak, sickness, and failures without looking around to realize that you’re still ok. It’s not easy to care about people that are not in the interest of helping themselves without judging them. It’s not easy to live life in the moment without judging every situation so that we can make better informed decisions. While that seems like a productive strategy, I’ve found that it can make you cold and overly critical.

I’m going to try and apply this all to my life starting now.   I’m about as happy as I’ve ever been, and I know I’ve said this before, and I usually meant it, only to find out wasn’t totally true when one thing turned. To guard against this I’ve thought about things like “what if I lost my job” or “what if I went through another breakup with someone I really like?”

Gasp, even the big one: “What if my health took a turn?”   “What if I woke up and couldn’t see or walk the same one day this year?”

How in the hell would I deal with this? I don’t know. I don’t truly know if I’m dealing with anything in my life. I know I’m trying. I’m trying to figure out what I want in my life for future goals. I’m coming to grip with the idea that I’m actually as successful as I imagined back in high school, when I was a cocky kid that could test well, never had to try, thought life was magical and easy to figure out; but really didn’t know shit.   I know what I want in dating, and in relationships.

I know what I want from my friends, and that I what I want in my health is something I can control. I don’t want to never drink any alcohol, but I do want to never smoke cigarettes or do any drugs. I want to cut back and to be honest, I don’t even enjoy drinking for the sake of it, I enjoy having fun. This winter was a lot of weekends just spent doing dumb shit, and not being social, I know that I don’t want that.

I know that I want to exercise again. Until I hurt my back and the ankle got sore, I was hitting the bike at the gym and just that felt good. I want to get back to golfing once or twice a week, and to eating healthier.

Fuck kale, and you all can stop lying to yourself by saying it’s good. Lettuce is better. But I don’t want to eat bar food and fast food ever. You just feel like shit the next day and it’s not worth it. I can cook like a champ and I hadn’t made myself a meal in 2015 until about a month ago. Animals taste delicious, so I’m never going to be a vegan or anything like that, but fried crap and non-lean meats need to go.

I want to write more again. This helps. This is entertaining for me, and it’s a way for me to get my message out there. When I started writing I loved hearing that it helped people going through other diseases that read it. Then I started to pander and use this to make myself feel better. I don’t want that. I want to get back to just telling my story. Because I do like the idea of someone coming across this after being diagnosed and realizing that they aren’t alone. That they aren’t the only one that has a little part of them that hates people for being healthy. That they aren’t the only ones to actively think to themselves and ask, “Could you kill yourself if this gets worse?” That they aren’t insane to think, “no, too many people care about me, and I’m too big of a pansy to do it.” That they will have times when they don’t care about their health because who cares, MS will start to affect me later. EVEN THOUGH MEDICAL SCIENCE IS SCREAMING at them to be healthy because a cure is on the way.

I don’t usually name people on here, but a good friend of mine had a health scare last week. He was told he could have leukemia.  At my age we’re starting to see more and more people that have had to hear that horrible news. You know what I’m talking about. A scare for you, a death for a friend, or family member, a sickness in someone you love.   Once, you’ve truly dealt with that pain, and that fear, you get a bit better at being there for friends in the same situation. In an instant you have talks that people that don’t know, don’t have.

After the tests came back he didn’t have anything too serious, and I internally went from “worried out of my mind and empathetic” to “jealous and alone again as the one that has something wrong with them.”

I told him instantly and we laughed because we have horrible senses of humor, but then I started to feel really bad about it.

This prompted me to start to think about writing again. To start to deal with my health again, so the people I love and want to be with all my life, don’t have to worry and don’t get hurt 20 years down the line when I keep doing harm to my body. This thought prompted me to plead on here for people to stop arguing over everything all the time, and find common ground on issues so that we can learn and care for each other. It prompted me to just want to ask others to be kind, and to strive to make others around you better, because one day, you will need someone there to help you do the same, and hopefully you will have been great enough to have a few people there to pick up the slack for you.

RE-_____

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I didn’t want to have any part of an “end of 2014/New Year’s Resolution” type blog post. I also had planned on writing more than once since I was released from the hospital in November.

