On Health, Fear, and the Music That Soothes in Trying Times

 

self

This is a post about my health.

This isn’t just a post to tell you about my health in some dry format though. This is a brief update in a changing sea of circumstances, and I’m going to try to frame it in a way that you can connect with. I’m going to share my fears and concerns and unknowns, of course, but it’s also important for me to discuss the sounds and art of hurting, fear, and (hopefully) healing. I apologize if this isn’t as articulate or well arranged as some of my normal articles. This isn’t really a normal thing to discuss, though.

I had a million mental false starts writing this piece before I even opened my site to begin drafting it. If you’re squeamish and can’t handle discussions of bodily functions, don’t read on. I’m being direct and graphic here and using “adult” words because being scientific about it just doesn’t feel right.

I’ve recently found myself having a lot of digestive issues. It’s not an all day every day scenario, but in the last few months I began to notice a trend of having entire days at a time where any and all food ran right through me. At first I credited this to things like coffee and stress. I’m sure at times this is at least partially true, but as always, it’s easier to blame small outside circumstances than it is to look at the bigger picture.

I spent most of my adult life without any form of health insurance. When I moved to Portland in 2014, I finally got insurance. First it was through the state, and pretty okay, but eventually I found a job that allowed me to receive even more substantial coverage. Still, I’d had nearly a decade of adulthood in which I’d learned to not listen to my body. When you can’t see a doctor for even a basic check-up without it setting you back more money than you can spare, you quickly realize it’s most beneficial to just ignore anything that seems to be wrong. Instead of assessing and improving my health, I cultivated a habit of treating my body like a cheap, used car. I found the doors and windows that needed to be left unopened and just looked the other way while trying to cause as little harm as possible. This has brought me to a point where I ignore things like regularly being sick in the bathroom.

Some time around Christmas day, I began finding blood in my shit, or so I thought. It turns out that it’s blood coming out when I use the restroom but not actually in my shit itself. I’m not sure if that’s more or less disgusting. Regardless, this wasn’t a daily occurrence so again I ignored it. I wrote it off. Maybe I ate something too spicy or I wiped too hard like an idiot. These easy excuses wore thin quickly.

I’d been listening to nothing but David Bowie’s newest album for most of January, with thoughts of my own ill health feeling irrelevant next to the knowledge that it was an album conceived during a time where the artist was preparing for his own death. Perhaps this was a way of taking solace in the shared suffering of another human, or else I might have simply been channeling my own concerns through the words of another. One phrase that stuck out to me so strongly the more I listened came from the closing track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” a song I’d initially found slightly tacky but quickly found myself loving. The line that opened the song resonated in my mind constantly for nearly a week: “I know something’s very wrong.” On January 31st I went to a clinic to get myself checked out.

My doctor was so professional and polite. She made me feel at ease even though we were discussing the fact that I suddenly felt the need to shit at pretty much any time of day. I got a slightly uncomfortable…examination to make sure I didn’t have hemorrhoids (lucky me, I don’t) and had my blood drawn and I was on my way with a sense of uncertainty and a recommendation to meet with a gastroenterologist two days later. With no answers beyond “you should really see a specialist, drink more water, and eat well in the meantime” I left feeling slightly embarrassed and confused. I had really hoped a simple check-up would yield an obvious response and a swift course of action.

In next to no time, I found myself in the specialist’s office having the same examination done but had the delight of avoiding having my blood drawn. Brief conversations with the doctor yielded little new information. As our meeting drew to a close, he indicated that he couldn’t see anything clearly wrong with me or my body. He told me this was good news. I nodded and agreed, almost apologetically as if I’d wasted his time with my clean bill of health.

Instead of dismissing me back into a world where I could just blindly ignore my body being vicious to itself, he followed up with a brief but serious statement.

“You seem fine but your symptoms are troubling. I’m going to recommend a colonoscopy so we can take a better look at what’s going on. I can only see and examine so much without going inside you to take a look around.”

