Ungrateful

This is a post that will likely interest no one but myself. In fact, I am just writing it to try putting into words some rambling thoughts. And, I am very much aware that these thoughts are not original in the sense that surely people brighter and smarter than me have expressed them in some way or another. That being said, if you want to read it and find something useful in it, great!

I will sound ungrateful, and I probably am, but sometimes I feel that 2014 should have been a happier year.

I want to be happy. There is nothing remarkable about this sentiment. I share it with virtually every other conscious human being on this planet. The thing is that thank God and so far, I have lived and I still am living, a very happy life.

Why do I feel ungrateful then? Well, the second half of 2013 was rather stressful for all of us. Lisa’s dad passed unexpectedly in July, at 89 years old; he’d been living with us since 2001. I was the one at home when it happened (911, CPR, the whole thing). To say that it was sad is an understatement! But it was my honor to bid him farewell, as it were, and I’ll just leave it at that…

Things were uneventful from there until the end of the year. Long story short, I had a heart catheterization on Christmas Eve, 2013. They found some narrowings in certain coronaries and sent me home the same day. Despite their assurances that there was no immediate danger, I was scared, really scared; I still am, but not for the reason you’d think. I just do not want to leave my family… I guess I went into the procedure expecting to hear that everything was perfect. That did not happen. I guess it was a matter of time, but at almost 49, I did not expect to “officially” have heart disease. I began to experience anxiety, and in retrospect, depression. If you have never experienced either, you have no idea how blessed you are! To this day, I still have them both. Not fun, but I have every intention of overcoming them and I am doing everything in my power to beat them…

2014 started hectic too. My daughter moved in with us in Jan 2nd. The day of the BIG Snowstorm. It took me about 7 hours to drive to the airport and back (we live at about 45-50 minutes from the airport under normal circumstances). There were a couple more snowstorms later in the year including a particularly bad ice storm. We even had to leave the house for a couple of days because of that.

On Feb 24, I needed to go to the hospital because of jaw pain. I ended up having another cath and I left the hospital the next day (my daugther’s birthday) with a couple of stents. Everything went well, but the symptoms never left. Back at the hospital a week later, they went in again because of the symptoms and found no blockages whatsoever. This time they sent me to an ear nose and throat doctor OR to a rheumatologist OR to a maxilofacial surgeon OR to a neurologist because (thankfully) whatever I have, it is not the heart, period. I went to all of them, and the ones they did not tell me to go, a psychologist and a psychiatrist, are the ones really helping me now.

You see, one thing is to know something and an altogether different thing is to fear that the doctors are wrong, however illogical the thought. The fact is that two different cardiologists went in and saw the same thing. End of story. I have had regular checkups; everything is fine. I even had a stress test (I know, ironic) a couple of months ago, which I passed with flying colors, and damn it, I still wonder…

I guess it is the nature of the beast.

Here’s some unsolicited advice: Avoid googling any sensations, symptoms, etc., that you may experience. You’ll go nuts, really. Nothing can substitute a doctor’s **years** of training.

Back to topic, why do I feel ungrateful?

First, I am ALIVE; thank God I never had a heart attack. My heart was never damaged, not even a little bit. Moreover, I am taking the appropriate steps to minimize the possibility of ever being sick like that again. So right there I feel ungrateful because I have met quite a few people who’s had it way worse than I and still seem to have a positive attitude.

I also feel ungrateful and **guilty** because of my depression and anxiety, as stupid as this sounds; these are diseases, not character flaws. As I said, I know (rather, I hope) that I will overcome these feelings. I tell myself that I need to cut myself some slack. That being said, this situation has made me truly face my own mortality. Before everything that happened, mortality was a “theoretical” concept. I knew it was “there”, but that was about it. It is not theoretical anymore, and that realization has hit me like a ton of bricks. It really, and I mean **really** gives you some perspective, and oddly, a certain peace of mind and (Why not?) a renewed desire for faith as well.

I feel ungrateful because sometimes I fail to appreciate the wonderful times that I have with my family. I am truly blessed. I do not want to take for granted that I am loved, and that I love my wife and kids back. I do not want to take for granted that I see them every day and that I get to hug them and kiss them goodnight. I feel ungrateful because at 23, 16 and 13, they are not strictly “children” anymore and I miss having little kids in the house. I miss having the power to awe them because I am bigger and stronger (I cannot do that anymore; my youngest is indeed taller than me and accidentally hurt my wrist at arm wrestling recently)…

I still awe them with what I know sciencewise though; I hope this lasts a little longer; it is my “superpower” after all… (:-)…

I feel ungrateful because this year, in addition to the good news about my heart, another wonderful thing happened. My very first book was published; a popular science book too. It is a big deal for me, I am a bookworm, and I resent that it came during a period of acute anxiety that I felt did not let me enjoy this to the fullest (See? Ungrateful). From the day I received my copies from the publisher, to the day I had a book signing at my local bookstore, there was an underlying “tone” of sadness at the very bottom of my soul that I wanted to keep hidden from everyone I know. Only my wife knew, not because I told her, but because she is after all, my wife and we’ve been together for 22 years now. There are very few things that escape her attention.

**Update: I had another book signing at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience meeting at Washington DC. it was great!!!

