Tag Archive: health

That’s Just the Fear Talking


The biggest limit we impose on ourselves is fear.

Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of abandonment, disapproval. Whatever kind of fear you have it’s still just fear. Nothing but shitty, sweaty, nasty, smelly, old fear.

It has been controlling my life for entirely too long.

I used to write in high school and junior high. I used to write a lot. I wrote my little fearful heart out. I imagined myself  a writer with my shitty cheesy poetry and little essays. I didn’t think I was the shit then but I thought when I grew up I would be.

Then life happened. Rather, insecurity and lack of confidence happened. I stopped writing. I stopped dreaming. Dreams are for kids, I thought, and it was time to grow up. I changed my dreams and made them boring, plebian, and “adult”. I took the perfectly good dreams I had and ground them right into the dirt like so much trash. I did that and no one else.

What is the measure of  success anyway? Money, fame, fortune? Adulation? A secure job, safe future? Is it a husband, a family, what?  I was told that it was. I bought into it. I still want it and it is still the measure by which I set success.

Considering how high the bar has been set, I have not been successful. I haven’t tried very hard. Actually, I haven’t tried  at all. Because of fear. Failure. The idea of trying my damndest to do something that I desperately want and failing at it is utterly terrifying. I would have nothing left if that happened. I would have nothing left and I would be nothing. Nothing.

Consequently, I have lived my life avoiding that fear any way that I could. My life has been nothing but a series of excuses for not trying the things that I wanted so badly. Never so much as a half-hearted attempt. Because life happens. That was my excuse. Not enough money. No money in the career. The job market is too tough. I haven’t been given the right opportunities. I didn’t have the proper encouragement. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, blah, blah, blah.

What a crock of shit that turned out to be. That was just the fear talking.

Everything that we do in life and everything that we fail to do is nothing but fear.

It’s only been in the last four years that I have learned to face it. It took my life falling apart to face my fears. It only took the most painful experience in my life to realize I had the strength and the courage to face it.

I thought I had. I quit my job, moved abroad, began enjoying so much more of what life has to offer. Trying new things, having adventures, living life.

I  didn’t face all my fears though. Oh no, there are plenty more trying to claw me back down to where I used to be. In my dreams, my fantasies, and my waking moments they haunt me. It is so difficult to change the thought patterns of a lifetime. I have to be alert to it every day. Examine every thought and question it to assure myself that I am doing what I need to be doing. When I get lazy, when I’m not paying attention, or when I just don’t give a damn, I open up the door to fear.

It’s time and long past time that I face it.  I’m staring 31 in the face, and I still haven’t tried to do what I must do if I am to be happy.

I need to go back to school. I need to write. For the first time, I need to try. Try the things that scare me the most. I already look back on my life and wonder where I would be now, if only I had tried earlier. It fills me with a small amount of pleasure and a disgustingly gross amount of regret.  Pleasure, because I’m finally doing the things I want to do. Regret, because this is only the half of it.  There is so much left to experience, to love, to savor in life. So much left to do.

I read blogs written by college students and wonder if that couldn’t have been me had I tried at least a little. I look at successful twenty-young-things and can only admire their determination and perseverance. They have succeeded where I never bothered to try.

I don’t want to be staring forty or fifty in the face and having these same thoughts. I don’t want to wonder if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and it killed me, would I be proud of my life? Would I have lived a full life?  Did I do what I should have done? Or would my life just be a string of all the things I hadn’t tried because I never had the courage to? I already know the answer to that question.

I started writing this post earlier today before I went to an ortho clinic to get a second opinion on my back. Guess what they told me? Go ahead they said. Try the physical therapy, do the steroid shot, don’t waste your time with acupuncture, but what you really need is surgery. So yeah, give it a month, and then come back before the herniation begins to damage the nerve in your spine, and get the surgery.

In a matter of a couple of hours all my talk, my bluster about facing my fears got completely destroyed. Surgery?! Are you fucking kidding me?! I can’t have surgery. Not here in Taiwan! Not now!  NOOOOOOOO!

It took me a good couple of hours to come back from that. Thank god I came to some revelations about fear right before I went in because otherwise there is no way in the world I would be handling this news as calmly as I am now. The pain meds helped too, no lie. They numb down every last emotion I’m capable of. I had a scary moment a couple of weeks ago where I realized I couldn’t laugh at some true comedy, I couldn’t cry even when the situation deserved it, and although every thought was crystal clear in my brain and I was sober, I could not summon any single actual emotion about anything. It was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Or it would have been was I able to feel it. Mildly perturbed was the best I managed.

Yeah, I started taking less painkillers after that.

Now I’m sitting here and I realized nothing has changed. Yes. I had a minor freak out, but so what? I’m not, I will NOT go back into painkiller hazy LaLa land for another six weeks. I will do my research. I will apply to some schools.  I will get the master degree I have wanted for so long. I will edit, I will publish, and I will write.

I will be successful.

Will you? No excuses. No regrets. Get to it.


I Walked a Mile with Pain


It’s been way more than a mile, I’m not gonna lie.