I’m sure this is a paraphrase, but the essence is the same.  I’m 28 years old and I’m going to undergo a procedure wherein I’m unconscious and cameras go up my ass to check things out and maybe some of my colon gets biopsied. No big deal, right?

We discussed what he would be looking for and what these symptoms might indicate. Out of respect for folks who’ve experienced the specific circumstances described, I’m going to decline to list these publicly until I have a diagnosis. I do not wish to cause undue alarm and I do not wish to hog some sort of a spotlight, because suffering is so frequently used as a prop and I’m trying to appeal to something vital and human in you, dear friend. The odds that whatever is happening will be life threatening are so slim it’s silly. This isn’t going to kill me, but it does stand to change my life and how I live it.

With that, I want to take time to thank you all for being loving and supportive. Not just of me, but of each other. The folks I’ve met through my involvement in fringe (and not so fringe) music communities are some genuinely amazing people. You often celebrate each other’s successes and help each other through pitfalls, and not just with words. I see so much kindness and so much love out there. It inspires me. What I want from you folks is patience. With all that’s going on in my body, I’d love to drink a lot and just say “fuck it” because I’m upset and scared and in pain. But I’m not drinking. At all.

I realize that my involvement with alcohol is an essential part of this website’s mission and approach, but it’s something I can’t justifiably do when something strange is happening that’s turning my intestines to jelly. I’m going to try to film again soon with tea (a brew in its own right, no?) but I’m also a bit weaker and lacking in energy since I’m not really holding on to my meals as much as I’d like.

A lot of the time when things are hard, I like to read other peoples’ writing and take comfort in music. I’ve been reading so many good zines lately but I’ll admit I’m too tired to even begin listing them. Maybe you can send me an email or a tweet and we’ll talk about zines. I’ve also tried taking on actual books a few times lately, but my focus isn’t always as present as I’d like it to be. Tiny bits of information at a time feel so right for me lately.

In my period of general soreness and exhaustion, I’ve found myself revisiting the album Medium Strong by TALSounds a lot lately. I wrote about it briefly in my summary of 2015’s best experimental music, but it’s taken on an even larger role lately. I’ve found the most blissful and carefree moments I can find lately are with a full, warm bath tub and these two songs guiding me slowly through a safe and peaceful place. It’s not easy to keep my thoughts still, so having music that is so soothing yet busy enough for me to remain engaged is essential when I’m trying to stay calm at an uncertain time.

I guess I’ve listened to my fair share of hideous black metal, too, but I’ll admit that in a lot of ways it’s almost become the same chaos that I feel in my head. I’m not losing interest in it as a musical form, obviously, it’s just something that is echoing a sentiment and a pain far too familiar for me to engage with as fully as I would like. It’s great for catharsis, but admittedly it’s sometimes painful to look my own fear in the eye.

I feel like I had so much more to say than this, yet I also feel like I’ve somehow said so much and rambled so much. This is the nature of all dialogue about illness, I suspect. It’s often how I feel when engaging my depression and anxiety, but for some reason those are such familiar faces that I don’t stress about them as much. I also feel like this whole thing is somehow disrespectful or wrong, because I don’t even know what I’m dealing with yet I’m making a post.

Ultimately, I feel this is important to share in case it inspires any one of you who is in discomfort to share their pain honestly, especially with a medical professional. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and I’m not sure if even my colonoscopy will give me a final result, but I feel it’s important to address why I’ve been less visible lately and to encourage other people to be aware of their bodies and well-being. Be good to people who matter to you and don’t waste time on things that won’t serve to improve your life. This is easier said than done but I’m feeling so driven to be excellent right now.

I have no idea where things are going from here and I can’t make any guarantees about what will or won’t happen (other than the fact that Black Metal & Brews will continue and will grow) but this was something that needed to be shared before I could properly bring myself to keep writing in any fashion. If you have any questions or want to just be in touch, there’s an entire contact page full of ways to find me.

-Ben.