Sunday Is The Cruelest Day
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Sunday is the Cruelest Day

Ah, it is Sunday—that cruelest Day, if I may misquote Eliot, which is not in itself a harm, but carries the dread of tomorrow—yes, that first weekday back at work—and, in many cases, the hindsight that your weekend was anything but a ‘rest’, more like a diverted flood of responsibilities, that churns mightily, untouched, all week long—but only building in potential, commitments deferred that come due with that Saturday morning hangover… I know what its like—and I’ll let you in on something:

The biggest damage from my HCV hasn’t been physical, or mental (in spite of both of those aspects sustaining critical damage) it has been to my persona, my sense of myself and my sense of self-worth. The disease ravaged my liver for years—but the liver has no sensory nerves, liver disease never hurts a bit—except for its effects on the rest of the body, when the liver fails to clean and filter the bloodstream. The liver’s dysfunction lies hidden beneath tiny increments of system failure.

The nerves get damaged by the failure of blood to take away toxins that are normally filtered out in the liver, and to a certain degree, the nerves also suffer from the lack of fresh nutrients that they need to function. This is true for the muscles, the skin (i.e. liver-spots) the sensory organs and, as a final assault, the toxins reach beyond the blood-brain barrier and begin to damage the core of the Central Nervous System, the brain. For years, the progressive deterioration of my body and brain resembled one hung-over, or at least over-baked.

I won’t try to deny that I flaunted my drug-abuse for years—it bothered the hell out of my coworkers—having to ask the stoner how to fix something, and hearing me rattle off the equation, or heuristic, or even telephone number—at one point I had over one hundred clients’ and services’ phone numbers on the tip of my tongue. I also had one or two decades of experience by the end of the story, and being a very sensible person, I could often figure out a problem’s solution that had eluded the rest of them.

I flaunted my competence in the same way, as if to say, “Yeah, I drink at lunch, I get often get stoned or drop acid at work—but I was still able to answer any question that arose every day from a gang of thirty or so P’ed-off cubicle drones and pushy sales-folk“. I had no trouble for years—until I started to have trouble.

As the HCV eroded my body and mind, all my co-workers saw vindication, at last! He wasn’t able to drink at lunch. He wasn’t able to answer any question. He couldn’t always finish his work before everyone else in the project—in fact, he started to get backed-up with important coding projects, things only he could do—but now, these were things that no one could do--and someone had to take the heat! My star was so faded that my own parents were inclined to take two managers’ word over mine (though they would be revealed, later on, to have been embezzling funds all the time they were blaming errors on me).

I heard about Dudley Moore’s death on March 27th, 2002—he was suffering from the terminal degenerative brain disorder, progressive supranuclear palsy, the symptoms of which greatly resemble intoxication—he collapsed, paralyzed, on a city street and everyone thought he was ‘doing Arthur’ (the movie he was most known for in the USAin which he played a drunkard) and delayed the summoning of an ambulance for quite some time, until someone finally realized his distress was real.

So I feel a kinship with that great British comic actor, in that we were both made an object of ridicule while we were dying, our diseases mistaken for intoxication for far too long.

Plus, there was my own ego—I thought I was F-ing up, too! I kept telling myself to not drink, not smoke, not stay up late—but as I ticked bad habits off my to-do (away with) list, my abilities simple got worse, my health made me miss far too many days at work, even for an SOB (Son Of th’Boss) like me. And when I actually went to the office, I found it impossible to do my job—then it became impossible even to understand the programs I had written a year or two ago.

So I got fired—it was the best thing for me (although the stress of being both fired and ‘stupid’-ified made me pump out all kinds of unhappy stress-hormones or whatever). I spent ten years working at other businesses, for a tenth of my old pay, until one day my family called me up—they had a four-person Systems Department (with one intern, makes five!) and they still couldn’t produce the printouts and histories and sales-tools that I made from scratch every day, back in the day. They needed me to come back and untangle their systems department and get their computers working again. Ten years later, an entire system’s department still couldn’t do what I once did—yes, I was very gratified (and no little bit schadenfreude-ed) but it still had me in a pickle. I was ten years more deteriorated than when I’d left my job, and that much more unable to scale the heights of competency I’d once climbed.

Still, I took the job. (I needed the money.) And I succeeded, somehow, with the snarls and tangles my replacements had run up against—and got the family business back ‘online’, so to speak. But two months in, when it became impossible for me to even drive myself to Croton Falls, I had to quit, and I went to a doctor—he diagnosed me as having HCV and put me on several drugs—some, like Interferon and antivirals, to kill the virus—and some for anti-depression, acute gastritis, and some lesser things (at one point I was also medicating for RLS and Dry-mouth and, well, it was a long time ago and I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time).