As I sat to push myself through this before moving on to some non-existent New Year’s Eve plans that will materialize and, knowing San Francisco, probably still be fun, I had no idea what I was going to write.

I feel like I try to inspire myself as much as others when I write here, but I wouldn’t be honest if I act like I’m always inspired.

As 2014 rolls to a close I have to say that inspiration only pushes you so far. Being inspired and working for a few weeks / months is why diets “work” then don’t. It’s why setting short-term goals works so much better than dealing with long-term prospects.

This year I have been inspired at times, I have made decisions based on that. I have also had moments where I lost all inspiration and felt lost, depressed, and never worse about myself as a person.

I have no interest in 900 word pat on the back from myself but looking at 2014, I have done so much. I can’t act like life is horrible. I have no interest in saying what I will do in 2015, because one of the only things I’ve learned this year, is that plans change and you have to adapt with them. One minute you’re gliding high, the next minute you’re in a hospital bed with your leg looking like a zombie infection.

My mentality and mood is determined by what’s going on in my life, and my hopes, dreams, and even memories are tinted by my mood.

With this in mind, I will try to give an assessment of where I am right now. An accurate idea of what I really feel about my life.

RE-build: I’m in the Rebuild trial. The trial is a double-blind, parallel group, placebo based trial that has a “cross-over.” Which means that I will get the medicine that is supposed to help regrow some of the myelin sheath surrounding my neurons, which MS eats away no matter what group I’m in. I have to get a first appointment set up for January, and the biggest problem I see is that I will have a few more doctor’s appointments scheduled in for the Spring. I’m excited to see if this helps, and it feels like I’m helping others by partaking in the study. I can’t see a downside to this, as the medicine has minimal or no side effects.

RE-evaluate: My life. I look at it at times and am ashamed that I’m not farther along the path I envisioned for myself when I was a teenager growing up in NJ. I live in the Bay Area, I have a great job. I had a great year at said job, while dealing with some major issues in my life. Every one of the problems in my life comes from something I create for myself. I’ve managed to stay out of my own way enough since 2008 to graduate from college, start a career, and move across the country. I have no idea where my life will take me, but I know I’ve done some stuff to be proud of. I’ve accomplished things and made my mark along the way. This is the extent of the back patting, but I have to have a lot to be proud of so that I can strive to keep rising.

RE-think: My decision to “save money” and not come home for the holidays. I had a blast out here, but I don’t feel like I ever had a Christmas. Being with my family and friends was like a reset button last year, and it got me leveled off and ready to take on 2014. I came back in January swinging and had about the best 6 months of my entire life, aside from one issue. I hope I didn’t miss out on that this year.

RE-charge: 2015, goals. My goals aren’t going to be set in stone, or any type of resolution, but I just want to get out of my own head and get back to being me. I am most of the time, and I would think only those that know me best would understand my level of anxiety and over-thinking, but I want to be done with that so that I can experience life to the fullest as I go forward. Work, friends, women, everything; worrying and planning for what I think is going to happen never really helps. Live in the moment and appreciate this quote that has been on my facebook wall for 7 years. “Never looking back or too far in front of me, the present is a gift and I just wanna be.”

RE-engage: Work. Dating. Friendships. Health. For the past two months I have sort of pulled back from a lot of these things. Part of this is being in hospital, and then stuck in my living room for a few weeks. Part of this is depression and anxiety. Part of this is the fact that it was easier to drink at my house and go to sleep. None of this is what I want for my life. Time to get out there and experience the world.

Re-act: When things arise in my life I tend to either procrastinate or pull away from anything unsettling or that could be a set back. Time to be productive and to create progress. This doesn’t just include new things that help, it means dealing with any issues head on as opposed to acting like it doesn’t matter until things pile up.

You all get the picture. This year has been huge for me. Coming to grips with a degenerative disease that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, coming to grips with the end of the most significant relationship of my life, coming to grips with the West Coast actually being my home and not just a place I moved, and coming to grips with myself have all been a part of it. I feel good about most of those things. I like it here. I have made some friends will be with me for the rest of my life. I have gotten to know this city, and feel at home in my small bay town. I haven’t totally gotten a grip on relationships, but I don’t have any hate or blame left from before. I think that I’m ready to put myself out there again. I thought I was earlier this year, and I wish I was, but I wasn’t. 4 years isn’t something to laugh at, so I’m done blaming myself for everything there too.

