Henry David Thoreau lived in a cabin on Walden Pond for a little over two years. The following is the opening of the journal he kept about his experience: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
In June 2018, I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. After my discharge from the hospital, I moved back into my apartment in Virginia. My mother stayed with me, took care of me, and accompanied me to my outpatient appointments. In September of that year, she and I drove to my parent’s house in South Carolina, where I stayed until the end of 2018. Much of my physical healing took place during those few months as well as the return of my ability to think abstractly and make inferences. In April 2020, I had just been hired to begin tutoring at a center near where I lived in Virginia. Previously, I had been a teacher but found the classroom to be too overwhelming. However, helping an individual student articulate the themes for “Of Mice and Men,” seemed within my capabilities.
Of course, in March of that year, the COVID-19 Pandemic struck and my job was canceled. As a result, I moved back in with my parents for 13 months. During this time, I was able to continue to heal from emotional difficulties and existential angst. I also began to work with a Somatic Experience Therapist. Most importantly, I realized I needed to change careers. I owed it to myself and all of the friends I’d made who had experienced brain injuries and were unable to return to work. After reflecting, I realized becoming a Clinical Mental Health Counselor and helping others recover from acquired and traumatic brain injuries would be fulfilling. I applied for, was accepted, and began a program in January 2022.
At the end of June 2023, I went to visit my parents on July fourth. Unfortunately, my mother who had previously been diagnosed with ALS, about a year earlier, had regressed to the point where she needed 24-hour care. It made sense for me to move back in with them full-time to be able to provide support. I needed to make a few adjustments to my schedule, but I would still be able to attend class and counsel clients at my internship virtually. I was also able to assume the position of caretaker that my mother previously held while I was recovering.
In the almost two and a half months I’ve lived here, I’ve found a good balance between self-care, tending to my mother’s needs, attending school, and counseling in an internship. My schedule is much busier now, and I’m reminded of a quotation from the film The King of Kong: For a Fistful of Quarters, in which the head referee of The Twin Galaxies arcade, Robert Mruczek, discusses his routine:
“I’ve seen or witnessed more than 20,000 video tapes or world record scores over the last four and half years. I almost don’t sleep. I go to sleep between three-thirty and five o’clock in the morning on weekdays. There are days when I do 24-hour stretches of nothing but watching games, on top of my regular job, which is accounting, that I do 60 to 70 hours a week.”
I recently heard a philosophy podcast in which Donovan Miyasaki interpreted Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “The Will to Power,” as a model for life. This interpretation applied to my life and current situation:
“The qualitative will to power isn’t about comparing my present state to my past state. It’s not about anticipating some future state where I’ll be better than I am now. I’m taking immediate and direct satisfaction from engaging in an activity for its own sake because by engaging in that activity, I feel something. It’s the feeling of power that I’m enjoying and finding satisfaction in. Engaged in resisting some obstacle, what I want is for the activity to go on. Kids play cops and robbers for the game to continue. If it ends, they change the rules. The end is not important.”
The first two to three years of my recovery were difficult as I wrestled with a lot of existential questions. If my ability to make emotional connections was compromised, and I didn’t have a physical response to attraction, and getting married/starting a family had always been an important goal, then what was the point? Similarly, I had placed so much of my focus on publishing my first book, thinking it would drastically alter my life; when my first book came out, and nothing changed, it only added to the difficulty. Over time, and with the help of my somatic experience therapist, I’ve been able to adjust to find fulfillment and be comfortable with an uncertain future. I’ve been able to make some changes such as a new career path, and I’ve found joy in the process of writing rather than the goal, similar to Mr. Miyasaki’s interpretation of The Will to Power. So now, I take classes, counsel, prioritize self-care, and help my parents navigate this difficult time.
Helping my mother, day to day, I can make her laugh and help her feel more comfortable. I can help my father process everything and prepare for an uncertain future. However, there’s nothing I can do that will change anything. I can find solace in knowing I will always stay engaged in the activity. Being able to apply that to life is difficult, but that’s the discipline, and if you can do it, in the words of Bukowski “You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is…” Most people would probably not embrace the situation as an opportunity. However, I believe I am fronting the essential facts of life.