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Catching Up With the Year I Missed While I Was Seriously Ill

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In December of 2013, several media outlets had put together their usual roundup of that year’s hot topics, trends, and newsworthy items. While others watched with amusement or recollection and even dismissal at things they’d already seen one too many times as they had unfolded in real time throughout the year, I sat enthralled, soaking it all in for the first time. For me it was like watching a documentary on the History Channel — occurrences based on truth in another time and place where I couldn’t quite envision myself.

For a while I kept an ongoing list on my phone of things that had happened that year. The list grew as I learned more and more of the things I had missed while I was “gone.”

…Nelson Mandela died… Boston marathon bombing… Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot girlfriend… Edward Snowden NSA leaks… Angelina Jolie double mastectomy… Glee star overdose… Lance Armstrong admits to doping… Three missing women are found more than a decade later — Ariel Castro… The Harlem Shake (admittedly, I still don’t know what this is)… 

It was clear that the year 2013, as most other years, bestowed upon the world both great strides and significant chaos. And while the existing world expanded to welcome a new Pope in Argentina and a newborn royal heir in London, the world in which I lived shrank to one little insignificant hospital room where everything of note revolved around the fantasies and hallucinations created by the monsters in my mind.

It was the beginning of that year, January 2013, when I began feeling symptoms of an unidentified ailment. By March I was completely overtaken by the illness that would be identified as anti-NMDA. My conscious memory of that time period mirrors the path of the disease, as it began to fade a few days before I entered the hospital in March and then gradually returned once I was released from rehab that August, leaving little more than a dark void peppered by incoherent dreams in between. And even as I began to pick up the pieces and recover, I don’t feel as if full awareness really took hold until the end of that year.

During my time in the hospital, there came a point where I no longer even had the means to access what was going on in the world around me, not that I could have retained the information anyway. Easily annoyed and quick to anger, my cell phone use was monitored and the television was removed from the room, so as not to ignite the pit of anger bubbling just under the surface at all times. And although it seemed as if my brain was always moving 1,000 miles per hour jumping from one topic to another, I had no power over what it chose to focus on at any single moment and I certainly did not know how to slow it down or control the chaos. I’m sure this is the reason I couldn’t sleep for any significant amount of time and why I had struggled to comprehend even a simple half an hour sitcom. Oftentimes, I couldn’t recall when I had last eaten, who had been to visit me that day and even the names of my family members.

Although, to be fair, in that highly tenuous state of mind, how on earth would I have been able to wrangle my fevered brain around the latest worldly happenings that included twerking, catfishingSharknadoMiley on a wrecking ball and the mad antics of Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford? Well, maybe I was better off missing some things that year… And thanks to media and modern technology where everything is captured on camera and documented, I didn’t really miss out on these things. So when it came to dwelling on the year’s current affairs that I had blissfully bypassed, eventually I followed suit with the largest grossing film of that year and just “let it go.”

Alternately, the more significant deficits that cannot be recompensed and continue to weigh heavily on my heart are newsworthy on a more personal level where photos and Facebook posts combined with imagination are not enough to sustain real life memories and experiences… The pride of watching my youngest sister, Brianna, accept her college diploma as she graduated from nursing school… the treasured family memories formed at my older brother, Shawn’s wedding… the joy of learning of my best friend, Monica’s second pregnancy… These are the things for which I struggle to let go; the things that are harder to forgive of the cruel thief that is encephalitis.

When diagnosed with a serious illness, we tend to think the world stops in its tracks — and on a personal level it certainly does to an extent. But the world does, in fact, continue to spin around us and eventually you will come around to find that everything has changed. Those around you have gotten married, had children, moved away, passed away, gotten a promotion. Technology evolves, records are broken, fads come and go and history is made every single day. It can be hard to imagine that time doesn’t stop when you do, and even harder to adjust to a world that seems to have moved on without you.

But when you do find your way back and once again join the land of the living, please consider this: embrace it. I urge you to dwell less on the things you missed, for however important, that cannot be changed. Instead, I challenge you to contribute, to be present, to open your eyes to the awesomeness of an ever-evolving journey and make your own mark so that even as the world around you continues its course, your personal imprint will forever remain.

Just please, don’t twerk… and will someone please explain the Harlem Shake?

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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