Tasting Fear

The month of May in Japan is known for its doldrums and emotional blahs. There is even a term, "Gogatsu Byo" (lit. May disease) which describes this phenomenon. While merely anecdotal, it seems that May is a tough time for a lot of people: The new school/work year is now in full swing. After the extended (by Japanese standards) holidays of Golden Week at the beginning of the month, the rest is just a letdown. The cherries have dropped their blossoms, nothing but rainy season to look forward to...

For me, May was hell.

At the end of last year I was asked to schedule a follow-up exam to check on the shadow in my left lung. "90% there's nothing wrong, but we should check it to be on the safe side." That and dental check ups. I tend to let those slide, too.

When my dad had an operation for lung cancer 6 weeks ago, I remembered the physical that I had never re-taken. So I took time from work, went to the giant hospitalfactory in town, and had another x-ray taken of my chest. Not the greatest way to spend a morning, but certainly not painful. The doctor asked, "did you have a cold when you had your first x-ray last year?" and I answered negatively. Hmmm, he said, let's take a look at the new pictures.

My mood darkened considerably when he said that yes, indeed, there was something there in the lung. I used to smoke about 3 cigarettes a day for a while, trying my hardest to act like a Japanese. I quit 3 years ago when Emiko got pregnant. So what were those spots?

"Well," said doctor X, "let's schedule a CT scan and take a closer look."

A CT scan? A CAT-scan, right? That's for really sick people! Shit, I thought, this is suddenly very serious. He wanted to schedule the CT scan for the 1st of May, in the middle of Golden Week, but I said no thank you. Vacation and all.

Little did I know how the upcomming test would color the days ahead... Being a good student of Law of Attraction and Positive Thinking, I gave my brain instructions to heal me every night. My mind starting down on a morbid, fearful ride that I didn't want to be on. Moody and Morose.

I told my wife, and decided against telling my own parents. I looked at my kids, Yuto and Eli, with a new kind of urgent love. Suddenly I realized, probably late, at age 43, that my tomorrows were not endless. Heck, this could be the end.

In the meantime, people started telling me I was losing weight. While Japanese people are prone to greet each other with, "Hey, you got fat!" Suddenly their observation that I was getting thin took on a new, cancerous meaning. I was also getting a cold, and a cough, so each hack took on the meaning of a death rattle. I was spinning toward panic.

In the middle of May I finally got the CT scan and blood test. And then two more weeks of waiting for the results. More time to brood and fantasize. People at the English school where I help out were commenting that I seemed distracted.

I CAN, our NPO for school refusal kids, turned in financial results almost exactly the same as last year: just a little in the red. Not turning a profit isn't as demoralizing for an NPO, maybe, but seeing the results of a year of new strategies and working style net the exact same results as before was uninspiring, to say the least.

In the meantime, Joe Vitale, of Hypnotic Marketing and The Secret fame wrote of a similar experience in his blog. He found that he had nothing, his cancers were not cancers, but he had been afraid. I took heart from that and intended/imagined a similar benign ending to my test series.

I also got unexpected support from an online friend in a mastermind group I semi-participate in. Susan Minarik, a woman who I "only" know online, showed incredible support and friendship when I was letting my mind get the best of me. She always had just the right message of positivity, realism and daily friendliness exactly in the dose and tone that I needed, just when I needed it.

When the day came to get the results of the CAT scan, my wife Emiko joined me while a friend watched our baby. I was a mess. Walking up and down the hospital corridors waiting for my number to come up (literally and figuratively!) I was completely dependant on the doctor's words. There was nothing now that I could do to help myself. I was either sick, or not.

His next words would either be extremely relieving, or the start of treatments, perhaps an operation, who knows. Death?

"There was something on your X-rays, but the CT scan shows no problems. 'Mondai nai desu ne.'" Never has the Japanese language sounded so beautiful!! Emiko looked at me and said, "I told you so!" and I literally started weeping tears of relief. There was no cancer, no TB, no treatments or quarantines. The sun shone a bit brighter.

I am still reflecting on what there is to be learned from my month of thinking about my own death. I'm not done yet, but it is amazing how quickly I have gone back to my normal day-to-day patterns. Not unhealthful, really, but not quite as intense, either, as it was earlier in the month.

Here are a few of the things to be taken away from all this:

1. Fear sucks. I know about F.E.A.R.: Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real. I knew that the energy I was spending worrying was negative and could be better spent. But I couldn't help my self. I DID imagine a healing of myself every night. I DID try to keep positive. But damn, it kept getting away from me.

2. Ask and receive support. You never know who your friends may turn out to be.

3. "I am not my disease." I wonder if I made that up. For example, if we are ill, or disabled, or in some other way not perfect, that in itself doesn't have to be our identity. In moments of clarity I realized that the me who I am is not even my body (although it deserves the best of care as a "vessel" of me.

4. Today, this moment, counts. There are not an unlimited number of tomorrows. Take care with your time.

5. Be Thankful. This is right out of The Secret. Be grateful for everything there already is. Be thankful for the disease or the scare of the disease because it is a learning opportunity.

6. Finally, I added 2 words to my closing signature, which used to be, Be Good, Laugh More.

Be Well, Be Good, Laugh More.
Charlie in Japan

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