Anyway, my state of mind made me feel sorry for myself. No sugarcoating. To that, I constantly tell myself, “Snap out of it! Life’s not perfect, and that is ok!”

Pretty soon a book edited by a colleague will be published (update: already published!). I authored the first chapter. It is a technical book about pharmacology, and I loved writing the chapter!

I got the writing bug. Bad. I even wrote a science fiction/autism short story; it is available in two languages!

This year, I also applied for promotion to Full Professor. This is also a big deal for me, as I am a true academic at heart, and I never expected to be where I am at this moment of my life. How many people can say that they have their dream job? I think I have a very good chance of getting the promotion too. It is remarkable to see how much you have done jobwise when having to report it. I have a **great** group of students working under me this semester and good things are actually happening researchwise.

I am not saying all of this in an arrogant way; I just want to illustrate that I should feel happier, and yet… well, you know.

Predictably, all these things and feelings made me think, and think, and think…

I am beginning to realize how happy I was in the past, and by implication, how happy I am today. Yes, even today, at this stage of my life, in my current, anxious, frame of mind.

Methinks that not very many people realize how happy they are at any given point of their lives.

For example, prior to these words that I am writing today, I think that I can actually pinpoint a few moments in my life when I “was happy and I knew it”. For example, my childhood. I had loving parents and siblings, and I spent most of my time reading and playing (reading mostly). How lucky was I?

I also vividly remember my feelings about meeting my children for the first time. As I looked at them, right after the initial realization of “Holy cow, I am responsible for **that** little human being“, there was a feeling of inexplicable joy and love, a feeling that is as mysterious and joyful today as it was then.

papa kids

I also treasure in my soul how I felt when I got married (no holy cow moment there); I won’t even try to explain that one… All I know is that we’ve been together 22 years and this December we’ll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and it’s been, in the words of the 9th Doctor, FANTASTIC!

lisa and one

You see, through life, you “live”, and oftentimes daily situations tend to disguise true happiness. Take for example, ten years ago. My kids were 13, 6 and 3; my daughter was not even living with us at the time and I missed her dearly. The boys were happy and oh, so cute! I was finishing a PhD at 39, with all the associated pressures, plus conflicts and uncomfortable situations with a person in my research group who was, well… It does not matter now and in retrospect (you’ll see why) this person was a mere annoyance, even though it felt much worse at the time.

The shock of the unexpected passing of Lisa’s mom was three years behind us; the pain and longing, not so much. I worried about job prospects, I worried about my family, etc., but, you know? We were HAPPY!

First, small children have small problems. In fact, the seriousness of the problems is directly proportional to their age. In other words, things were so much simpler then! Then I could make my kids happy just by tickling them, by playing with them. We lived in a truly beautiful part of the country that we still miss a lot, we had quite a few friends, the usual; but sadly, all of that was a tad unappreciated by me at the time. Moreover, my dad was also alive ten years ago.

Then…

We did not know it, but we were at the threshold of a sad, defining moment in the life of our oldest boy.

Also, a few years into my professor career I did meet a couple of truly nasty people, who put my former labmate’s behavior in its proper perspective and taught me how truly malevolent can people be.

Also, my dad passed suddenly in 2009.

I have already described how things have been for me in the last year, and by the way, keep in mind that I am narrating this from my point of view. My Lisa had it much worse than I. She had to deal with all the things that I have said, plus she had to deal with ME!

My purpose is not to tell you a sob story. What is my point?

What I am trying to say is that we did not know how happy we were ten years ago and I think that we also fail to realize how happy we are NOW.

Despite everything. In fact, because of everything.

Things could be much more negative than I am perceiving it now, anxiety & co. notwithstanding. I am reasonably sure that ten years from now things will be much brighter than they would seem now and that I will long for 2014 for what it really was.

What I am trying to say is that I must make an effort and try to objectively pursue a positive attitude and enjoy the great things that life is giving me now. I know it is easier said than done, but I want to enjoy this happiness now, not lament that it is gone years from now because I did not realize how good things are today.

Am I making sense?

What I am trying to say is that even though I am very much aware that life is not perfect and that it is a combination of joy and sadness, so far my share of the former is larger than my share of the latter and for that, if only for that, I should always, and I mean ALWAYS, be grateful.

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Halloween, 2014
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Want to see more of the things I write? Go here for some other posts. By the way, I wrote a book!

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TFB is available as an ebook (Kindle, Nook, as well as in iTunes). The price of the Kindle version was just reduced by Amazon… (:-)

The hardcover is available at Amazon and at the Oxford University Press’ website.  There’s even a 20% discount code from OUP.

This is a popular science book, which I hope to be enjoyed by laypeople and biologists alike.

I also wrote a science fiction story with an autism theme. I published it in two languages, check them out!

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Shoot me a message if you have any questions!

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For the customary disclaimers go to my “About” page…

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8 Comments

  1. Hang in there—when times are bad I try to remember “God helps those who help themselves.” I don’t like being trite–but I understand what you speak of.

  2. You’re making sense to me, too. Perhaps because I share your feelings: I have so much to be thankful for, but I tend sometimes to focus on my challenges and setbacks. And what I have to be thankful for outpaces by strides my setbacks.

    By the way, good luck on the application to be full professor!

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