Half my Life Ago

Hello on Friday Evening from my office,

I am finished with what I think my mind can manage for the evening, but I would still like to get a blog posting out before I go home. It has been a busy, but productive week, but things will now be slowing down anytime soon, probably in May . . . unfortunately that is the truth. Literally one half of my life ago, I was laying in a hospital room in Coon Rapids, MN after my first major abdominal surgery because of my Crohn’s. I was 31 years old and I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about two years prior to this event. I remember being so groggy and the room was dimly lit with one small light. I remember a friend had left a small stuffed animal that was hanging from the IV pole, but I could not make out what it was. I was not in pain yet, but that would soon change. It was also my mother’s birthday and she was still alive at that point. Little did I know that I had probably had Crohn’s for my entire life, or as early as when I was 7 or 8, according to those gastroenterologists who know me today. Little did I know that while that surgery seems pretty radical to me at the time, I would have so much more to come. Little did I know that my eventual surgeries would turn both my own self-image as well as what an ex-wife could manage on our heads. The picture above is me about that time a few weeks before I would have that first examination.

Today, that half my life ago seems so much more than merely a mile marker. It was the point that my life, as I have noted in a paper, “took turns I could have never imagined.” My own struggle with self image as a person afflicted with an IBD and the consequences for my digestive system still confounds me more than I can sometimes manage. It has caused me to be seemingly, endingly single. It has caused me to fear how others might be willing to accept my limitations. It has haunted me when I still can hear the voice of an ex-spouse telling me she could not feel comfortable sleeping in the same bed with me and later telling me she was tired of being married to a wimp. While I have made some important progress, I still have fears that shake me to my core. I wonder sometimes what my life would have been had this not have been my fate. I wonder at times if there might have been something earlier in life I might have done to understand what was coming. The drugs that are available today for so many were not invented when I had my initial diagnosis. There were not the options to keep me from the battery of surgeries I endured from 1996 to 2012 (11 of them to be exact). What I know is there was not a lot that prepared me for what would happen that January of 1984 when what seemed to be merely the passing of a little blood to only two months later I would land in the hospital for the better part of a month. That was not anything I expected or even really understood once it happened. Then again, I am not sure knowing at that point would have changed much.

I remember when after additional surgeries in Mayo-Scottsdale, Mayo-Rochester, I would realize that all the hope I had placed in specialized surgeries seemed dashed, I was back to the merely exist and try to imagine some other option. I remember in 1997 when I had a surgery that created permanency of an ileostomy my PCP in Houghton told me he was glad that I finally had taken that step because all the same day procedures and other issues we had tried to manage (which were unsuccessful) were never going to work. I remember when seven years later another surgery was undertaken to continue to manage all the sources of infection the earlier surgeries had probably created. My attempt at being a guinea pig had certainly been successful, but the results of the surgeries less so. As I ponder and remember all of the events that have taken up so much of this second half of my life, what I realize is somehow I have still managed to accomplish other things. I did finish two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. I did manage to get two tenure track positions and have been quite successful in the second of the two. I have continued to manage other parts of my life and accomplished quite a bit. That being said there are places I feel I have failed, continue to fail, and wish for something I am not sure will ever happen. Part of that imagining is because we are again headed into the holidays. Part of that is wondering the what ifs and those things can always be a bit overwhelming. Generally I am quite content with what I have, and in fact, I really have more things than I need. I do know that is more truthful that I might even want to admit.

However, it is generally around this time of year, I find a particular melancholy that haunts me sneaks up again. There is both a blessing and a curse to my singleness. Much of the time I am content because it has offered me an ability to come and go without too many difficulties. It has given me the option to travel and be involved in my job, spending many more hours than are perhaps even healthy, but it has kept me content with what I do. Earlier this year one of my former students from UW-Stout asked me point-blank why I really never date anyone. I gave her the laundry-list of things that I use to explain my solitary existence. Her response, not surprisingly, if you know her, was that I am a f-ing (she did not use it in this form) chicken. While I admitted that was part of it, I do not think I was completely honest with the degree to which that is true. Perhaps that is because at times, I am not sure I even know the degree of accuracy myself. Earlier this evening, I was out with to Summer PAs and we had an interesting conversation about this. It was, perhaps, even a bit helpful to hear their perspective. What is true for me now is I am not sure I have the desire or energy to put into such a thing that would create such a significant change in my life.

