Sunday, December 4, 2011

Editorial December 2011 e-issue #30

By Nickolas Cook
The Black Glove Magazine

Since I know now I'm not going to have this issue posted before the end of 2011, I'm going to say it now: HAPPY NEW YEAR, HORRORHEADS!

Another year has come and gone. The world did not end; the universe kept right on going, even though we all lost people who were important to us. But as we all probably know by now, unless you’re a complete socio-pathic person, that’s the nature of this universe in which we exist. Death and life come and go, they happen all around us, but the lucky among us keep right on truckin’.

I’m pretty familiar with that feeling because of what happened to me between 2009 and 2011, years in which I went through some life altering events. There were moments that I worried about my sanity and if I would see the year 2012.

But you know, let me stop here for a moment.

I should probably warn you right up front, dear reader, that this month’s editorial may become a little personal, and may contain some comments and views which you may not want to bother with. And so I will completely understand if you skip this editorial. It won’t hurt my feelings any. Really.

My ordeal, the one which caused me to question if I’d see 2012, started in 2009. I touched on what happened to me a bit in last month’s editorial, in which I mentioned my health issues—the ruptured Achilles tendon on my right leg, the subsequent operations, the chronic infections, etc., etc. It was a matter of one simple second between having my whole life in order, planned out and going along quite smoothly for myself, and then that sudden white hot pain in the back of my right foot…and then my life going completely topsy turvy. I lost control of everything in my life from that moment on. And, to be honest, after almost three years, I’m only now beginning to feel like I have any control over it again. That may sound completely melodramatic to some people. And you may even be right in that summation. But let me say this: I pray no one I know ever has to go through what I’ve been through these last few years. It’s been a challenge to even want to get out of bed on some days. I went through a couple of years of clinical depression so intense that I didn’t care if I lived or died. And while I won’t sit here and say I wanted to take my life, I sure as hell wouldn’t have done much to stop it from happening. There were even times when I felt like a quick death would have been a hell of a relief.

I know some people aren’t going to understand that at all. There’s no way to fathom the feeling of loss and despair, almost really no way to put it into words to make anyone understand how I felt, unless you’ve been unlucky enough to have been through something so traumatic.

See, part of the problem was that I was a pretty active martial arts and self defense practitioner for a few years leading up to when my injury took all my options and plans away from me in one second of being whole and then not being whole anymore. I was even planning to fight in some amateur MMA events. For months I had been training hard, working in the studio and the weight room four and five days a week, working out on average about four hours a day. I was doing Krav Maga, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, MMA training, some Combative Tactics training and Crossfit. To meet the energy demands to do those workouts I was eating anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 calories a day—and that was even with Diabetes Type-2 to contend with. But between the incredibly intense workouts, and some basic diabetes medication, with me eating even that amount of food a day, my blood sugar was still not out of whack. My doctors were astounded. I even saw a dietitian specialist to make sure I was on the right track with my diet and exercise routines. Before that fateful day in 2009 I was so healthy I was even advised to actually eat some sugar to keep a proper glucose balance on my workout days.

And then WHAM!, out of nowhere, life happened and all that hard work and planning went to hell.

Next thing I knew I was being fitted for a cast and scheduled for an operation to my right Achilles tendon. The operation went fine, had my leg repaired as best as could be done with what I had to work with, and as far as me and my wife knew, I was on the path to recovery. I was even planning how I was going to continue with my workouts, was doing research to figure out how long I could expect to have to workout at half my normal intensity before going back to my four hour workouts again. Yes, even throughout this entire ordeal of casts and operations and such, I continued to go to the studio and workout in my martial arts to stay in shape and to keep my blood sugar under control. I did however have to cut way back on my daily caloric intake simply because I wasn’t using as much energy as before, since my workouts weren’t as intense or laborious.

