It’s a word that gets thrown out there a lot, but what does it mean? From the New Oxford American Dictionary:
The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.
In other words, healing. Moving on.
It sounds simple, but it’s probably the hardest thing a human being can ever experience. No one can teach you how to do it, and no one except yourself can convince you that it’s even possible.
If you’re at all like me, you’re used to having a say in the outcome of things. In your arrogance, you’ve spent your entire life teaching yourself that there’s no unsolvable problem. That it all comes down to finding the right way out.
Except sometimes, there’s no way out. Sometimes, things really are out of your control, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Sometimes, shit does indeed happen.
There may come a day, and I hope it doesn’t, but there may come a day when life smacks you in the head with absolute impunity, making you feel helpless, laughably small. Pitted against the universe with only your fragile ego to defend you. And in that moment a sudden realization will strike: deep down you’ll know —you’ll know— that you can try your best, you can give it all you’ve got, and you’ll still fail.
For the first time in your life, you’ll get to experience the absolute fear of knowing that your best shot will not be enough. And then nothing will ever be the same.
Today I listened to episode 5 of Analog(ue), the excellent podcast hosted by Casey Liss and Myke Hurley. In it they were joined by Stephen Hackett, co-founder of Relay FM and author of 512 Pixels. In this very special episode they talked about what it feels like to go through some extremely difficult, life-altering moments, and how choosing to share their story (or not) helped them find some much-needed catharsis.
Stephen talked about how soul-crushing it was for him to face the fact that his 6-month-old baby had brain cancer. Casey talked about how difficult it was for him and his wife Erin to get pregnant, and how painful it was to keep trying for years with no success and not even a guarantee that it would one day happen. Both Casey and Stephen had written about it on their sites before, and they explained how the act of putting it out there helped them deal with their overwhelming emotions. Myke talked about his reluctancy to share his intimate feelings with the outside world, and how he usually doesn’t find comfort in the act of sharing. And yet, he found the courage to talk about his grandfather passing away not two weeks ago, and having to attend his funeral.
It was a genuine, honest show full of powerful moments, and you should definitely listen to it. Analog(ue) is quickly becoming one of my favorite podcasts, and it’s in no small part for the authenticity that Casey and Myke bring to the table every single week.
It’s also helping me a great deal in overcoming my own personal struggles. Like Myke, I’m a fairly private person and I don’t usually share my feelings, except with but a handful of my closest friends and family members. The version of myself that’s talking to you now, through these written words, is more open and straightforward than I will ever be. In a way, you could get to know me better by reading this site than you would by being a real-world friend or acquaintance of mine.
I realize there’s something odd about that. I don’t want to say it’s wrong, but that’s exactly what part of me feels like when talking about this stuff. I don’t know why I’m like that. It’s certainly not on purpose, but there’s something inherently cathartic about writing, something that’s much harder for me to achieve by talking. I don’t feel comfortable at all sharing my inner thoughts with those around me, except under very controlled circumstances, and this is one of them.
I like to think I know myself better than most people do. I’m intimately aware of my own emotions, and I don’t hide from them. I usually have a clarity of thinking that helps me navigate my own life without doubt, or regret. I’m not one to dwell on the past, either.
It is in part because I’m convinced I already know the answers that I’m reluctant to ask the questions. I’m wrong, of course. Terribly wrong, I know that —see? I did it again—. However, I can’t help it. It’s just how my mind works.
Until it doesn’t.
Until I, too, find out that there are some things out there I can’t control, and some questions I don’t know the answers to.
Six months ago my life was a lot simpler than it is today. Back then I used to work as a researcher and software developer at the bioengineering and telemedicine research group in Technical University of Madrid. I was 30 years old, healthy, good at my job and everything seemed fine. It was in April, when the results of some routine blood tests came back, that I found out I have type-1 diabetes. That means my body can’t regulate my blood sugar levels on its own, and I’ll need to inject myself with insulin 4 times a day for the rest of my life to survive.