Now the big one. MS. I still am not scared when I think about it. I still focus on other parts of my life when I am depressed or upset. I still feel better when I just ignore it, and then take a symptom such as not being able to catch keys when people toss them to me, or not being able to speak as fluently (and I do love talking) as I’d like hard. But, I think I’m getting there. It’s an exciting time for auto-immune diseases, and there’s actual cures coming. On top of that, I do realize that I have the opportunity to do some amazing things with my life, and I am going to do them.

Finally a big thank you to everyone in my life. I want to name everybody (never named people on the blog on purpose) but my main worry is that I’d forget someone important. Let’s just say that every phone conversation, every person that was there when I found out I may have MS 3 years ago, every person that’s picked me up from a hospital (unfortunately that’s multiple), every person that climbed my hike, every person that donated to the fundraiser, every person that’s listened to me bitch once or 9 million times, every person that ran in the muck at Muckfest, every person that’s commented, liked or just read my posts, every kid that payed attention to me when I spoke at South Hunterdon, every person in my life out here, every person from my life back home, every family member that checks on me, and worries about me (I wish they wouldn’t but I get it), and all the people that I meet on a daily basis. I have a life with so many important people in it, that I don’t know who to call sometimes. I focus on certain people that are there, and sometimes forget about ones that I shouldn’t leave out. I hope I’m a good friend, son, brother, cousin, nephew, grandson, co-worker, date, ex-boyfriend, recruiter, adviser, conversationalist, etc, because you have all made me me on the other side of these relationships. Thank you for that.

I guess I did a 2014 recap after all. Let’s go do this 2015 thing, you guys.

Happy New Year,

– M

Luck

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For the last 3 weeks I have been in pain, feverish, and have spent 2 weeks confined to a hospital bed. Now, I’m stuck in my apartment, with a long-term IV line (PICC) in my arm to deliver antibiotics daily to fight the infection that invaded the hardware in my surgically repaired ankle. Aside from my roommates and a few friends, my most personal interactions in a city that I love, and want to experience, have been confined to Facebook and twitter. Some would say that I’ve had one hell of a string of bad luck.

Define luck. Some people would call it a form of karma. Some people would call it random chance. Others, myself included, would say that it’s a made up belief that we use to justify the circumstances we are dealt with. One that is highly subjective and enables us to find reason when unreasonable events occur in life.

To say that I’ve had a string of bad luck would not be looked down upon by many people. To say that I need something “good” to happen wouldn’t either. To say all of this would be easy, and is something I admit to doing when I’m at my lowest points.

But it wouldn’t be true to what I believe when I’m thinking crystal clear, unemotionally, and on point. I would be lying, and partly giving up to chalk things up to luck. As a recruiter, that is financially tied to other people’s decisions professionally, there’s a saying that I truly do buy in to. “You make your own luck.” Basically, there are going to be deals that fall through, people that get fired and aren’t a fit, and better job offers that trump your weeks of work.   It’s easy to say, “ahh, damn, that’s some bad luck.”   But, it’s way more beneficial to get 5 more candidates job offers so when 2 of 5 fall through, you still have 3 successful placements.

Life is the same.   It’s easy to sit around feeling sorry for myself right now. It’s easy to look at the scarring on my ankle and say that a “freak” infection almost took my foot, held me in a hospital for 2 weeks and robbed me of 2 months of my life. It’s easy to sit in my living room watching Walking Dead, or playing Xbox, and to look at my job, my social life, and my health through veiled, ugly glasses as they just melt away. It’s easy to explain all of these things and to do it knowing that no one would blame me if I fell into some sort of depression right now.

Luck is easy. You start chalking your successes up to random chance and you’ll lose some pride the same way you will lose accountability if you start chalking your losses up to “bad luck.” Personal accountability goes both ways.

I haven’t been the healthiest person over the last 10-15 years of my life. While, I haven’t been the unhealthiest either, I have drank too much, used way too much tobacco, and haven’t eaten the best.