Then, a few weeks after my surgery, the repaired area on the back of my foot still wasn’t healing as it was supposed to. That was the first time I began to worry, but I still remained hopeful that things would work out and I would be able to get back to my life again—maybe a little longer recovery time was all. The surgeon advised sometimes these types of repairs on areas where there wasn’t a lot of flesh to work with to close the open wound properly (and the back of the heel is the worst place for this kind of surgery) could become complicated and it might take more time to heal properly. Me and my wife listened and followed his advice, kept hopeful, and I kept working out and dieting, kept testing my blood sugar to maintain it properly.

Then the wound got infected. Despite some basic medications to stop the infection, the damned wound stayed infected. And my being diabetic wasn’t helping.

We consulted the surgeon again and he sent me to see someone else to control the wound’s healing and to help me keep the infection under control. He kept giving me antibiotics and telling me to keep up with my workouts and dieting routines. Keep an eye on that blood sugar.

This went on for eight months. And during that time my hopes for getting back on track went slowly down the drain. By the time I was told the chronic infection was going to be a real issue with how I healed, I knew in my heart my glory days of four hour workouts and dreams of fighting in an amateur MMA bout were done. I started becoming depressed for the first time, then.

Also, by the end of the eight months, before me and my wife decided to seek another surgeon for legal reasons, that chronic infection had eaten away a good portion of my tendon, part of my heel bone and some of my flesh and muscle had gone necrotic as well.

Meanwhile, the two docs involved with my case kept telling me it was my diabetes causing the problem, even though I was still working out, still dieting, and still checking my blood sugar several times a day. It got to where no matter what me or my wife said to contradict their theory that it was all because of my diabetes, neither of these guys wanted to hear it. So, in an effort to prove to my doctors that my diabetes had nothing to do with my chronic infections, I made the life altering decision to undergo a bariatric procedure known as a Gastric Bypass, in which part of my intestine would be tied off, leaving me with a lot less capacity for food intake, which would subsequently cause a drastic loss of weight and would send my diabetes into “terminal remission”, which for all intents and purposes meant it would be cured, and would, therefore, no longer be part of the equation when it came to do with my chronic infections. Before the Gastric Bypass operation I weighed in at about 280 lbs., which up to the time my injury occurred was solid muscle. I wasn’t fast on my feet, but I was like a wall of muscle and bone that steamrolled through pretty much anyone who I sparred with; they could slip in some good hits, but they didn’t slow me down much, and once I wore them down, I had only to get them on the ground and put my weight on them and the fight was generally done at that point.

So two weeks after this new operation I had lost nearly 20 pounds and I was no longer diabetic…but the chronic infections continued, to the point that I even developed abscesses on my wounded foot, one on each side of my ankle area. The specialist was baffled, but kept feeding me antibiotics that were doing less and less good for me, with each new prescription. He lanced these new abscesses and I now had THREE! open wounds on my foot, each of them freely suppurating all day, and each of them had to be dressed with new bandages each day.

At this point, I was beyond concerned. I was downright terrified that I was going to lose my foot entirely, despite all I had done to keep it from happening. The doctors didn’t seem to be able to do much of anything else (at least that’s what they kept telling us, even though we found later there were other things they could have done, had they not misdiagnosed the reason for my chronic infections).

Then a few weeks after the Gastric Bypass operation a blue length of surgical thread came snaking out of one of the open wounds where the “supposed” wound specialist had lanced an abscess. That’s when all the docs decided to admit that my chronic infections weren’t because of my diabetes at all; the entire problem had been the fault of the non-dissolvable sutures used to repair my tendon. They were still inside my leg and had become one giant bacterial breeding ground, hence why the chronic infections would not stop, despite the months of antibiotics and chemical treatments I had undergone.

So, here I was, a somewhat healthy guy at the beginning of 2009, now injured, chronically infected, his intestines now tied off for the rest of his life, and a foot which was slowly being eaten away from the inside. It was around then that my chronic insomnia also started. I still deal with that in cycles, and I've been told I may have to deal with it for the rest of my life.

Yeah, by then, I was pretty low.

But, as I was about to discover, my ordeal was only just beginning.

