The End of Good Times

Upon reading the title of this week’s post, one might be under the impression that the subject matter is regarding the cancellation of the hit 1970s sitcom, Good Times. The series finale of Good Times was, in itself, a good time, because everyone lived happily ever after. Like… every single character had some pretty awesome closure on their respective arcs. I don’t recall all of the details, but I remember Keith gets to go play for the Chicago Bears, so there aren’t many good times that could top that one. Continuing his arc would be pointless (until 25 years later, when television ratings started to truly rely on how badly someone once-famous spiraled out of control after achieving fame).

Also, Willona and Thelma found out they get to stay neighbors, so that was also a pretty good time that would be tough to beat. Perhaps not for James.

Alas, this isn’t about the show. It’s about something people don’t usually talk about openly: The Happiness Hangover (I would love to take credit for that term, but I only just learned it, while researching this phenomenon). Think about a time in your life, when you were having the best time, and everything was perfect in your world, and nothing stressful or worrisome was taking up rent space in your head or your heart, and things just seemed to be exactly how you would want them to be forever… but then when it ends, you feel like you’re standing at the end of a long road, and there’s no clear way to go. The happiness of the experience is still fresh and vivid, but the experience itself is over. You wish it wasn’t over, because that means you’re back to the way things actually are.

Maybe you just graduated high school, and you’ll be parting ways with your friends, and you’re finally taking that step into adulthood, bound for work or for college, and you can’t help feeling that it’s the end of something, (note: it’s the beginning. Buckle the fuck up). Or you just came back from the most relaxing and fun-filled vacation you’ve ever had, and now you have to get back to The Grind, and you find yourself bored with the things that used to be a part of your everyday machine. The feeling is the same. You want to ride the high, or keep smiling and laughing with people, or keep pushing yourself to discover who you are, or keep seeing more of the world, or whatever it is that is keeping your dopamine flowing. When it stops, we feel a chemical dump that sends our spirit crashing down, and ordinary life seems bleak.

I talk about this, because my son has recently felt this for the first time. He has never been very popular or made friends easily. Even when he did have a “circle” of friends, they were a small circle. Like, not even a circle. More like a line segment. He’s always been an avid reader, and he looks like the stereotypical “nerd,” so people don’t approach him, and he’s never had success in approaching others, so he’s content to just be alone. He always sits alone at lunch, and nobody has ever tried to sit with him. It’s a mystery to me. Besides being intelligent, funny, considerate, and clever, he’s also interested in a wide variety of things, and could hold a conversation with any person of any age. He holds doors for people, and opens my car door for me EVERY time, even when it’s not exactly helpful. The sentiment is there, because it just occurs naturally to him, to be a good person. But he’s not very outgoing, so he generally goes unnoticed.

He was in his high school musical recently, and played a major part. He was incredibly funny, delivered his lines comically, and sang his heart out! He had a great time for the months they worked their asses off, and became friends with everyone in the group, finally showing how much fun he can be to hang out with. As a Sophomore, he is experiencing a sadness over the fact that the people he hit it off with most from the musical, are Seniors. They’re all friends with each other, and they all hang out after school, and they all have clubs and activities together, and they all have classes together, and they’ll all leave everyone behind together. Now that the musical is over, those students have no inclination to socialize with my son. He hasn’t felt that feeling of being left behind before, and it’s not tasting very good the first time.

We feel a sense of sadness when the rug is ripped out from under us like that, and though the feeling eventually wears off… and even though there will always be more good times… they will also end. Life is just a chain of good times, with painful idling between the links (I’m not calling them bad times. You call them that.) If we didn’t have that “down time” we most certainly would not appreciate the moments of happiness as much, so it’s necessary to feel that crash at the end, to keep us grounded to reality. Isn’t it fucked up that we can’t go flying away with the notion that any high can last forever? Some religions see life as suffering; to live is to suffer, and we die, and then we live again to suffer until we die, and it goes on, in a cycle called Samsara. This is what I think life would be, if we didn’t have this balance. 

Let me explain.

