When Tiffanni was diagnosed with Huntingtons almost five years ago, it didn’t shock me. It wasn’t a relief in the way that when something is wrong it’s nice to have an idea of what is wrong. It was a relief in that we could blame something for a couple of job losses, her new clumsiness, and some erratic behavior.
I don’t remember shock. It might have been because I knew what the doctor would say long before we scheduled the appointment. Or it might have been shock masked in indifference. The human body is brilliant in that it usually does what it needs to do to communicate changes that need to happen. All of us have headaches. The body gives us that to tell us to do something. Unfortunately, we usually do the wrong thing- take Tylenol. The problem is that it’s not like we have an acetaminophen deficiency. It’s because we’re dehydrated, or tired, or stressed, or overworked, or need glasses. So when the body shuts down to life-changing news with no response- it’s saying something.
Most people have heard of the stages of grief. DABDA. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I wish they were that clean and orderly. It would be easy to see a season of denial and tell yourself, “Be ready, soon you’re going to go through a season of anger. You’re not going to know why you’re irritated at the world, but it’s part of the process.” That would be nice. But it just doesn’t work that way.
It would also be nice if the stages acted the way that you think that they should. Most think that denial means this nonacceptance of the facts of loss. “No, he’s not dead.” “No, you’re lying to me, that didn’t happen.” And it certainly comes out that way once in awhile. But it usually shows up in a different way. The most common way is that denial shows up by making a person believe that their loss hasn’t affected them as deeply as it really has. “I just have to be strong for my family right now.” “I thought it would be very hard, but it hasn’t affected me as much as I thought it would.” All crap.
I was super lucky. I was in a doctoral program when I found out about Tiff that required me to meet with two different counselors- not because of the diagnosis, it was part of the program. Those meetings changed everything for me. I remember my first meeting ever. I thought that I was different, that I was handling my situation inappropriately. I was very nervous to admit some of my thoughts. I kept playing this whole scenario out in my head, all the way to the end. And I just knew that that was wrong. And for some reason I told my counselor. Ready for a chastisement, “Jeremy, you can’t do that. You have to take things as they come,” or something like that. And instead he looked at me and nonchalantly said, “Well of course you do. That’s what everyone does. In fact, if you didn’t play all of it out, we’d have to talk about some more serious stuff. You’re in an okay place.” And with those few words, the trajectory of my health, self-grace, and coping changed forever.
One of the first things that I learned in professional counseling was that I had to exercise. My body needed endorphins and hormones and such to be firing in order to balance the depression that would inevitably come. You did see the DABDA, right. Good luck avoiding one of those stages. So I exercised. I tried all kinds of things. Tennis, mountain biking, weights, swimming, and most recently running. I’ve ran off and on for almost a year.
A few months ago I decided to set a goal. A triathlon. Who knows why. My dad said that 40 year olds feel the fleeting passing of youth and so they try to hold on to it. Thanks Dad. I’ll be 40 in a few months. Sayonara youth. My triathlon is in October. Mostly so that I can still land in the 35-39 age bracket. Ironically, the 40’s age bracket is more competitive. But I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never raced anything in my life that I needed to train for. So, to give myself a little litmus test and to see whether I would be ready in October, I ran my first 10K this weekend.
It was hot, humid, hilly, and hellacious. The night before I got nervous and googled “first race tips”. The Google told me to “Fight through the pain” and “Have a mantra”. I’m a pretty simple man, so my mantra was, “Fight through the pain.” And when I started mile 2, I started saying it. And I repeated it for the next five miles. After about 5,000 repetitions, I finished it. The mantra and the race.
So I ran. While running doesn’t change my situation, it changes my perspective of it. And at least for today, it keeps me from running away from my situation. It helps me to stay healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally. So, if you see me out early in the morning running, please don’t run over me with your car. That wouldn’t help very much.
“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.”