We dropped both of the doctors who had left me hanging for eight months with an infection that wouldn’t go away, which was probably going to cause me to lose my foot, and we went to one of the most well known orthopedic surgical specialists in all of Arizona, which we were lucky enough to have living in Tucson with us. She took one look at my foot and scheduled immediate surgery.

During the surgery to remove the non-dissolvable sutures, she discovered that after eight months of chronic infections I had lost most of my tendon, part of my heel bone and a good portion of my flesh and muscle had also gone necrotic and had to be removed as well. I came away from that surgery with my foot, but in a drastically limited and painful state. A few weeks later, I had to undergo another operation, this time it was a drastic form of plastic surgery to close the new open wound caused by the second repair operation, which involved removing a portion of my healthy calf flesh and an active nerve, and doing a transfer of them to my 3X3 inch area of lost flesh and muscle.

If you’ve lost count, that’s five surgeries in less than a year and a half for a man who was used to being able to get into the studio and weight room to workout on a steady basis.

I had to learn to walk four times; and now I had to do so with a significant limp and lots of chronic pain because of the nerve damage in my foot. Although the new surgeon did the best she could, I was no longer a whole person. And all I had to do to remember that was to look down at my massively scarred leg and foot, or even simply try to walk too quickly or step off a curb the wrong way, and then the pain would flash through me like white hot lava, leaving me breathless and nearly blinded with pain.

As you can probably guess, throughout this entire ordeal my depression was becoming deeper and more cumbersome, dragging me down to the point that I didn’t write anymore, didn’t read books and I pretty much stopped caring if I lived or died. I was lucky to be able to deal with most of the people with whom I continued to stay in contact with was through the internet; they couldn't 'see' how bad I was, even if my online behavior was sometimes erratic and unprofessional. So I stopped hanging out online as much, to keep from destroying even those few internet friends I still had. I was also lucky to have THE BLACK GLOVE to at least keep part of my mind occupied. Although I'm sure by my sometimes unreliable content in past issues, it's easy enough to know when my bad days were on me.

I wound up seeing two different psychiatric specialists to help me deal with the fact that I was going to be crippled for the rest of my life and the fact that I wasn’t able to work a real 9 to 5 job again, which was causing issues with my family, who were having to carry the financial burden alone, because I had no income. They both diagnosed me as what I already knew I was: clinically depressed. If you’ve ever been around someone who suffers from clinical depression, then you know we aren’t a ball of sunshine to be around. To put it bluntly, we are real fucking downers to be around. We tend to suck the life out of the room with our obvious and uncontrollable despair. Nothing makes us happy; everything sucks to people who suffer from this terrible mental and emotional state.

But I wasn’t just sitting still and letting the depression eat my confidence and self-assurance away. No, throughout all these months, I was seeing one doctor and specialist after another and these folks were prescribing several different kinds of anti-depression medications to help. But because of the Gastric Bypass none of them were working the way they were supposed to: they were being absorbed way too quickly, or improperly, and these sometimes dangerous chemical and mood altering drugs were hitting me with the worst of their many side effects and none of their benefits—so much so, that my passive suicidal tendencies were quickly becoming actively suicidal. At one point, while using a trial dosage of one of those anti-depressants, the ones you see on TV that warn you of all these terrible side effects, I can remember wondering how hard I would have to cut myself to bleed out and let myself die. Needless to say, that scared me fucking silly and I stopped taking that particular anti-depressant immediately, called my doctor right away. Thankfully I was still cognizant enough to realize those sorts of thoughts weren’t safe for someone like myself suffering from clinical depression.

One of the things which contributed to my clinically depressed state was the chronic pain from which I suffered (and still do). To combat this, I was given several types of pain medications, prescribed by different doctors and various pain management specialists, none of which worked for long, and so I wound up taking a dangerous amount of them to get any relief. The same absorption issues which had caused problems with the anti-depressants were now also working against me with the pain medications. I finally had only one option left to help control the pain, Fentanyl transdermal patches. They do work, but not as well as they once did because, after so much time, my body has become acclimated to their effectiveness. So I still have my bad days.