Sometime ago, actually already three years ago, in the time before I was seeing someone who is an amazing lady, and I have spoken about her before in this blog. She is attractive, smart, has amazing integrity, is a wonderful mother and grandmother, and was very kind and thoughtful. Yet, it seemed there was not an option to go beyond a certain point. It is also possible that I ran away to some degree, even though I believe I was the one willing to go all in first. It is hard to believe it has been that long. We actually spent time together for some years, but I think I wanted to have more things figured out than she was ready to have figured out. Perhaps, and this is certainly a possibility, I did not pay close enough attention. I am quite sure she would not have moved to Bloomsburg, and it did not seem she was ready for me to move there. I know that my buying a house here was probably my change into what I believed to be the best long-term plan for me and my position here in Bloomsburg. To this day, I know she is an outstanding and amazing lady. What made any possibility with her seem possible is she knew all my medical issues and, in fact, had lived some of that with me earlier in my life. There were a multitude of other path-crossing, some even more ironic than one could ever believe, but they all allowed me to be unafraid.

Fear is an amazing thing. I see what it does to some of my students. I see what it does to people on a daily basis. I think overcoming fear is much about what we are seeing happen with the avalanche of revelations each day it seems over the past month or two. I had the most interesting conversation with my freshman students earlier this week. I asked them to give me their understanding of the differences between sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. I was a bit shocked at how recalcitrant they were to respond. Particularly when some of them have been so conversant at times about other issues we are facing as a society. What I believe to be true is there are few adult males who can honestly say they have not been involved in some behavior that makes them guilty of one of these three terms. I realize that what is considered acceptable now and decades before might be different. I believe we have culturally turned a corner, and the ironies of that change could be an entirely separate posting. What I hope has happened is that first we are becoming painfully, but need-fully, aware of the change that needs to occur in our society. I have referred to it in a couple places as “puritanical religiosity.” What we say we believe in public and what we do in private, or in some cases, not so private, need so be more consistent that it is. We play the Christian- conservative- holier-than-thou crap in what we say, but when no one is looking, watch out. That is part of the disconnect I see in the present issue with Roy Moore in Alabama or with a President who can be recorded on more than one tape about what he is able to do, as well as be accused of sexual impropriety my more than a dozen woman, but they same Christian conservatives voted for him. Perhaps we have reached a time when we are forced to be honest with our failings, with our misogyny, our patriarchal practices, and realize that women are humans with merely a different reproductive anatomy, but they are humans that should be treated with dignity and respect. Have I always managed to do so? Simply put: I have not. There are certainly times in my early adulthood I should have behaved differently. At this point, I am not sure any male wants to have his closet cleaned out.

What I know is I certainly have worked much more diligently in the last years to make better choices 100% of the time. I mean this literally. I have worked diligently to treat others, all others, with dignity and respect. While I have had students to my house, live in my house, and spent significant time with them (regardless of gender), I have worked tirelessly to treat them with the respect I would hope anyone would treat a son or daughter with. Amazing what I have learned this second half of my life, and there is so much yet to learn. I am still working on that part. As I finish this blog, I am grateful to all the people who have supported me with such love and care this second half of my life. I wonder at times what it would have been like to have all my insides, but that option changed on a cold Minnesota December night have my life ago. The good part is I am still here. The better part is I am blessed and have a wonderful life. Lonely at times, but perhaps I will do something about that. We’ll see. Finally, Happy Birthday, Mom. I hope you are doing well wherever it is you are. On a lighter note:

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael