Monday, December 31, 2012


It's humbling to see so many Facebook statuses about how 2012 was the worst year ever when, for me, it was easily the greatest year of my life.  It certainly wasn't without its low points but the high ones were so high that they all but eradicated their counterpoints.  In some ways, a few of my worst fears were realized in 2012: I had my first severe anxiety relapse in almost six years; Heather and I had arguably the single nastiest fight of our ten years together; my son endured not one but two health scares, one of which had us in the hospital for the second time in seven months (the first being back in 2011); and I saw my neighborhood--the place where I grew up, where my father grew up and HIS father--eighty years of Benecke history brought to its knees because of a freak weather phenomenon. 

In all of these things, though, I found something positive--some new strength that hadn't been there before: I had lived in fear for years of dealing with anxiety again because it nearly took my life and so, when it finally came around again, I was at first fearful...but I found something commingling with that terror--something that wasn't there in the past: defiance.  Indignation of a sort--a haughty disgust with the fact that this thing was trying to control me.  This time around, I decided to take control of the situation and I navigated my way through the dark waters on my own...and came out unscathed on the other side. 

From this, I garnered strength and confidence.

My fight with my wife was over something stupid and was meaningless in the landscape of our relationship but, because it happened in front of our son, it brought about the realization of a fear that I've had since I was a child.  Some of the worst moments of my childhood involved my parents fighting and I swore to myself that I would never treat my wife that way, especially not in front of or in earshot of my children.  That day in the car though, with me screaming at Heather, her screaming at me, and Timmy screaming at both of us, I felt the terror that nearly every adult feels in similar moments: I was afraid that I was becoming my father (and his father and so on).  In an instant, everything that I had worked towards--every Benecke male trait that I had tried to change, every moment of anger and rage quelled--seemed meaningless: wasted.  In a way, I felt like Bruce Banner fighting back the beast within him only instead of a Hulk of unimaginable strength taking over, it was shame and defeat. 

Then, through the haze, my wife's voice appeared: "You are not like him."  Magically, the fight ended and the conversation shifted.  I realized for the first time that she was right--that what I was feeling was what everyone else felt.  It didn't make me like my father: it made me human.

From this, I found hope and redemption.

My son's health scares began October 29th, 2011--the night of the "Snowpocalypse."  We had been sitting with candles lit as the storm raged outside, having already knocked the power out.  We played cards at the table while he sat with us, going first from one parent and then to the other.  He seemed uncharacteristically warm and listless and so we thought he might be coming down with something.  He fell asleep on Heather and so we figured that we'd let him rest, especially since it seemed like he needed it.  I went downstairs to use the bathroom and, barely a few minutes later, I heard her coming down the stairs; I knew right away that something was wrong.  He had suddenly started convulsing and was completely unresponsive.  To make a long story short, we called an ambulance and he and Heather headed off to the hospital while I drove myself over in our car; I will never forget that drive for as long as I live.  Saying nothing for the ice, snow, tree branches, and power lines that were scattered across the road like an expert difficulty level in a racing game nor for the traffic lights that were out at every intersection along Victory Boulevard, I was more scared than I had ever been in my entire life.  I've had more than a few terrifying moments that ran the gamut from a fear of going crazy to losing our brakes coming down a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado but there was no question: it was the single scariest night of my life.

Fast-forward to the Friday before Mother's Day weekend.  An eerie recurrence of circumstances occurred: the power was inexplicably out two days before a holiday and Timmy had been sick.  Needless to say, that morning, my spider sense went off and I woke up, rolled over, and found him seizing next to me.  Once more, we called an ambulance and spent a few harrowing hours at the hospital.  This time, though, I faced a different sort of terror: that of the hospital/medical system.  During the first episode, we found out that he was susceptible to febrial seizures and had more people checking in on us than I can count; in short, it was the ideal hospital trip.  The second time--the one earlier this year--was almost equally but oppositely bad.  Tim had been sick and had obviously had a fever at the time of his seizure.  We put him in a cold bath--too cold, as I would come to realize--in an attempt to lower his temperature.  Perhaps because of this or maybe just poor technique, when we arrived at the hospital, someone took Timmy's temperature.  It was something ridiculous like 96 degrees.  I pointed out to the woman that this was ludicrous and that he had been feverish prior to leaving the house and thus requested a second temperature.  She blew me off and said that we would have to wait an hour before they would take it again.  When it WAS taken, it was slightly over 100.  Because this still wasn't technically a fever, the nurse didn't want to listen to me when I told her that it was another febrial seizure; I know that's ironic--me telling a medical professional what was what, but sometimes common sense trumps technical knowledge.  Needless to say, she was saying that they were going to have to admit Timmy and set him up with blood tests, a CAT scan, and possibly an MRI.  I knew that it was insane and managed to talk her down and request another temperature reading in a half an hour based upon the facts that a) he would have been almost hypothermic if his temperature really HAD been 96 degrees despite the fact that his lips weren't blue/purple and he didn't feel cold at all and b) if it HAD been 96 degrees then that meant his body temperature had risen almost five full degrees in barely an hour.