Seven weeks ago I suffered the most severe back strain of my life.

Five weeks ago, on top of the pain from the back strain, I began to feel shooting pains down my left leg.

Four weeks ago, I started popping pain killers like they were going out of style.

Today, I still am.

Sadly, I’m not even abusing them. Much. Taking them just as prescribed leaves me high, woozy, and slightly out of touch with reality for hours on end each day. And they’re not even narcotics.

I can’t function without them though, because, as an MRI confirmed a week and a half ago, I have a herniated disc at the L4-L5 vertebrae in my spine.

This pain. It never truly stops. It starts in my back, hangs out at my butt for a while when it’s in a good mood, and then, just when I least expect it, it shoots down the back of my thigh, grabs onto my calf like a drowning man to a life raft, and then creeps into my toes. It is painful. It is  creepy. Honestly, it’s downright scary.

A good day for me is when I can roll out of bed and not choke back a scream. When I can take a shower and not feel, by the end of it, like I need drugs to get me through the day.

A good day is when I can talk about something other than how much pain I’m in. Because seriously. I’m sick to death of it.

I’m sick of feeling it while I’m sitting here typing. I’m sick of it taking double the time to get anywhere because I’m gimping around. I’m sick of the unflattering back brace that I bought a week ago. It doesn’t look good. I’m sick of wearing sneakers with skirts because I can’t handle sandals.

I’m sick of not working out. I’m sick of not riding my bike. I’m sick of not enjoying life. And I’m damned sick of not being able to go on any new adventures, meet fun, new, interesting people, or have new experiences. That’s what life should be all about. Learning, experiencing, savoring, enjoying, and growing. Not pain, right?

However, to be positive, I’ve had to remind myself of a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Because life, after all, is all about learning. Learning and growing, growing and learning. Becoming a better person.

I’m not religious. I question the idea of “God,” and I have no beliefs in ghosts or any other crap like it. And don’t even talk to me about “spirituality”. I hate that shit. It’s been preached to me so much I refuse to think about it at all. No. Just. No.

But, I do, fundamentally, believe that life is a learning experience. For what purpose? Well, my purpose in life is to become the best person I can be.

With that in mind, I’ve considered the lessons I’m learning on this latest life adventure.

What has pain taught me?

A lot more than you might have thought.

It has taught me that health, which I loved before, can be too easily snatched away. It taught me, once more, that everything you have in life you must appreciate. It can be snatched away in the blink of an eye and gone forever.

It has taught me sympathy. I lacked this before. I used to sit and read medical records day in and day when I was an Underwriter. I never understood why so many people with back pain were on so many drugs. Tons of painkillers, narcotics, anti depressants.  I thought they were either crazy or they were addicts. Mostly, I thought they were addicts.

I never understood. I never had sympathy. I never empathized. It was “Decline, decline, decline.”

Well let me tell you something. I will never again.

I will NEVER again think that way about someone with back pain. Dealing with major depression because of chronic pain that persists for years on end? I get it now. I truly do.

It has taught me that help will sometimes come from the unlikeliest sources.  That sympathy can come from the unlikeliest people. A simple smile on the metro. An offer of a seat from a stranger. Small kindnesses make a world of difference. Even from strangers. Even better from friends.

Valuable lessons all of them. Karma coming back to bitch slap me right in the face.

In the coming days it will teach me more. As I start dealing with physical therapy in a few weeks and slowly begin the process of retraining my body, I’m sure there will be a few lessons to learn along the way there too. No question. Lessons in persistence, determination, strength and will.

Character building life events. Why do they have to suck so damned much?

Life is a crazy adventure but the good parts are meaningless without the bad. I hate that it’s true, but it is. There is no avoiding it.

So I’ ll leave you with this poem that I ran across years ago and have always loved about sorrow.  Sorrow is nothing but another kind of pain after all, and something that we all learn from.

Before I do, tell me. I’m curious. What has pain taught you?

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.”

 Robert Browning Hamilton


My First Hospital Visit

Two weeks ago, while on vacation, I strained my back.

It was sheer agony. After days of being pestered by my coworkers to seek some medical help, I finally gave in and went to the hospital to get it checked out.

I didn’t wanna do it, I’m not gonna lie.

When I lived in Poland I went with my sister to get her ultrasound done once. The attitude of the nurse was horrific. I have never seen anyone treat a patient with so much nastiness and venom.  After she gave birth, I visited her in the hospital a time or two. The behavior of the staff on those occasions was better, but not by much. Those experiences made a big impact on me because I had  already been intimidated by the thought of going to a doctor and dealing with insurance forms.  After that, I was petrified.

The language barrier itself can be very intimidating, especially when having to deal with something serious. Maneuvering through bureaucracy,  insurance policies, coverages, co-pays, and treatment plans is intimidating in any country, not the least of which is the US.  Imagine trying to deal with all that without having a grasp on the laws, policies, or language of the country you’re living in. It can be sheer misery. I’ve met no few expats that have dealt with it by not dealing with it at all.

