I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to receive bad news. In all honesty, even in the moments where I was prepared for it, at least to degree I could have been, bad news was still bad.
I’ve run from bad news. I’ve avoided the conversations and appointments that I thought would shine light on terrible truths I’d tried to keep hidden in the shadows. I consistently lie to myself, desperately trying to believe that everything is okay, although deep-down I suspect quite the opposite to be true.
The most prevalent, most pervasive fear of impending doom is centered around my physical health. I am quite certain, most all of the time, that I am a total goner and the only real shocking thing is that I’ve made it this long. No matter the lengths to which I’ve gone–desperately attempting to hide from my own body–I always come back to the same truth: I am right where I am supposed to be. Whatever degree of physical health I’m experiencing is a product of my own contributions (or lack thereof), and random circumstance. There is only so much control I have.
This insidious fear first reared its head when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I’d been struggling with some pain and bizarre symptoms for quite a while in my stomach and back. After what seemed like a million trips to doctors and labs and specialists, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease. I learned that it was a genetic disease that caused my kidneys to grow cysts. My nephrologist (kidney doctor) was awesome and spent so much time and attention explaining the disease to me. However, I struggled mightily to wrap my head around the reality of the situation. I believed I was done for. The disease has the propensity to impact kidney function to the point of total renal failure and necessitate dialysis and kidney transplant. So, it was only natural for me to be certain that I was headed for the worst possible outcome in short order. Over time though, my checkups continued to be very reassuring, and my specialist continually reinforced that this was a disease that commonly progressed slowly over time, and we’d start to develop a real sense of where I was headed sometime in my late twenties or thirties. That was all I needed to hear. When I left home for college, I left my Polycystic Kidney Disease behind me. I didn’t have time or energy to spare on a disease that was not causing any undue stress in my life.
A healthy personal foundation in my life requires consistent maintenance and attention to an interconnected set of cornerstones. One maintenance lever that I have a tremendous degree of control over, which has a profoundly positive impact on my life, is regular checkups with my physicians. It is one of the primary influencers of my physical wellbeing—where simple positive action leads to increased opportunity for positive outcomes. It is the essential preventative maintenance program.
Fear of the unknown kept me out of the doctor’s office. My doctor had told me that I would start to know the true impact on my kidneys in my late twenties and early thirties. I was in my late twenties and wanted nothing to do with bad news. I was afraid, and that fear determined my actions. As much as I tried to push aside the worry and concern until tomorrow, always until tomorrow, it never entirely left. I shouldered a burden everywhere I went that only got heavier and heavier. It was a sense of impending doom that I couldn’t shake. I tried to hide from the dull pain in my back and sides that would ebb and flow but never completely go away.
A new pain eventually drove me into the doctor’s office a year ago. I was losing my serenity because my physical condition began to deteriorate. My girlfriend made me promise her that I’d go, which was good because she is well aware how stubborn and stupid I am about the doctor.
I found out that knowing, at least for me, is a whole lot better than not knowing. My fear, essentially, was a fear of the unknown. I can imagine every possible terrible outcome in my head, all in a single moment. But upon being equipped with the facts, I am able to clearly and concisely process the path ahead of me.
I learned that my kidneys have grown quite a few new cysts. There are a lot of them now. My kidney function is still in really good shape, which was incredibly reassuring. There are some concerning growths on my kidneys that my doctor suspected were cancer. Nothing has been ruled out for the time being, but he feels okay enough about things to hold off on my next MRI for one year. So, here I am with some facts. I’m probably not going to, at least because of my kidneys, kick the bucket today. I do have a progressive, genetic kidney disease that has no cure. I’m okay right now though. And that is what matters. I can start planning my actions accordingly, and I don’t have to worry about planning the outcomes (even though I certainly will try).
But I have freedom. The fear isn’t gone altogether, but it has eased considerably. Proper maintenance of my physical wellbeing has produced not only physical freedom, but emotional freedom, as well. Some days I use that freedom to be afraid of other things, usually ridiculous, totally irrational things. But others, I take advantage of the freedom to be right where my feet are. It allows me to focus on what I can control, right here, right now. It allows me to see simple actions I can take to be a better person. Please share your experiences with gaining freedom through physical wellbeing. Together we can share an understanding of how to build a better self and then use that freedom toward building a better world together.