But I hadn’t been relying on medicines all this time, either. I also use my own version of pain control, which is regular workouts and healthy diet, and several meditation techniques which I have learned from my years of martial arts.

The irony was that during this time all those books I’d written before my injury stole my life away from me were getting published. I had finally become a semi-professional author of dark fiction and I didn’t even care. I couldn’t even enjoy the moment I had worked my ass off to get to for most of my adult life, because for most of 2010 and 2011, I just simply didn’t care what happened to me from one day to the next. Meanwhile, life was still happening all around me. Not all of it in a good way. During this time, my wife and I were having issues because of my depression and because of my new habit of self-medication through drinking. She was dealing with all the bills on her own because of my lack of income. I finally put a stop to the drinking on my own, partly because of what it was doing to my marriage, and partly because I just couldn’t allow myself to go down that path; I had seen what drinking had done to too many of my family members when I was growing up, and I knew I was better than that; I couldn’t let myself go that way. It’s been over a year since I drank to that sort of excess, to that state of physical and emotional numbness.

However, the depression continued and deepened, and it has only been in the last couple of months that I’ve been able to move past my rage and pain to find some measure of acceptance of what I have become. And while I’m not going to lie and say I feel great everyday, I have begun to have more good days than bad days again, and I have begun to feel like there’s still a life left for me to live, despite my limited physical state and the mental/emotional issues with which I still contend.

So, for me, 2012 looks a lot better. Almost like a new beginning, really.

In the next few months I have several books to be published; I’ve been promoted to an assistant level 1 instructor in my Krav Maga class at the studio where I do my martial arts here in Tucson, The Ultima; I’ve gotten into a semi-regular workout routine again. But best of all, I believe our marriage is going to be fine. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing my best friend because of my weakness and lack of emotional control. That would be too much.

So after dealing with this for almost three years now (my wife right alongside me, while she was also dealing with her own health issues to do with back surgery and her own pain management), I can only thank whatever gods there are above that I seem to have made it to the other side of my personal Hell.

If nothing else, this ordeal (still ongoing in some ways; which I don’t think will ever be completely over for me) has provided me with some powerful insight into the true nature of pain and the blues. Since the end of 2010, I began to write again on a semi-regular basis, which soon turned into a regular routine once again. I still deal with cycles of depression keeping me down for weeks or months at a time, during which I don’t as much as I once did. But thankfully those episodes are further and further apart now, and seem less aggressive and easier to deal with these days when they do happen. Usually, if I just submerse myself in a workout and/or some writing, I can get above those black days and work my way back to the light after a few days, sometimes, even after a few hours. All in all, even though it could be better, I know now it could be a lot worse. I also know that old adage is true...the one about people who have it a lot worse than myself, who live with their problems with less whimpering than I have. Yeah, it's true. And I appreciate that fact. But I also know we all live with our pains in different ways. I think I've found a way to deal with mine in a healthier manner than before, but that doesn't make it any less relevant or painful for that. I'm sure plenty of people will be disgusted that I let this get to me as it did, but I guess they'll just have to understand what it was like when they have to deal with their own losses like I have since the second that tendon snapped off the bone...

So welcome 2012.

Thank God I was here to see you come round.

--Nickolas Cook
The Black Glove Magazine

(EDITOR’S NOTE: If you are, or someone you know is, experiencing the symptoms of clinical depression, please seek some professional help. I can tell you from experience that it’s not something you can handle alone, and you don’t have to do so. There are plenty of programs available at little or no cost to you to get some much needed help. Even if it’s just to talk to someone, it can be enough to help you see some light at the end of your own tunnel. And even just a glimmer of hope could be the difference between seeing another year to causing your loved ones some serious emotional pain and guilt.
REMEMBER: Being depressed doesn't make you weak; it makes you human. So allow yourself to be merely human. But, please, be smart enough not to do something stupid that the ones who love you will have to live with for the rest of their lives.)