I’m not saying I’ve deserved MS, the broken ankle, this infection, anything that’s happened in my personal life, or any of the other swings of the last few years. But, I am saying that they’re all explainable.

Some people I talk to have this hint of sadness and sympathy in their voice when they speak to me. I hear it over the phone and can see it in people’s eyes if they are in person. I don’t like it. I don’t need it. I totally understand that they are coming from a good place, and that they care about me. But, I don’t feel that way myself. This is a minor setback, in a series of minor setbacks. This is something that has me down, and believe me, mentally is the hardest part. But, it is also something that will not have me out.

I know what’s right when I consciously think things over. I have very few friends that have refused to throw me any sort of a pity party. They say things matter of factly, and to the point. They offer perspective and basically have told me to stop complaining, and to move forward.   When I’m feeling down, this feels appalling. How can they look at this and be so callous? But, making your own luck depends entirely on this mindset.

I’m not really down. I’m not someone that needs sympathy.   Using the term luck takes away from human accomplishment, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t like it. But in terms of a reality where luck exists, I’ll say it now. I have been very lucky.

I was lucky to have a doctor step in after I was in the hospital 5 days and do something about my ankle. I was lucky to grow up near Philadelphia and move to San Francisco, so that I could be near two of the best Neurology departments for MS in the world. I was lucky to have friends and family that were there for me along the way. I was lucky to have enough friends out here that I have gotten by getting out of the hospital and just getting home (and not into a rehab/nursing home).   I was lucky to work for a great enough company that could keep me afloat during these times, and last year when I needed to recover from the broken ankle.

Take luck out of that last paragraph and you will see actions from others that have helped me keep going forward. The doctor’s skill saved my foot and made the MS Centers at UPenn and UCSF great. My friends effort picked me up from the hospital and visited me while I laid in that room for 2 weeks. My co-workers efforts and abilities kept my clients and candidates going at work.  My families actions enabled them to be there for me in times of need.

You make your own luck, but it’s a lot easier when you allow others to help it go forward.

Here’s my promise to myself. I’ll come out of this. I’ll come out of this better than I was before. 2015 is not just another year for me right now, it’s a goal.

I want it to be the year where I start to realize how far I’ve come and start to actually feel a little proud about what I went through to get there. To do that, I can’t just “get there.” I need to make my own luck going forward. I need to keep pushing toward better things in my life, and I need to take personal accountability to choose better things for myself.

The one thing that’s been in my head over and over for the last few months, since I made everything public is how shocking it is to see how many people care. It’s rewarding to a person that has long said that I believe in humanity, that I may not have many things I hold dear, but that out of all the bad in the world, I can feel pretty strongly about the good in people.

The last few weeks, months, years have seemed to conspire to make me believe in luck, mostly the bad kind, but all they have done is get me to believe, even more, in the greatness of humanity.

The last 13 years….

highschool

Tomorrow during lunch I will have the opportunity to go into my old high school and former employer, South Hunterdon Regional High School to speak to a group of athletes during lunch. I’ve thought about what I was going to say for the last 2 days, and I couldn’t come up with a speech that felt right.

Sitting around tonight I thought about what I would say to myself if I sat down in front of 18 year old Matt Walker. What would I tell him?

I think I would start by explaining that there was no way to give an 18 year old a 31 year old’s perspective, but to just know that some things will be the same, and at the same time, things will be completely different.

I would say that times are going to get tough as you go forward through life, but that the whole “best time of your life” mentality is bullshit.

The best time of your life is right now. Nostalgia allows us to think that high school, college, and our early twenties were so much better than everything is now. But that’s not true. For me the best time of my life tends to be the moment when I realize that I enjoy what I’m doing at the exact moment I’m doing it.

Now, this doesn’t mean live completely in the moment and forget about the past without learning lessons, and that doesn’t mean never plan for your future. It just means to look for what you enjoy, and notice what is happening around you and within you in the present.

Never has wishing it was 10 years ago led to me feeling better.   Never has feeling sorry for myself made me feel ok. Never has regretting something I did or didn’t do changed the fact that it happened.

