A little over two years ago I experienced a fairy severe hemorrhagic stroke that left me with memory loss, difficulties speaking (Broca's aphasia), extreme fatigue and a number of other lingering health issues. While many of the symptoms faded over time, my memory returned, and I overcame my limitations speaking, fought against the constant fatigue and struggled with certain types of logic problems that were a constant companion - even on a good day.
Bad days? I simply did my best to make it through.
One of the weird side effects of the stroke was that I lost my hay fever allergies. After being plagued my entire life by constant low-grade sinus irritation throughout most of year, my allergies were suddenly and inexplicably gone.
On top of the lingering symptoms from the stroke, in late June, I found myself battling what I thought was a simple bladder infection. After five days of discomfort that grew into crippling pain, I found myself in the Emergency Department of our local hospital, pumped full of synthetic morphine and looking at my CAT scan of a kidney stone that was large enough that it was continually blogging my system and backing it up into my kidneys as it slowly worked its way through my body. Three prescriptions later (and a funnel closed with a mesh screen to catch the stone when I urinated) and I was sent home to wait it out - an experience that the hospital staff informed me was slightly more painful than giving birth.
As I stood in the shower, seeking solace and distraction from the pain under the flow of hot water, I saw a vision of myself (something that is fairly common for a traditionally trained shaman especially under physical duress). In my vision, my flesh was taught and gnarled like dried meat, every bit of life drawn from it until it was as hard as woven rope. It's not that my flesh was dead - it's simply that every ounce of softness had been drawn from it. I was clad in armor forged from tears and pain, images of agony and turmoil from my path woven into the alloy if the plate mail. I shook my head to clear it of the images, fighting to stand in the shower, overwhelmed by the excruciating pain that carved through my abdomen.
On July 1st at approximately 2 AM West Coast time, I was sitting up in bed, talking with my wife, Briana, when I was hit by a sudden splitting headache that lasted approximately ninety seconds. While it's hard to accurately explain, I could "see" both frontal lobes of my brain bathed in robin's egg blue light and the area where the stroke occurred illuminated in an even paler blue. The intensity of the headache (9 on a scale of 1 to 10) stopped our conversation in its tracks before fading as suddenly as it appeared. Due to the lateness of the hour, my wife and I mutually decided to curl up together and and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning when I opened my eyes, I felt "weird." As I went through my mental library, the most recent time I could remember feeling the same way was approximately five years previous - a morning in the summer when I was in excellent shape and in top physical condition.
As I got out of bed, I discovered that all of the pain and discomfort from the kidney stone had disappeared - even though I never passed the stone. What's more is that all of the lingering symptoms from the stroke - something I have lived with every day for more than two years - were utterly absent. My mind was sharp, I had a tremendous amount of energy, and everything had been "renewed."
Even my hay fever had returned.
I immediately returned to my pre-stroke activity levels, something I hadn't been able to approach in more than two years. Working out twice a day (something that would have been unthinkable during the stroke years), I've dropped a full size (shirts and pants) and I’m still going strong. Everyone - my wife, my children, my extended family - comments on the profound difference in my energy. Some say I'm "more there." Others talk about the "intensity" that I bring to every moment (something I was known for in my past). It's required a recalibration on the part of those that have shared my world for the past two years who grew accustomed to a quiet, low-energy, easily fatigued person.
My old motto used to come from a song by Reverend and the Makers called, "Heavyweight Champion of the World." The lyric said, "If you're not living on the edge you take up too much room." My life was once dedicated to milking every moment dry, of falling asleep at the end of every day having lived life - even the simple, stay-at-home mundane moments - to their fullest, and to constantly pushing my boundaries. I lived a life without regrets. Every moment was completely and consciously embraced; even when I chose to relax with a book, it was often with candlelight, soft music, and a comforting beverage. When the stroke hit, the fatigue was so severe that, at first, I couldn't do a simple chore for more than a moment or two without having to go rest. Last night, I had to go walk for an hour around 11 PM simply to unwind as my energy level was too high to sleep - and that was after having worked out twice that day.
As I stepped into the shower the morning after the headache with the blue light, I used a shamanic technique to revisit the vision that I had seen of the hard dried flesh and the armor of pain. My goal was to understand what my subconscious was telling me and to decipher the lesson behind it. Instead of a desiccated, ghoulish figure in plate mail of grey and blue alloys, a vibrant Norse warrior in the prime of his life stood in its place. The armor forged of pain and agony was there, but it was overlaid with thick metal plates of green and gold patterns. As I looked closer, the patterns in the armor were scenes of life - animals; plants; rivers and mountains; skies and seas.
The chains that once held me down have been shattered. Given a second chance to run with the wind, nothing will ever restrain me again. I have an amazing wife, wonderful children, and a handful of trusted friends. I have perspective, drive, and a pocket full of talent. And my hunger, drive and confidence are returned in spades.
I've always been "too much" for some people. The events of the past few years left me a shell of what I once was which I think made it much easier for some folks to accommodate me. After the headache and blue light, I'm not sure how to explain it, but I'm more than I ever was. On a normal day, I'm an over-exuberant golden retriever with a furiously wagging tail. But when the light catches me just right, you stop and realize that there's an awful lot of Wolf in that friendly dog. It's not a combination that many are comfortable with - but it's me to the core.
A lot of that incredibly deep pool of energy is directed into me pushing my own limits in art, spirituality, fitness, and even in parenting. To me the phrase "comfort zone" translates to "time to try something new." Suddenly "scrambled eggs" become "breakfast crepes." Since I tend to share my art, there's a lot coming down the pipeline that I'll be sharing with all of you. In addition to writing and photography, I'm starting to sketch again. I'm learning Spanish and piano and toying with guitar. In between packing boxes for our upcoming move (next weekend), I'm storyboarding episodes for a long-awaited Web-based video series.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The joke used to be that I accomplished more in a single day than any three people should be able to do. My junior year in high school I played football, ran cross-country, and was the drum major in the band – all at the same time. Recharged, renewed, with a freshly forged set of armor, I'm throwing Life to the ground and making it submit to my will and give me every last thing I want. This chapter of my story is MINE to write. To those who complain and caution, I quietly and firmly say, "Move.” You’re in my way. To those who want to come along, I offer a smile that’s half golden retriever’s wagging tail and half wolf’s measured stare. "If you’re willing, follow me! It's going to be an epic ride!"
Once, long ago, our deeds were remembered in campfire stories and sang in raucous feasting halls. The details don’t matter to me, but I will live a life worthy of my ancestor’s songs. That's a promise. Don't believe me? Step aside. I'll show you how it's done.