It could have been a devastating discovery —and it certainly wasn’t easy—, but luckily it didn’t come as a total surprise. It hardly could, considering that both my father and my older brother have been living with the same condition for years. There was always a chance that it could one day happen to me too, and I’ve been preparing for it for years.
The fact that I have diabetes is not a secret. I’ve never tried to hide it, and I’ve even mentioned it here before, albeit only in passing. But the truth is, I’ve never really talked about it with anyone. Today I’ve already shared more than ever before and like Myke, I’m not having a particularly fun time writing about it. I only do it because I know there are many people like me out there, and perhaps reading about my experience can help alleviate some of their own frustration.
To me, finding out I had diabetes was a particularly ironic thing to discover, because the majority of the work I had done at the time was related to the use of technology for the prevention and management of, you guessed it, diabetes. The universe does have a sense of humor sometimes.
At least I already knew most of what I needed to do, and I could look at my situation with some small measure of objectivity. There are far worse things to have, as far as chronic autoimmune diseases go. Diabetes is quite manageable, and with proper care and a healthy lifestyle I can expect to live a long, normal life without many issues.
But boy, does it suck.
It sucks because suddenly, at 31, I’m no longer healthy and I will never be healthy again. No more crazy trips with friends, no more being able to do whatever I want without planning ahead. No more freedom. This is the kind of realization I was talking about earlier, the kind that knocks you out when you least expect it.1
Strangely, it’s also been kind of a relief. After years of worrying about it, it finally happened. I could finally focus on putting it behind me, and try to move on. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but what choice did I really have?
As it turned out, not much of a choice at all, so I did the only thing that I could: I slowly learned to control my diet, regularly check my blood sugar levels, count carbs and adapt my exercise regime to make it compatible with my condition. It was mostly a trial-and-error procedure, but thankfully I didn’t have any major scares, and it took me very little time to get the hang of it. Pretty soon things were back to normal, or at least as normal as they could get. Very quickly, I started feeling much better, too. I was stronger, had more energy throughout the day and slept much better at night. It seems crazy now, but after months of progressive degeneration, my body had actually forgotten what being healthy feels like.
All of this happened between April and May, but this is only one half of the story. The other half began at the end of July when, in what I can only describe as impeccable timing, I was laid off.2 Yet another major area of my life was spiraling out of control.
That could have been a serious setback but, for some reason, it wasn’t. Not really. If there’s one good thing about being diagnosed with a chronic disease it’s that it puts everything else in perspective. Still, it was time to make some hard decisions.
I’ve never been interested in doing corporate work (which is the main reason I was working for a public university in the first place), and I always pictured myself in the future as a self-employed creative professional. And so, after some serious thinking and soul-searching, I’ve decided to invest in myself. I’d been considering it for quite some time, toying with the idea, but I never had the courage to actually go for it. Abandoning the security of a monthly paycheck is a pretty hard thing to do, and I always found an acceptable excuse to put it off until the time was right.
That time is now.
As of a couple of months ago, I’m no longer employed in the traditional sense of the term. I’m working harder than I ever have, only this time I’m doing it for me first. It’s an incredible feeling, and I’m loving every minute of it.
You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m not quite ready to share much more about my plans, at least for now. Suffice it to say that Analog Senses is an essential piece of the puzzle, and that a sizable chunk of my efforts will be geared towards growing it and building it into a profitable business. If you’ve been a reader of this site for some time, you may have noticed that the frequency —and hopefully, the quality— of my writing has increased in the past couple of months. It is my hope that things will continue to get better around here in the upcoming weeks and months. These are really exciting times in my life, and I’d love to have you along for the ride.
I’m aware that there are a million things out there I can’t control, and I’ve made my peace with that. These days I often remember this great quote by Stanley Kubrick:
However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
I am deeply, absolutely terrified, but I’m also determined, and I know what I have to do. However long the odds, there’s still a chance it just may work. And that’s a chance worth fighting for.
As ever, thank you for reading.