But the very most salient thing that Doc gave me (Dr. Louis Auriccio, Gastroenterologist par excellence, if you’re looking) was my diagnosis. He explained how my body’s deterioration had all been the slowly rising toxicity of my blood: the accumulation of toxins in my muscles, the interference to my normal brain function, my inability to eat without acid clawing at my insides-and my liver's failure to extract nutrition from my food and drink. Everything that had happened to me, all the things I had felt obsessively guilty over (letting down the ‘family’ business, letting down my own family with my failure to earn a living—and most of all, feeling guilty about not doing things with my kids, like all good fathers do).

I had been feeling a shiv carved of ice piercing my heart every time I’d thought about my kids over those ten years—I couldn't muster the strength to take them to fun places, or play with them, or talk with them about things… I tortured myself profusely over my lack of parenting.

But now the truth shone forth—and it lifted my burden so completely that I was happy! I’d just been told that I had an incurable, fatal disease—and I couldn’t stop smiling. So it turns out that I didn’t pickle my brain with liquor—I didn’t destroy my digestion by eating fatty foods—I didn’t lose focus or interest in my old job—I had simply been rendered unable to think clearly or remember things. I was on top of the world—because the world finally made sense and the things that had happened to me were not due to my lack of character, but to my lack of health.

Ever since that day, through the next three years of Interferon treatments, the diagnosis of Liver Cancer, the last-minute liver transplant, and all these years of recuperation and returning to a normal(?) life, I have been concentrating on these things: forgiving myself, comforting myself, and allowing myself to be idle in comfort.

There was a lot of self-doubt and self-condemnation going on for those decades before my diagnosis—I had to actually repeat to myself, over and over, “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault…” And every time I said, or even thought that phrase, I felt better—like a cool drink after the desert sun.

Another thing I did was keep telling myself, “It’s OK, everything’s gonna be OK.” When I would think that one, I’d feel my shoulders relax, my limbs become loose, and my mood take an upswing.

Last, and hardest, was giving myself permission to lie in bed every day, day after day. I had spent years fo-o-o-orcing myself out of bed and into a car every morning—I had to go to work—I simply had to. Now, I ‘had’ to stay in bed and make peace with my uselessness—and the hardest part about that was to believe it. I now sympathize with Lotto winners and other suddenly wealthy people—it isn’t easy to undo a lifetime’s conditioning to the demands of a work-week.

First, one must forget about traffic and weather—they don’t matter anymore—ditto, clean clothes, nice shoes and calendars. One learns to be sensitive to others’ feelings about the day of the week (and holidays)—even though one has no way of telling the days apart any longer. After dumping that load of ‘key points’ one has to get on with the job of passing the time. Just because I couldn't make money at a real job anymore didn't mean I wouldn't get bored doing nothing.

And that’s when TV comes onstage—on the one hand, it is a godsend—on the other, it is a tar pit. I find it a balancing act of attention—using it to enjoy what one likes while not using it to fill up the silence. I’ve determined that if every silly marketer of every silly commodity can scream at me and flash lights to hawk their wares, I certainly have the right to make my own noise and push my own agenda on whoever is watching my You-Tube channel.

So I play my piano and I social-app my way through my emails, essays, recordings and chats with facebook folk—occasionally I post a poem. When I’m too tired to sit up straight I retreat to my bed and watch TV. I avoid daytime TV like the plague—I don’t know what it is about soap-operas and talk shows and game shows—they all make me feel like I’m missing out on reality whenever I plug my head into their brainwashing tools. I recoil at the horror—prime-time and HBO and PBS are vacuous enough without throwing in a few hours of pettifogging with ‘chick TV’ shows every day.

The point is, I’ve finally gotten comfortable in my forced retirement from adult responsibility—I can’t even cook without forgetting I was doing it and starting a fire in the kitchen! And the secret I wanted to share with you is this:

Even after twenty-five years of being 'out of the game' I still feel deliriously happy about not having to get up and go to the office tomorrow! Ruined body, ruined mind, ruined life? Yes to all. But I don’t have to go to work in the morning—not on Monday and not on any other day, for the rest of my life—which is, to me, a sweeter thing than a 10 lifetimes of achievement. I feel bad for people that still live under that alarm-clock-tyranny—I bet some of them would trade disability over a steady job and be quite satisfied with the trade. Or maybe that’s just me....