Opponent Process Theory tells us that when we experience a strong emotion, the opposite feeling is bound to follow. So when we go to a concert, or visit loved ones, or receive praise, our brain will try to counter the dopamine release (produced by the brain, during the good time) by swinging you back into balance with some mundane shit. That’s why life can seem gloomy and rather boring, after you’ve experienced something that causes your brain to release the drugs of pleasure. In my son’s case, he experienced months of happiness, culminating in high praise from his peers and his audience. When that was over, and he was no longer performing, he felt like there was no excitement to be had. The drugs from his brain had worn off. Going to school, reading, playing video games, and other ordinary daily activities brought him back down to homeostasis, and while his “normal self” is incredibly fun to be around, he doesn’t feel the same happiness that he did when he was being accepted by his peers. It’s a simple pleasure, but it’s something that was meaningful to him, and seemingly not very meaningful to anyone on the other side of the equation. Opponent Process Theory tells him that he’s going to feel accepted and appreciated by peers, only to go back to being ignored and alone. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

So now that we know good times are a fleeting luxury, what can we do to ease the pain of the crash? Have more good times, and try to limit the time in between, just in case? I wonder how good that could be for you? Is it possible to overdose on your own transmission of dopamine? Or worse: do we just not take the chance, by limiting ourselves to how much happiness we experience? I speak from experience, when I say this: THAT’S NOT THE RIGHT ANSWER. But it made me really think about it. Why has nobody ever talked about this around me before? This is the shit they need to be teaching in school, because it sucks to not know.

The other night, Sonny had a chorus concert, and it was the 4th time I’ve seen him sing in public. I still cried like a baby. I love seeing him be so involved and dedicated and versatile and confident in what he does, and his good times often reflect as good times for me, too. So when he crashes, I crash too; his attachments are to the people he does extra-curriculars with, and my attachment is to him. If I have to see him be sad or lonely, it stops being a good time for me. He is still on the high of the praise he received for his singing the other night, and it happens to coincide with the beginning of his next endeavor in theater, so there may be some minimizing of “downtime” happening there. If that’s how he manages it, I can only hope he doesn’t burn himself out. I’ve been told, “by always looking forward to the next thing, you’re wishing your life away.” I wonder if any of that’s true?

-jg

Opening My Fourth Eye

WARNING: this post talks about my b-hole, otherwise known as the a-hole. You know, the one that is (slightly) less-sexualized than its close neighbor, the vagina. Read at your own risk, but be warned that this post contains educational statements.

Nothing says “quit taking shit for granted” quite like having a rectal cancer scare. Every day, we hear about all varieties of cancer, and unless we’re a total sociopath, we sympathize with the person that has the cancer, and we think about people we know (or knew) with cancer, and it stirs up a lot of conversation about what could happen during treatment, after treatment, or in the absence of treatment.

It also gets people talking about what led to the cancer. There’s medical history evaluation, lifestyle questions, and a whole lot of being honest about what your regular habits may include. In my case, they wanted to know all the good stuff: how often I take a shit, what it looks like, how much pressure I use to wipe (and how much time I spend wiping) afterward, what kind of underwear I wear, whether or not I have anal sex, and if I’ve ever had hemorrhoids before. Not exactly First Date Questions, but that doctor definitely got to third base within 15 minutes of meeting me. Would the butthole be third base? I feel like it is.

Actually, I feel like I slid ass-first into home plate, and the catcher was waiting there for me with a red hot poker, because I had a rather invasive surgery that has changed me forever. I don’t even like baseball anymore because of these analogies. I don’t even like the word analogies because it just looks like something I don’t want to deal with. Anal oh-jeez.

I have spent the past 4 days on my couch, agonizing over what my brother-in-law Dave likes to call: The Second Butthole. Born out of necessity, this misery was coded as “elective surgery” on my chart. I suppose you could elect to suffer for the rest of your life, if you want to be technical about it. I figured 3 years was long enough, so I had a choice to make: throw my pride to the wind and start mooning my doctor without hesitation, or keep suffering like it’s not a problem. Let me tell you, IT WAS A PROBLEM. I’ve never been shy, but it takes a certain kind of suffering to get to that place where you’re talking openly about your shit within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone.

I didn’t have any problems with my digestive or intestinal systems, necessarily; my gut worked just fine. There aren’t many foods I can’t tolerate. The problem was with the “back door” not opening, due to a large mass that kept reopening and re-scarring, reopening and re-scarring, causing blood-clotting, as well as hardened, thick tissue formation. I tested for (and took medication for) all types of intestinal worms, despite never having them. I tried creams and ointments and special diets and all kinds of bathroom hygiene etiquette. The symptoms were unrelenting. The constantly healing wounds were also constantly itchy, in addition to the enlarged pulsating veins that were being compressed by the thickening scar tissue.  It was a nightmare. There wasn’t one minute of the day when I wasn’t thinking about it.

