Convergence

They say life is imperfect. For a long while now, I've disagreed. This convergence right here -- me writing this hours (or days!) ago, and you reading it at this very moment -- represents absolute perfection, at least to me. The craziest and most unlikely of events brought us here, to this itty-bitty place, together ... a place that doesn't even exist in any tangible, traditionally meaningful way. What remarkable lives we tiny needles have led, to meet here, in this strange little haystack.

Open your mind to the billion-trillion ways our lives might not have intersected, and you just might weep from the humbling awe of it all. I have. Because instead of being in those theres, you're here. It could've happened countless different ways -- and perhaps should've -- but didn't. Our respective tempests intersected in this teapot, and make no mistake: it was a perfect storm that delivered us here. We're right where we're supposed to be.

I refer not to God or fate -- though you're welcome to imprint that meaning upon my words if you wish -- but to cause and effect. Decisions made by you, me, our families and friends and lovers and 6 billion others. Butterflies in China, hurricanes in Florida, that sort of thing.

By my reckoning, there is perfection in these impossible odds ... even when these convergences present heartbreak or other challenges. Earlier today, I reminded myself of this, as life-changing news was re-confirmed to me by a doctor on the other side of a telephone.

I can count on two hands the number of people who, until this little miraculous moment that's brought us together, knew this secret about me.

I am a diabetic.

I've known this since 2006, though I did nothing to treat this incurable disease -- and in fact actively engaged in unhealthy activity that likely worsened my condition since my initial diagnosis. The deeply-rooted, irrational, cowardly and misguided reasons for this self-destructive avoidance are mine to examine and rectify. I respectfully contend that there's not much value in sharing them here.

However, I also respectfully contend that you might find value in what brought me to this re-diagnosis, and how I'm dealing with it.

A few months back, I went to the dentist for the first time in 20 years, and explained the incapacitating pain I experienced on the left side of my face when I chewed food. X-rays revealed an impacted lower wisdom tooth. The only way to eliminate the pain was to yank that sucker out of my head. The doctor suggested I have my other wisdom teeth also removed.

I smiled, saluted, promised to take care of it, and learned to chew food on the right side of my mouth, because...

...three weeks later, I moved from Fort Lauderdale to my new home near Denver. The financial, and health insurance, dust settled mere weeks ago. I visited a local oral surgeon, presented my situation, and when he asked if I was a diabetic, I paused.

Lying would've been easy. I'd been lying to myself for nearly a half-decade. But lying to others is a lousy thing to do.

I'm glad I fessed up. The surgeon explained that blood sugar levels (which diabetes affects, among a frickin' Who's Who of other bodily things) are in fact required to be within certain limits during and after the surgery, due mostly to the anesthesia and other drug cocktail-y stuff used in the procedure. The health of someone with abnormally high blood sugar like me would be at risk.

I'm a heavy cigarette smoker. And so, I was also told that after this surgery, I couldn't smoke for several days -- lest I risk "sucking" special (and necessary) blood clots out of the fresh holes in my head. Dry socket, it's called. I was told it's excruciating. That's all I needed to know.

And did I mention I live a sedentary life? I've recently lost some weight by eating less fast food, but this First World wordherding homebody hates breaking a sweat.

For want of a nail. Or in this case, a tooth.

To eat like a normal person again, I realized I'd have to:

  • Get my blood sugar to a surgery-appropriate level, which meant I had to...
  • ...re-diagnose my diabetes, and diligently treat it with medication...
  • ...and change my diet to lower my blood sugar levels...
  • ...and exercise, which also reduces blood sugar levels...
  • ...and quit smoking, for a great many reasons, including a "dry socket" deterrent.

Much like the circumstances that brought you and I together here, that bullet list represents a truly perfect storm. A storm filled with disruptive Change. A storm designed to frighten the laziness, ignorance and avoidance right out of my marrow, and shove me on a life path I should've been on all along.

And that's exactly what I'm doing. Easy, it ain't gonna be. But believe me when I earnestly say that I've survived far worse.

I wish I was motivated purely by desire and not a hearty dose of desperation ... but so often, so many of us require crises to rediscover our mettle.

You're a creative and intelligent person, so you know just as well as I that this will make me a better, stronger, smarter person. A healthier person. A person who'll live longer, and who won't live with the silent -- and occasionally paralyzing -- guilt of willful self-delusion and -destruction.

And now, on to the reason why I'm sharing this sliver of my life with you. Would you be surprised to know that it has nigh-nothing to do with me -- and nearly everything to do with you? Tis true.

Because we know -- you and me, we two needles in this strange little haystack -- we know that you're sitting on something that is impacting your life in a similarly-spirited way. It may not be a disease, or smoking, or gobbling Smartfood when you should be doing cardio. It may have absolutely nothing to do with the body. But it's there, and it's a thing that's been lurking, and occupying far too much of your mind and emotions, for far too long.

It needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be thoughtfully examined. And it needs to be treated, in the most positive and appropriate way possible.

You don't need a crisis flashpoint like mine to motivate you. You merely require a moment of clarity and courage to look into the mirror of Self, be more honest with your heart than you've been in years, and love yourself enough to make those meaningful changes in your life. Easy, it ain't gonna be. But you've survived far worse.

This moment of clarity and courage need not be epic. Nor must the steps you take to improve your life. They must simply be a series of perfect storms.

Thankfully, those are everywhere. Like the one we just shared.

--J.C.

Going To The Dentist

I went to the dentist today. For the first time in 20 years. I take no pride in this epic neglect, and am ashamed of the insidious fear that I somehow embraced years ago -- a fear that all but ensured I'd never sit in a dentist's chair again. I can't tell you when my pervasive fear of dentists began, or how it was formed. I can't tell you why the thought of someone examining my teeth eventually became far more than an uncomfortable one -- because for you, it's probably that: merely an uncomfortable thought and experience -- or why it detoured into a rat-toothed breed of to-the-marrow terror.

I can't provide you or myself a tidy "why," perhaps the most crucial element in conquering an irrational fear.

For the past 20 years, this phobia dictated my life. I told no one. I became its slave. As the years went on, my fear of dentists was compounded by the fear of what might be happening inside my mouth, and what would be discovered were I to be examined. I've lost count of the times I've started awake, slick with sweat, from nightmares of tooth loss. Fear heaped upon fear.

I ignored warning signs of tooth pain; cavities, most likely. And for more than a decade, my tongue probed an ever-growing wall of tartar behind my front lower teeth that became so hard and large, it completely covered those teeth and nearly all of the gum below. I could no longer feel the contours of my individual teeth. It was like pressing your tongue against a ceramic bowl.

This specific, tangible representation of my situation inspired more dread within me than anything else I've ever known.

My girlfriend and I are moving to Colorado in two weeks, and she made it clear that visiting her dentist before our departure was something very important to her. She booked an appointment for me. I resisted, and eventually confessed my secret fear to her. She was supremely supportive and sympathetic. And because she was so supportive, I didn't bail.

I wanted to. I haven't the words to adequately express how desperately I wanted to. On the drive this afternoon, I gripped the steering wheel so tightly, my knuckles burned white. I prayed for a flat tire. I was pulled taut, could barely speak; red-line adrenaline revved through my capillaries.

I wept when I climbed into the dentist chair. I wouldn't open my mouth when the technician wanted to do an x-ray. I shuddered and sputtered, sounding stupid as the dentist -- a delightful, patient, round-faced 30-year veteran of the business -- tried to speak with me.

They'd pull out every tooth in my head. I was absolutely certain of this. Behold my mouth, a cathedral of neglect. Behold the ruination. Behold my lower front teeth -- rotten, bleeding, crumbling brown things -- tumbling onto my lips as the technician scraped that smooth wall of tartar with a fishhook.

But as the dentist spoke clearly and constructively, demonstrating his expertise and depth of knowledge, the feral thing inside me began to hush. There were no monsters here. And as the dentist commented confidently that the dental issues I described were common (did you know that most folks experience tartar buildup on their lower front teeth? it's due to their proximity to several enthusiastic salivary glands), I realized there were no monsters inside my mouth either.

I did the math, made a leap of faith, and let go. Two hours later, my tongue could feel the individual contours of those bottom teeth again, finally. For me, this is nothing less than a miracle. The woman I love and a man I'd never met changed my life today. They helped me slay a secret, decades-old, scheming, slobbering personal fear.

There are a handful of manageable issues to deal with in the weeks ahead. It's easy stuff. Maintenance will also be easy. My choppers are in surprisingly good shape. And if they weren't -- if the news had been much worse -- I believe in my heart that I would have accepted and embraced this, and taken steps to make things right.

For in the end, I realized that my fears were absolutely real ... but the monster fueling them wasn't.

I share this story with you because I know that you too have a scheming, slobbering personal fear. There's a beast prowling in the confines of your head that has dominated you and your actions for years. We all have at least one; I have several.

Perhaps you're terrified to love someone. Or leave your shitty job, or shitty spouse. Or go to the doctor to diagnose that mysterious lump. Or start writing, singing, pursuing a passion or starting a business. The fear you're feeling is legitimate, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But the beast behind that fear may be a vapor, an engine powered by nothing more than decades of the worst kind of self-affirmation, and ignorance -- a fundamental lack of understanding.

I don't think you need to know the "why" to overcome this fear. I think you just need someone to believe in you: either a loved one, or yourself.

There are people in your life who believe in you. I believe in you. You can believe in you, too.

So come on, come with me. We're going to the dentist.

--J.C.