Fortunately, thirty minutes later, his temperature was nearly 102 degrees, the tests were called off, anti-fever medication was administered, and, a few hours beyond that, we were on our way home.  What I learned from that experience was invaluable because, had we simply stood back and let the "process" handle itself, we likely would have had one very traumatized child on our hands.

From that, I learned to trust my instincts where my child is concerned.

The one unifying characteristic of these negative events sums up the theme of 2012 for me: taking control.  In all three instances, I took control of a situation that I had initially led myself to believe was beyond my ability to influence and I culled something positive out of it while simultaneously asserting myself; after all, I am the master of my fate--the captain of my soul.

That was easily the biggest change that I saw in myself.  Don't get me wrong--I've always been a take-charge type of person but with certain situations or circumstances, I would clam up--try to ride it out or turn a blind eye in an attempt to hope that it would take care of itself.  Somewhere along the way in 2012, though, I realized that that was simply no way to live.  We get one crack at life for all we know but certainly one shot at this one...and isn't this the one that matters?  Of course it is!  It's the only thing we can be 100% certain of because we are here now.  I decided that it wasn't worth wasting another second on anything that detracted from my enjoyment of my life. 

If it no longer worked for me then I changed it.

If there's only one thing worth repeating it's that: we are all in control of our own lives.  You know what the biggest consequence of that is?  That it means we are also responsible for everything in our lives.  I know I'm good and goddamned tired of hearing people bitch about the things they can easily change but I've also come to realize that, in a manner of speaking, these same people are avoiding the shit out of that responsibility.  They're either too afraid or unwilling to take the helm and would rather allow themselves to be controlled by whatever it is that seems to torture them so.

Your mother/father/brother/sister/friend/etc. bring you nothing but pain?  Then cut them out!  If you had a growth on your body that caused you physical pain would you keep picking at it and then turning away or would you go and get it removed?  Exactly.

You hate your job/career?  Then find a new one!  "There are no jobs out there."  Then plot an exit route for when there are jobs--just stop being so goddamn miserable!

You hate where you're at in your life?  Well complaining about it certainly hasn't gotten anything accomplished, now has it?  Take a good long critical look at yourself, figure out what's wrong, and FIX IT.

Now, in many instances, the things that are causing us pain are circumstances rather than life elements--in other words, things beyond our control.  The most obvious of these situations is the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  There are still people without power and without heat, living in homes that are growing more dangerous each day.  Their reality isn't going to change simply because they close their eyes and make it so.

Sorry, Chris Rock, but everything didn't get fixed during the concert.  Asshole.

With that said, here's the most important unsolicited advice I can give: none of us can control our circumstances--we can control only our reactions to those environments and life moments.  A surprisingly few number of people have done nothing but complain (on Facebook at least) about their lives post-Sandy but there will invariably be the Debbie Downers, the "Why me? I didn't deserve this!" crowd but, thankfully, their voices are being quieted by the rest who aren't saying anything at all.  These are the people too busy rebuilding their lives to stop for a moment and bitch.  Sure, everyone is entitled to those moments of weakness--those instances where we feel wholly overwhelmed and unsure of whether or not we can even endure whatever it is we face for another second.  But there's a hideous beauty in those moments--something that comes, much to my amazement, from another person.  Sometimes that's all it takes--a hand on your shoulder from someone who's been there and survived or who's going through the exact same thing as the exact same time that you are.  It serves as a reminder that suffering is temporary, as long as that time period might seem.  While we were enduring Sandy, there were people lounging on beaches throughout the tropics, sipping on colorful drinks with tiny umbrellas sticking out of them; there are still people doing that while here, the reality is what it is. 

The point is that circumstances change and we are rarely an influence over the speed or timing with which that happens.  Control what you can and fuck everything and everyone else.  Keep one foot in front of the other and never, not ever think that you can't come through the other side of whatever it is that you're going through a better person--a stronger one.  Whether it's my neighbors, friends, and family who are still picking up the pieces after the storm, folks dealing with personal health scares, people who are being held beneath the thumb of some oppressive condition be it professional, romantic, or otherwise, it doesn't matter because the reality is the same: you'll make it through.

We're all stronger than we think. 

We're all responsible for our reactions to the things in our lives.

We all have the power to make ourselves happier--to better our situations even when our circumstances seem impossible to overcome.

Thanks 2012 for helping me figure that out.