I’ve been asked, in various ways, where I get the energy or motivation to enmesh myself in so many projects. Or to actually finish them. I know why, but the answer is not exactly intuitive.
When I was 25, I woke up and couldn’t move my legs. I wasn’t paralyzed, but any slight movement, in any direction, caused intense, horrible pain. I at first thought they were broken, but that didn’t make any sense and I had done absolutely nothing weird or out of character in the days before. But I literally couldn’t move without pain. I crawled off my bed (technically, I slowly fell off it) and dragged myself using just my arms to a phone, and got a lift to the hospital. I can still remember getting down the flights of stairs to the landing. It was scary because there was just no rhyme or reason to the pain, just endless shocks if I moved them, like a cramp that wouldn’t stop and involved my entire legs.
The doctor in the emergency room looked me over, had me x-rayed to look for breaks, and ultimately gave me some painkillers. I got crutches and a prescription for more painkillers.
He said “you know, it’s almost like you have gout. But you’re 25, that makes no sense.”
This event turned out to be a warm-up, a tuning of the orchestra for later in the year.
While riding in the car with my girlfriend, Dory, we were having an argument. I only remember the argument at all because I also remembered getting a small shooting pain in my gut, not unlike rolling onto a thumbtack slowly. I ignored it and we kept arguing.
At some point, I noticed I was sweating. Profusely. And the thumbtack or whatever it was was growing, becoming more involved, and taking more of my attention. I brought this up with Dory, and we turned around from where we were going and drove back to her home.
By the time we got there, I was now in marked pain. I could feel shooting stabs all along my side, and with great effort we got me onto the couch, where I sat there, unable to move, unable to really think, except to just feel like my insides had ripped apart and I was bleeding internally.
Which, of course, I was.
The first time something bad happens to you like this, where your body utterly betrays you, and you not only can’t do anything about it, you don’t even know what it is, that’s about as scared and pained as you get. If someone shoots you in the leg, you know that they shot you and why your leg hurts. But what if your leg starts to feel like someone shot it all by itself?
I lay there on Dory’s couch, beside myself with pain, unable to move, roll, stretch, or tense in a way that affected any of the pain whatsoever, and I knew pretty much what Hell on Earth was all about.
Later, it was determined what happened; I have kidney stones, brought about by a low pH in my blood, which causes crystals to form in my kidneys and extremities. After a while, these formed crystals are like little razor blades that get stuck in my joints (mostly legs) and in my kidneys, where they eventually pass through my system and rip me inside.
When this occurs, I am in searing, unbelievable pain. It reads like the last third of a Dick Francis novel. I won’t attempt to emulate his style here. Even though I know what is going on, it is pain of such intensity I forget its moments and just classify them all into one big, black file in my mind.
When I feel that small tug in my gut, I go “ah, yes”, and it happens again.
I’ve never had alcohol. I’ve never had recreational drugs. (I don’t refuse medical attention and have been given painkillers.) I don’t smoke, and I don’t generally live a life that puts me in mortal danger on a regular basis.
All that said, I still found out, the hard way, that nothing is guaranteed. Nothing says that your day in the sun today won’t be followed by a night in a bloody wreck by midnight.
With this awareness of the roughly 20 or so attacks I’ve had in the last 10 years, it has been trivial to decide whether to start a project now, whether to begin writing something now, whether to barrel forward and immediately gather as much of what I need for an effort, demarcate my time, stay awake that extra three hours to put something to rest.
And there’s where I get my motivation.
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