Well, I figure I should let you know how I got to ‘here’. So, here’s the skinny.
I, in no way, was considered popular in school. I was well known, but not one of the ‘popular kids’ for a couple of reasons. We were the only black family in the small town I grew up in. That alone made us stand out easily. Plus, because I was actually shy, I overcompensated by being the class clown. I had a close group of good friends, but we were known as ‘The Quad Squad’. We were square. Still, we wore the label proudly. I found solace in the creative arts and jumped into them head first. I wrote short stories, acted in plays, but it was music that grabbed my heart with the strongest hold. I played music. I loved it! I thrived on it. I was a music geek. After I graduated, I found that the exact same thing that made me a geek in school suddenly was perceived as ‘cool’ as an adult. Music became my career. It’s a brutal business to be in, but the thrill of playing in front of a live, screaming crowd of people who adored me was more than exciting and made the struggle of the business side worth it. It’s a wonderful way to make a living, see the world, and deal with the hurdles of being shy. As most musicians do, I also worked in the food service industry, bartending for most of it. I enjoyed that as well. Not to the same extent, of course, but I have made some life long friends thanks to those jobs and, in a way, it was another stage for performance. Plus, I was good at it, too. I enjoyed the interaction with others. It worked out well, since being in front of a crowd drove me. MS changed that. Being in front of people became draining. In fact, that was were I noticed the effects first. I didn’t know what was causing it at the time, but looking back I can see the evidence. Like a blonde I once waited on had said, “Hindsight is 50/50”. True story. (I’m not necessarily picking on blondes, but she was blonde. Plus she said this after pouring a full mug of beer over my bar while trying to look at the bottom of the mug……….yeah. Genius right there.) I began to struggle, physically, in the past couple of years, but had simply chocked it up to age, (I’m currently in my mid 40s and both music and bartending are hard on a human body.).
While bartending, I would run out of gas halfway through a shift…..instantly. It wasn’t gradual. One moment, I would be my normal plucky self. Smiling and singing along with the tunes playing over the speaker system. The next, all I wanted to do was disappear and lie down somewhere. As days went on, the fatigue would hit me even before I got to work. Hell, sometimes I would get to work early, (normal for me) simply to end up sitting in my car taking a short 10 to 15 minute nap before walking into the building. Alas, the nap didn’t ever seem to help, but I felt compelled to try it every time, to no avail.
Musically, I started to notice my fingers just would not do what they naturally did just months before. Chord progressions that I used to play effortlessly were now struggles to get through. Knowing where I was in the song we were playing, hell, what song we were playing, would just flutter right out of my head. Once again, I simply thought to myself, ‘Doc, you are just getting old. You just need to put more effort and practice into it.’, but that never changed anything. Playing started to become a frustrating experience instead of a wonderfully fulfilling experience creating music. Still, I blamed age. I began to experience depression, which caused me to become less social, turning down offers to play shows. Turning down requests to cover shifts for coworkers. Bowing out of get togethers with friends. I just wanted to be alone. I was changing, and everyone I cared about…everything I cared about was being affected. Depression has a way of doing that, even when you are trying damn hard not to let anyone see it.
These struggles began to show more and more outwardly to those around me. My music buddies stopped calling me offering gig opportunities. (Not surprising. I don’t blame them. I was playing like crap.) My coworkers no longer were looking to me as the ‘go to’ guy to get things done. Many of my friends stopped inviting me to dinners and parties. (No blame or surprise with either of those situations either.) My fiancée was frustrated with my lack of assistance around the house, and lack of vim and vigor that used to be common for me. Yes, I had recently lost my best friend to suicide, but it went deeper than that. I was physically weaker, and mentally just plain worn out. There was something wrong, but once again, I put the onus on age.
