I’ve been wrestling with real life since November. Close family has been in and out of the hospital, and that has led to numerous adjustments. Adjustments lead to pondering, and it’s hard to write about stuff that’s still stewing.
Easier to point to TikTok.
Welcome to the club
I’m not alone. Many of you have gone through similar situations, caring for children or an older parent with major health issues. Sometimes with amazing aplomb, being totally present and taking everything in stride. Sometimes with a lot of struggle, affecting other family relationships or professional responsibilities.
Some parts of our lives, we keep up and running. Pretty much no matter what.
Other parts, we basically treat as optional. The Big Thing that’s dropped into our lives consumes our attention, and crowds out these habits or activities.
From my standpoint as a physician, this is real life, not a matter for judgment. You may think that playing classical guitar and that taking care of your health are major priorities for you — and feel like you’ve let yourself down big time when The Big Thing Takes Over and you realize, I haven’t picked up a guitar in months and I’ve gained 30 pounds. What must my Catalan guitar teacher think?
She might sniff at your lack of commitment, like they do in the movies (“If you truly loved the instrument, you would have found a way”). But that’s not for your doctor to say. Medical school teaches us early that the best way to help our patients is to meet them where they are, not where anyone else on earth may want them to be.
(Plus, old school teachers usually outperform Hollywood stereotypes. When I had to cancel twice with an Olympic archery instructor from Eastern Europe, she was immediately understanding: “Family comes first.”)
Real boats rock, Frank Herbert said, and sometimes the pitching boat interrupts your bridge game.
But why this and not that?
Barring the zombie apocalypse and TEOLAWKI, though, you tend to keep some things going. Work, even if you have to cut back on overtime. Being there for those in greatest need, always. Faith, if you’re religious. And small treats that you can enjoy in a spare moment, like a morning coffee regimen, or reading before lights out.
Your subset may look different, but barring a complete collapse of your structure, there’s a collection of activities that you’ll preserve with remarkable consistency.
Do those things define you? The things you save vs. the things you let go when everything goes to heck?
I don’t think real lives can be understood from a handful of intense data points, nor that they reveal our deficiencies to others (“If you were truly devoted to the instrument, you would…”). I think they’re more revelatory of what others find sniff worthy, which probably should matter very little to you compared to what YOU understand about YOUR behavior and YOUR choices.
Maybe you aren’t concert guitarist material…or maybe you realize diving into the frets and arpeggios is how you avoid dealing with more important hard truths, and putting the music aside is the right call, regardless of how regrettably disappointed your teacher is.
Pretty sure I want to be Coach G when I grow up
I recently had a chance to work with a remarkable BJJ coach: he’s older than me, so there are definite longevity lessons, and no matter how hard I come at him, he stays cool, expends no appreciable energy, and squashes me like a bug. I’d heard that he was hosting an open mat session at our gym once a week, and was convinced the place would be packed the first night.
I was stunned that there were only a handful of us. But Coach G said it: this type of session isn’t for everyone. Not because it’s grueling, but because it involves things that aren’t usually seen as sexy cool in the constantly evolving world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu: understanding fundamentals, gaining proficiency slowly, and drilling repeatedly.
But most important of all: learning how to analyze sticking points and solutions for yourself, instead of chasing the newest 6-step response to Attack #47. You can look up a YouTube video on Attack #47 and the myriad ways to counter it, and many BJJ players approach the art like that: learning catalogs of techniques and counters to counters.
Coach G studied with some of the biggest names in BJJ, and when he asked them how to get out of disadvantageous positions, they all said the same thing: Don’t get in them. We all laughed because that’s the most annoying answer a martial arts teacher can give you, but he pointed out that it’s practical advice.
They weren’t blowing smoke, saying Sucks to be you if you get put in a choke. They were saying, Figure out how he ends up behind you with his arms around your neck, then take steps to correct that. You can put your arm up against your ear and block the wraparound, but why are you turning to present your back? You think carefully and realize: he sneaks his arm under yours and pulls himself behind you, and…you realize you lift your elbow because that’s how you punch, you’re not punching now, so…you start keeping your elbow down.
There are LOTS of head scratchers in BJJ
And there are tons in real life.
But for each of us, they seem to revolve around a finite number of common themes. And nearly all are things we do to ourselves, for reasons uniquely ours:
- Coping skills we picked up as children that aren’t sufficient for adult life
- Turning to others for validation who don’t have our best interests at heart
- Resenting parents who did the best they could with the lopsided hand they were dealt, who messed us up royally anyway
- Transferring distrust of impersonal organizations to distrust of all authority and learning
- Valuing passionate ignorance more than knowledge and reason
- Retreating into mind-numbing vices with highly addicting, self-destructive potential
- Thinking personal pain gives permission to attack The World
- Believing rules are for other people
This isn’t a generic litany of social complaints. I can link each of these to specific medical problems: stress eating, obesity, all metabolic illnesses and nearly all chronic conditions, depression, infectious diseases, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse diagnoses.
All have prescriptions to treat, literally.
But something like 80% — the vast majority — have a major “We Are Doing This Shizz To Ourselves” factor. Or an “Allowing Bad Shizz To Be Done To Us” cofactor. And while the patterns are recognizable and similar, the specifics are unique enough to each of us to make broad prescriptions not terribly helpful.
“Don’t get choked on the mat” is amusing. Joey learning to understand for himself why he gets choked from behind, or why he keeps doing harmful things to his health so that he can apply effective corrections — and knows the process will work for any future difficulty he faces — is gold.
And that’s what family illness and BJJ have had me pondering since the last post.