Street Talk

I found your article candid and thought provoking Christopher. I would like to read more of your perspective and experience but as for a 'comment' I find this is one of those times that I should ponder and mind my own opinions. It somehow doesn't seem right to me to pass 'comment' on your honest and personal account. Thanks for sharing.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thank you, Heather. And feel free to be frank, or even unconsidered, in comments--I can usually tell nice folks' thoughts from the 'trolls'--and I deserve whatever comments come my way when I choose to expose my personal stories in such a public forum--Reticence is something that has always eluded me!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I live by two beliefs (amongst others). One is that we need to be 'at cause' for where we're at in life (and you seem to be) and the other is that everyone is doing the best they can with the tools they have available. In no way would I throw around an opinion lightly when I have no understanding of you, your situation or what experiences have brought you to the place you're at. Walking a mile in someone else's shoes is interesting but is it truly possible? I find in life it is much more beneficial to send loving energy. Much going your way! ;-)

  
  about 1 decade ago
Lemuel  

Hi Christopher. I actually watched your Youtube videos and enjoyed your piano sessions. I'm sure to come back and visit your videos again. My 7-year-old daughter is taking piano lessons and it's her favorite instrument. I would be very glad to see her play in a recital (I'll video it). Just like Rob, I also read your article twice. I like how you use "alarm-clock-tyranny" in your article, I guess I'm under its oppression because of my demanding daytime job, and yeah it somehow takes away my freedom. I like the way you write and will be reading your next articles. Best wishes and take care. :)

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Music to my ears, Lemuel!--nothing brightens up my day like finding out that someone has spent their valuable time watching my piano videos--but if you want your daughter to be a good musician, don't let HER see me--my technique (self-taught) is a collection of things one SHOULDN'T do at the piano. Besides, there are numberless Youtube vids of piano virtuosi that would be a much more positive influence.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Christopher, Yikes! blessings, Cynthia

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Yikes indeed, Cyn--and thanks for reading.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Best wishes in caring for yourself!

  
  about 1 decade ago

Christopher Dunn, this was one hell of an article to read, I admit i actually read it twice before wanting to comment. This article screams autobiography, a full book written in this style and honesty must return as a best seller. Reading between the lines this might not be on your agenda, but with what you have been through, I think any day is a good day and to hell with it being Sunday. Your life experience, amazing, to have survived, a God send, and to have shared this with us magnificent. I'm an alcoholic, been dry for 23 years, and am in semi retirement. The retirement was at first not really enjoyed, but as I have a computer firm encoding a program I designed for me for future sale, I convinced myself I was not in retirement but rather in abeyance from my work. I have got used to this fact of not knowing what day it is, or for that matter if I really care for the days title. I however miss the purpose of getting up in the morning, the work to get to etc. but then Street Articles has to an extent filled that purpose. I am in two minds as to, should I feel sorry for you, or not.? You seem so happy with the situation in which you find yourself, that a certain amount of jealousy is felt. An obvious purpose in life exists within your daily undertakings, and for that you should be admired, but should you not receive condolences for what you have been dealt? God knows not me, but I can say I feel a certain admiration for you and see your comments on my articles in a different light. Your writing style is very unique and enjoyable, the autobiography suggestion is not given lightly, in fact I would hope that you might ponder the suggestion, and like Dudley Moore, go on to become a well known expounder of humor, that I read within your article. Good one....

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I'm very gratified, Rob, that you read my piece so closely--it's a special kind of praise. And I am not unaware that this 'article' is more autobio than actual journalism. A book would be a better format--and I've always thought I could write one, but the rest of my story is very emotionally dark and lacking in adventure--so, even the thought of a successful book isn't worth the rummaging through of my worst memories for a year or two--I'd rather write fiction (but that has problems as well--nothing is ever easy). As far as jealousy goes, join the club--few people are born with my natural gifts--even now, with brain damage and memory loss, I'm intellectually superior to most people (he humbly wrote) and I can still impress a lot of people with my music and drawings--I often wonder what I could have accomplished without the 'train-wreck' upbringing and the bad choices they inspired. And I have the good fortune of having married the perfect woman, and our having two fine offspring--which my wife raised almost entirely without help from me! Even my last minute save with the new liver being transplanted is a happy ending that all too few HCV victims get. So be jealous, if you will, but don't bother with sympathy--My life has been pretty great, if I don't focus on the few downsides.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Christopher I think sitting down with you for an hour or two would be an honor I would enjoy. Your forthrightness and honesty is a fresh breath of air in today's world where people often say what they think you want to hear. I enjoy the underlying humor in your article and comments and your personality certainly comes through in your writing. May be writing about the dark years is not a bad idea, it could just help someone else to decide there future. You just sound my kind of person, straight talker, shoot from the hip and tough on those that don't like it. I like you.

  
  about 1 decade ago

Man, if you pair are going to sit down and talk I'd like to be the fly on the wall! ;-)

  
  about 1 decade ago
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