That changed at the beginning of 2015. I woke up one morning with eye pain, but only in my right eye. Deep, sharp, eye pain. The kind you get when someone has punched you extremely hard, right smack dab on your eyeball! There was a general throbbing pain constantly, and sharp, dagger like pain with movement of the eyeball. I simply thought that, maybe, my fiancée had accidently (or, quite possibly, intentionally, (Kidding Hun!) elbowed me in the eye as I slept and the experience simply didn’t happen to wake me up. I’ve been known to sleep very deeply. (I sleep through violent thunder storms that bring down trees.) Three days I dealt with the pain, thinking nothing more of it. Thinking it would ebb soon. Thinking ‘This is nothing to worry about. It will pass.’
That did not happen. On the third day of pain, as I was driving down the road to meet a friend to watch the NFL playoffs (Steelers Nation!) and have a few beers. On my way, the eye went completely blurry. WHILE I WAS DRIVING! It was, by no means, gradual. One moment I could see fine, the next it was like I was looking through cloudy water, but only in one eye. The painful eye. It scared the Hell out of me! I don’t recall mentioning it to the friend I was meeting. He had enough to deal with on his own, which was part of the reason we were meeting. His lovely significant other (also a long time friend of mine) had been dealing with fighting breast cancer for several years. Sometimes, no matter how strong you want to be for someone you love, you need to have that ‘release’ time, and having some drinks with me was to be that for him. I was really looking forward to it. I’m happy to help out a friend, when I can. We still get together as often as we can, even though now his concern extends to me (which I am immensely grateful. Thanks Jason).
The next day, while getting together for brunch, I mentioned the eye situation to friends who demanded I go see a doctor, and scolded me for not doing this sooner. (Side note, people who actually care about you usually scold you when you do something stupid, or do not do something you most clearly should have done earlier. That’s because they care.) Sure, my girl did this as well, but really, when have any of you listened to your wife the first time? Don’t judge me!
Well, honest to goodness, I went to the clinic the very next day. (See, Will, Scott and Bev, I actually listened to you……oh, and you too Jen 🙂 ) Right after I got out of work, I drove to the neighborhood clinic where I sat in a waiting room full of coughing, giggling, hyper, sticky little aliens, (For those of you who don’t know me, that’s how I refer to children. Not a fan.) It was the least expensive……ah, crap……what’s the word?…….option, for I had no insurance at the time. I sat there waiting to be seen, with my shirt pulled up over my mouth and nose, a la Tony Shalhoub’s ‘Monk’ trying to avoid the germs flying around the room. Finally, I was brought into an examination room. The nurse who tended to me was as nice as can be. (Let’s be honest, some of them have been beaten down for too long by an all too commonly thankless job which causes them to sometimes take it out on the patient. You can’t blame them. They deal with quite a lot of shit. Very literally, sometimes.) After I explained my situation to her, she did several tests, but could not figure out what was wrong. She decided this might be a job for an optometrist. She wrote down a reference’s name and number on the back of her card, and told me to keep her informed on what I might learn in the coming days. Thank you to her! She had true compassion and concern for my situation. Plus, when I run into her to this day, she still remembers who I am, asks how my situation is, and how it’s going now. Well over a year later. Right down to my name. Kudos is in order.
So……the next day I call the optometrist and explain my lopsided vision situation. He didn’t even consider bringing me in for a……crap, there goes the train of thought…… wait! I’ve got it. He didn’t even consider bringing me in for an EXAM. (Yup, that’s the simple word I couldn’t think of. Common occurrence these days.) He immediately told me I needed to see an ophthalmologist. Trust me. Before this experience, I didn’t know the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist either. Outside of those in the field, who does!?! Certainly not me. Only after the experience did I look up the difference. (I’ll leave it up to you to look it up for yourself. ‘Give a man a fish and all…….you know the rest.)
Well……..my time with the ophthalmologist is the beginning of an entirely new, drawn out, series of office visits, questions and answers, several tests, and finally an ‘ah ha!’ moment for the next post. By the time that we get to the end of that installment, you should know the entire story ramping up to diagnosis. We will be that much closer to the present, which will be easier for me to remember more detail, and hopefully be more entertaining. I hope to see you then.
Until the next post, keep appreciating that fact that you are living and breathing. It always seems to be a good sign for me.