So I got the elective surgery. Hopefully my insurance covers it, though, at this point I don’t really care. I have a dime-sized hole next to my actual b-hole, and it can’t be stitched or closed in any way, because that promotes bacterial growth. It wasn’t packed with gauze or dressing. Because of the nature of my problem, I had to have tissue biopsy done as well, which means I also have a bunch of random “snips” that were left open as well, in and around my rectum.

IN and around it. IN IT. There are open wounds inside of my rectum. Who the fuck in their right mind would elect to get that kind of surgery, if it wasn’t necessary?! That shit isn’t exactly fun. I got my surgery last Friday, and I’m only JUST well enough to lay here on my side and type this now. It’s fuckin Tuesday. If I could have elected to just somehow live through an unwelcome mass growing ever more disruptive inside my asshole, believe me, I would.  Turns out… not that easy. Even now that the major player was removed, I still don’t know the status of the pathology, so I suppose I feel a little better?

Okay, I took a couple of days off, to wallow in my pain and suffering (because that’s what I do) and now it’s Thursday. The pathology came back NEGATIVE FOR CANCER (best news I’ve gotten in years) which is wonderful for my overall health. The downside is, my recovery is not going well. I still feel like I’m clenching in a razor blade that acts like it wants to come out, but is really just messing with me. I’ve been doing all the post-op care as instructed, but when it rains, it pours. Or as the French say: “Jamais deux, sans trois,” which means “Never two without three.” In my case, it means “you’re fucked.”

Have you ever compounded a blood pressure medication with lidocaine, and applied it to your bootyhole? Guess who has to… yep, me. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but I certainly know now! Anal fissures are another fun thing to have, post-op. Did you know about those? (Read this, for info) Did you also know you can get muscle spasms in your butthole, that actually slow down your healing? Well now you do, and you can just take my word for it, that IT’S WORSE THAN YOU’RE THINKING. That’s the reason for the blood pressure medication, explained. It’s almost as if not being able to poop, pee, eat, sleep, sit, stand, walk, or drive, just wasn’t enough. My body in my late 30’s, ladies and gentlemen. That shit doesn’t even have to make sense, for me to suffer from it.

Listen to me: don’t take your body for granted. Don’t just eat whatever you are able to survive through. Just because you can eat a ghost chile pepper without dying, doesn’t mean your body isn’t going to hate it. I don’t understand these people, who think it’s some kind of accomplishment to stand in front of a crowd of people, with a mile-long snot dripping out of their nose, tears pouring out of their beet-red eyes, their lips burning with the heat of a thousand suns, unable to taste anything but pain for the next week, knowing they’ll be shitting out red fire. Congratulations? Your body hates you. You’re just not listening to it, when it tells you how unhappy it is. Trust me, I’ve been having plenty of conversation with my body lately, and all it wants to say is “I tried to fuckin tell  you,” with its arms crossed.

If I’ve learned anything from this whole ordeal, it’s that there are good doctors out there. Ones that make you feel completely comfortable with winking in their face from the back end. Ones that explain to you what is going on, and reassure you that butt surgery is not on everyone’s bucket list. Ones that don’t make you feel like you’re being a pain in the ass; you just have pain in the ass. I don’t know what encouraged this doctor to go into Proctology, but I’m glad he did. Nobody has ever cared about my b-hole as much as he has; apparently not even me. From now on, I’m going to treat my body like a temple, because you never know when you’re going to have to just stop eating potatoes and pasta and cheese and meat out of nowhere, and THEN what are you going to do? Just sit there and watch your family eat all that stuff, while you eat nothing?! Don’t be that person. You’re not invincible. Don’t be an asshole.

TAKEAWAY MESSAGE: If you’re having rectal issues, get them checked out ASAP. Mine could have been treated much more simply, if I had not waited. Don’t be embarrassed. I just tell myself “This doctor has seen some nasty buttholes, so mine is probably like the Sistine Chapel.” Don’t let your rectal issues go untreated, because they could turn into surgery you didn’t even know you were getting (and subsequently ruin your entire Christmas vacation trip back home). What starts off as a simple biopsy, could leave you with a second butthole: one which you can’t use at all, other than to test how much pain you can endure without dying, or how much your significant other loves you, because they have to apply the medicine. Do yourself a favor, and get over your ego, and have the butt exam. Just do it. I’m telling you, you don’t want to give up your precious scroll time on the toilet, to be replaced by awkward squatting and screaming and crying.

Love thy butthole.

-jg