That thinking has carried over to my time here in Taiwan.  I keep telling myself I should have a physical sometime soon. I’ve even gone so far as obtaining some addresses of where I could go.  Even though I’ve been assured by my ABC friends that the doctors here are very well-educated and speak English, I’ve been holding off.

And then my back happened.

I walked around using sheer stubbornness and the healing power of alcohol the first couple of days. Then Monday rolled around and I couldn’t use that prop anymore. So, finally, last Wednesday I bit the bullet and dragged myself to the hospital.

I walked in there fully prepared to be bitchy, snotty and childish to the staff but it turned out there was no need.

The woman at the information desk personally figured out which clinic I needed to be seen in, walked me over to the registration counter and helped me get registered, walked me up to the clinic, and explained when and how I would be seen. That’s when I found out the clinic wouldn’t be open for another hour and a half.

I considered walking out, but I was  sick and tired of the pain and I had already invested some time into this visit. Also, the information-desk lady was watching me with a sympathetic but knowing look in her eyes like she knew exactly what I was thinking. So instead of booking it out of there I asked her if she knew where I could buy lunch, and get some passport photos taken. From experience, I knew that some hospitals here have photo booths set up to take official photographs for passports, driver licenses, and other IDs.

MacKay didn’t have a photo booth, so she asked around to find out where I could find one. And then she personally walked me two blocks down the street, showing me places I could grab lunch along the way, and led me to a booth where I could get my photos taken.  There is no doubt in my mind that she went completely above and beyond the call of duty, and I am incredibly grateful.

My visit went off without a hitch. I was seen twenty minutes after the clinic opened.

The doctor gave me a pained look when I told him I didn’t speak any Mandarin, but then asked some cursory questions about the injury, tapped my knees and moved my legs around to examine my range of movement and told me what I had suspected all along. Diagnosis: muscle strain. He prescribed diclofenac sodium for the pain, told me to come back in a week if I still had pain (which I do) and sent me on my way.  After insurance my visit cost 450 NT (15 USD).

I paid and went downstairs to the hospital pharmacy which had a large waiting room overflowing with people. Resigned to waiting another hour I looked around for a number machine and when I couldn’t find one, I went up to the counter and gave the pharmacist my script. She turned around and  immediately handed me my meds.

When I asked her how much it was she indicated the payment I made at the clinic covered the cost of the medication. I got the hell out of there as fast as my back would let me. I have no idea what those 70 other people in the waiting room were waiting for and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

I can’t say the visit was all sunshine and roses. I did end up having a minor allergic reaction to the medication, which resulted in tiny blisters popping out all over my arms and legs.  It wasn’t particularly effective for the pain either, though it did take the edge off. Overall, though, the whole experience was much less of a pain in the ass than I expected.

My movement is still limited, and I’ll probably go back next week if it doesn’t improve. This time, though, I can go back secure in the knowledge that it’s a routine visit for routine care.  I could handle that in the States without a problem, and now, I know I can handle it here.

The Mask

Surgical masks are pretty common in Taiwan as they are in many parts of Asia.

Before coming to Taiwan I knew from the news that during the SARS outbreak many people in Asia began wearing surgical masks. Still, I was shocked when I first arrived here to see people walking around with masks on their face like it was an every day sort of thing.

My understanding is that it became widespread due to the SARS and H1N1 epidemic scares a few years back. However, others have told me the tradition precedes these two epidemics.  A cursory search on-line hasn’t confirmed that, but whatever.

There are a number of reasons people wear them:

  • As a courtesy:  people will wear them if they are sick, or they think they are getting sick, to prevent the spread of disease.
  • To ward off others’ illnesses: people will wear them when they don’t want to get sick.
  • While driving because of the air pollution: people seem to think that this can help prevent the extreme air pollution from affecting their lungs so much.
  • To protect against pollen and allergies.
  • In the food service industry. (You won’t hear any complaints from me here. Everyone in the food industry should wear these things).
  • Pregnant women.

They are so popular that they come in all kinds of colors and designs. I routinely see my kids wearing them with Hello Kitty designs, teddy bears and kittens and all sorts of other cutesy themes.

I don’t think they are all that effective and  I definitely don’t think they help with the air pollution but other people swear by them.  There has been some research done on their efficacy. You can read about those results here (looks like they’re popular in Mexico now too), and here.

While they do help in preventing some germ transfer they are not foolproof.

And that’s assuming that they’re worn correctly which is hardly the case here. I see them dangling from people’s ears, constantly being raised or lowered over the nose as people talk and eat or smoke.  I see them fall to the ground and get popped right back over the mouth. Usually by kids, but that’s just gross anyway you cut it.  And you can bet that the non disposable ones aren’t being washed and decontaminated after every single use.

That hasn’t stopped them from being actively promoted though.

I saw this advertisement in the metro in January:

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether they are useful or not. Its become a part of the culture.

One habit that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon and leads me to question if, for the sake of conformity, perhaps I shouldn’t buy my own.

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