Since I’d be talking about athletics, I would highlight how much you wish you could play sports at the level of an 18 year old again. I would talk about how I didn’t try off of the practice field or during games to get stronger, to lift, or to run until I was a Junior, and that when I did that, I became a viable member of my teams. I would talk about how I wish I cherished the time with my teammates more, about how I still look back at my senior year in football and know that I actually gave it my all that one year. I would mention that there was never another time in my life when I spent 2-3 hours every day not worrying about anything other than the task at hand. It makes me wish I had that mentality for 4-5 years instead of about 18 months.

When I was a kid I was always worried that I was missing something. I was worried about having a night out ruined because I had to go home early, or because I wasn’t with the right group of friends. I would talk about how most of my memories are actually from those times at basketball camp, between double session in football, on the bus, or after practice, just bs’ing with my teammates.

I would talk about how things can change on a dime, and about how when that happens it is really easy to think about how much you missed a simpler life without complications. I would say that everything I did take away from competing on that athletics field did prepare me for these chaotic moments in life to some extent.

I would talk about how everything I worried about as a teenager wasn’t always what matters looking back with hindsight. I probably would say that I don’t miss much from that period of my life, except for the chance to compete in organized sports and time spent with family and friends.

I would talk about the significance of growing up in a small town where you could play sports with the same friends for 10-12 years.   I would talk about the opportunity awarded to a school like South, because of its underdog status.   I would talk about how coming into a game with 300-600 less students and competing prepares you for life, and gives you the chance to do something amazing almost every day.

I would talk about how that mentality helps me now, that I am fighting a disease that tends to win more than 50% of the time. I would talk about how important it is to keep going forward, to not say “fuck it” when things get hard. I would talk about how even if you fail 5-6 times, nothing will compare to the feeling you get when you get up again, and finally win, because not everyone understands what it means to come back again and again.

I would talk about how great it feels to look around you and know that everyone gave it everything that they had. I would talk about how dumb I was, even though 18 year old me would be looking at me as an out of touch old man. I would tell the teenager that your thoughts on everything will change over time, but that staying true to yourself was the only way to stay positive and to really experience the life you wanted.

I would make the 18 year old me promise me that he would never try tobacco, as it is the number one regret of my life. I would make the 18 year old me realize that he’s not invincible and going to get old one day. I would try to make the 18 year old me stop looking forward to things and wishing time would move faster, because I missed out on the now waiting for my driver’s license, for a chance to talk to a certain girl, for college, and to turn 21.

I would talk about how you couldn’t imagine a life where you work with people from Twitter, Facebook and Google daily.   About how you never even considered living in California as an 18 year old, and that now you couldn’t consider living anywhere else. I would talk about seizing the moment. About living without regrets, and about making good decisions in this area of your life.

I would talk about overcoming adversity, and how it’s in all of us. About how 18 year old me would be shocked to know where the next 13 years of life will take him. About how he will be still standing and on the verge of thriving at the end of this rocky path.

I would talk about how you can’t win if you don’t try. I would talk about how the fear of failure causes hesitation, and how I never look back happy about the chances I didn’t take towards positive goals. I would talk about how, as much as I loved Penn State, I don’t talk proudly the same way as I used to about only applying to one college after I got into Main Campus in 2 weeks.

I would mention how going as hard as you can towards a goal never ruined a person, and never made someone feel worse, even if the ending seemed like a loss.

I would talk about living for yourself, while respecting and caring for others, is the only way to go. I don’t mean this selfishly, I mean that only you can achieve the things in front of you. Sure, family and friends will help, and in my case they surely did. But, overall, you have to live life the way you want. You are the only person that can bring a sense of achievement to your life, and you are the only person that can truly make you happy.

I would tell me to smile more, to talk to more kids from school, and to actually listen to other opinions as you may learn something. I would remind myself that I feel best about the times I stood up for what I believed to be right, and that I never feel good looking back at times I did things I didn’t want to do, just to look cool.

I would want me to prepared for the future, when MS comes knocking at my door, when college falls through the cracks and when times seem so hard. But, I wouldn’t want me to fear these things, as I’ve made it through all of them to this point, and they are what made me the person I am. I would want me to be more confident, while being more humble than I ever was. I would want me understand that 31 year old me will still be that same kid that was wearing Abercrombie and listening to Eminem 13 years ago, but with a whole new perspective and with many new experiences.

