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Overcoming Catastrophe

This blog post is for me. If you learn something, great, but I don't particularly care about you at the moment.

It's Thursday afternoon. I just started listening to a playlist filled with Chicago Blues harmonica. Little Walter playing at the moment. Blues are my favorite kind of music and harmonica blues are my favorite kind of blues. I need my favorite music right now.

Last night I got home from work and the left side of my back started hurting, just underneath the ribs. I used Google and figured it was either soft tissue damage or my kidneys. When it hurt after I urinated I figured it was my kidneys. Made an appointment to see the doctor.

This morning I went to the hospital. The urologist ordered an ultrasound and urinalysis. During the ultrasound, the doctor showed me the picture of my left kidney and pointed to a large shadow on the top of it. She said it wasn't the same as the left kidney and asked if I'd ever had a tumor. I told her about my mom, how she'd had a tumor in her kidney that caused the loss of her kidney. She looked serious and said that I would probably need a contrast scan to find out if I might have a tumor. Went back to the urologist who agreed. Said I probably had a tumor but as I also had a UTI I needed to get rid of that and take some anti-inflammatories to get rid of the swelling around my kidney before we did the scan. I now have two weeks to wait to find out if I have a tumor on or in my kidney.

I'm not feeling so hot about things at the moment. Add to that the fact that I don't have insurance. I just started my new job at the beginning of January and don't get my first paycheck until next week. As soon as I got that I was going to apply for a policy. Only now it's too late. Even if I get the policy soon, any expenses coming out of today's discoveries won't be covered. I'm on the hook for whatever this ends up costing, assuming the worst.

And I'm trying not to assume the worst. It could just be a long-term infection--or so Google says--something that's been there for a while that caused a malformation of something structurally. I don't know. I won't know for two weeks.

I also looked up hints for coping with the emotions that come while waiting for medical tests. Essentially the same handful of prescriptions that apply to every f#*king mental illness in general. Exercise, eat right, be social, stay busy. Only thing is, tomorrow is my last day before a week and a half off for the Lunar New Year holiday. The entire country shuts down and goes back to their family homes and spends a week drinking and eating and lighting incense. As a single white ex-pat in Ho Chi Minh City, I have little choice but to do nothing and to spend my time alone. I can read books or watch movies, and I probably will, but those are passive activities that don't do a spectacular job at the whole distraction bit.

That gives me two weeks to worry about what the new test might show, and how I'm going to pay for any surgery or treatment that might ensue. How I'm going to avoid anxiety and falling into depression I'm not sure. One of the reasons I'm writing this, now, on Thursday afternoon. Not so much to inform anyone about what's going on, but to distract me from staring at a social media feed without really seeing any of the posts.

It's helped. Already I feel better. I know I need to be proactive. Work to fill my time with positive activities. Write. Go for walks. Talk to people. But I'm still struggling to come up with ways to fill up day after day with active, focused actions. I don't want to blame my mental health issues, but self-directed activity isn't the sharpest arrow in a schizophrenic's quiver. And maybe that sentence itself is a symptom of my reaction to everything that went on this morning. To the uncertainty and the not knowing what might happen in two weeks.

An exercise.

Self, imagine it's a month from now, you've received the worst news, you've had to borrow money to pay for surgery, you've emerged from the anesthetics without a tumor and, after a loopy bit where you might have heard some strange music while on the pain meds, you go home and go back to work. It takes a few months of frugality but you pay back the loan--thank god healthcare in Vietnam is a fraction of the cost in America--and you're back on the road to accomplishing your goals: getting published, losing a hundred pounds, and being able to use Vietnamese for business. It was only a detour, really, a setback. You may have to push back the timeline a little, but in the end, you're still roughly in the same position you would have been without the worst-case scenario taking place. What then? How would you treat the next two weeks? Would you sit around moping and feeling sorry for yourself, maybe eating a few pizzas, some burritos, pastries, and burgers? Or would you get up in the morning and do what you planned to do before last night and this morning? Walk to a five-star hotel downtown (one of the few places open during the holiday) and sit in the lobby cafe. Write in the morning until your laptop battery dies, read multiple books in Vietnamese, eat a fruit plate for lunch, read some books in English, maybe write some thoughts down in your notetaking app, eat a salad for dinner, and then walk home? Which one? Which thing would you do if you knew that in the end things will be all right?

Self, self replies, I would probably do the latter. I would probably fight the urge to sink into despair--as I know that that feeling is not fun--and do everything I could do to fill my time proactively and productively. It's a minor variation on what I did for years while freelancing five or six hours a week to make the bare minimum amount I needed for survival. Only instead of maintaining, I would be actively working to fulfill my goals. Walking forty-five minutes to and from the hotel, writing and editing material for a couple of hours, reading and studying Vietnamese, eating fruit plates and salads. All of those things would bring me closer to my goals instead of giving up and spending the next two weeks feeling like I should give up because I might have a medical condition.

Hell, I have schizophrenia. That's a lifetime thing. A tumor--probably benign--can be removed at one go. A few days to recover from the surgery, a few months to pay for it, and I'm as good as new. A lot of people buy expensive houses on credit and spend their entire lives in debt. What're a few thousand dollars for my health?

Self, I think you're on the right path. It's much easier to be happy and content than it is to be anxious and depressed. Life will go on, you'll survive, it's not likely to be a terminal condition. Your mom lost a kidney to her tumor but she's still alive. You'll live. And you'll still be able to work on your goals, still be able to improve your life, and grow towards becoming the man you recently rediscovered you could be. You have the tools, you learned them over the last year in therapy. You're in a good place now, you can figure this out. You can overcome. Or, to paraphrase Obama, yes, you can.

And I would then thank self and remember that I'm schizophrenic and not borderline and that this entire conversation is ridiculous and I need to get some things done before I finish the week and start my Lunar New Years' holiday.

As I said at the beginning, this post was all about me. Thank you for bearing with me. I needed to write this, to work through what I learned this morning, and to save myself from two weeks of misery. If I'm lucky, you learned something too, but I really don't care. It helped me, and that's what's important to me right now.


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