Most of all, I would want to let myself know that life is about those experiences. Learning from the bad ones and fully experiencing the good ones is what life is about.

I would want 18 year old me to realize that 31 year old me lives 3000 miles away from Lambertville, yet still cherishes a chance to come home.   Because we may not get to pick where we grew up, but all of us who grew up here got very very lucky.

Lambertville

Along the Delaware River, sits a town of about 5000 people, that would be a perfect little secret if it hadn’t been getting write ups in national publications such as being named the “5th most quirky” town in America a few weeks ago in Travel and Leisure Magazine. 

The town has changed, arguably drastically, in the last 20 years.  This town could be a lot of things to those that look at it.  It’s a river getaway, it’s a charming place chock full of antique stores, art galleries, restaurants and shops.  It’s a throw-back town, with  old school architecture, playgrounds, and an elementary school that has only a few hundred attendees, or less. 

It is also a town of memories, a town that housed my dreams and ambitions, and a town of opportunity.    It’s a town where I was able to grow up part one of the last generations that was pushed by a whole community.  A town called Lamberville, New Jersey.

Lambertville is my youth.  It has been my failure, when I was made to come back without a college degree.  It became my savior, when I started to coach and work with kids and I realized that I like to help people.  It is now a place where I feel as comfortable as I ever did, even though I know that I needed to leave.

The memories are endless.  It all starts with growing up on Union Street in my grandmother’s house.  I remember playing GI Joe’s with friend and running around the yards next to the house, and setting up a fort in the front bushes.  It was cool and all, but I knew my army training was useless, because at 8 years old I was certain I would end up flying an F-14, and going to Miramar.   Nerf football games on the side streets were rarely interrupted by cars, but sometimes would be by other kids passing by to go play a different sport up the street.  Wiffleball was fun, but taping up the bat and grabbing a tennis ball made for the best afternoons.  Sure, there were breaks for Nintendo, but not so when they stocked trout in the canal 2 blocks from my house! 

On Sundays I would attend St. John’s Catholic Church with my grandmother.  I would beg to leave “right after communion” so I could get an early table at Sneddon’s Luncheonette across the street before the hordes of people made me wait to get some cottage fries.  Up the street I could always stop in Ennis’ Markey and see my Aunt Bonny, knowing a plain turkey and cheese, and a Stewart’s root beer was in play.  A few blocks away near Main and Swan was Phil and Dan’s where I ordered “pencil points with butter” almost instinctively, to the point where they would start making them when I walked in with my father.    Paesano’s had some of the best pizza, and the Italian sausage was the perfect topping.  Yet, nothing beat the best meal of all, after my grandmother would make some Italian red sauce for 10-12 hours, throwing in homemade meatballs, sausage, and chicken legs. 

I met my first friends somewhere in this town.  I had my first sleepovers, I had my first dates.  I had my first kiss.  I drove my first car (poorly).  Hence, I crashed my first car (a lot).  I took part in numerous stupid acts, I took part in some smart ones.  I laughed with friends until 3 in the morning just talking about stories from girls, or from classes or sports.  I got reamed out of the football field for being a “dumb smart kid.”  I learned what it meant to grow up.  I learned what it meant to fail when I had to come back.  I learned what it meant to be part of team, to be at the head of one, when I coached. 

I learned that I grew up in one of the best places to grow up, in America.   I learned that it wasn’t where my growth ends.  I learned that I had multiple sclerosis while living here shortly before heading to California. 

I came back here in the summer of 2012, for a few days, when my ear nose and throat doctor told me that I had “something” showing up in my brain that looked like MS or a tumor.  I came back in 2009 when my ex-girlfriend was the first person to break my heart for a short time before we got back together.  I came back last year after breaking my ankle so severely it was facing sideways.

I came back today as I struggle and strive to live a life that I have always dreamed of. 

I’m happy I’m here, and I will be around town for the next two weeks.   I’ll live in the past, surely, but I can’t wait for Lambertville to meet present me.