Jake LaCaze


#essays #fear #health

I cried when I read the lab results from my latest annual exam. Not because the results were bad. Quite the opposite—I'm a healthy adult male with imperfect cholesterol. But I'm not alarmed; I'm simply aware.

I smiled as I re-read the results and then I thought back to my first visit with that same doctor four years earlier. I had cried when my doctor asked if my parents were still alive and I had to tell her no—they've been dead for a while now. Cancer got them. I would later break down when I got to my car and then somehow fake my way through the rest of the workday.

Then I thought back to a moment before that doctor's visit, when I told my counselor I was afraid to get a checkup.

“What if you go to the doctor and everything is fine?” my counselor asked.

“I'll just think the cancer hasn't come yet,” I told her.

For a while, that was my fear, and that fear kept me away from the doctor for years. But that fear was nowhere to be found as I leaned against my car, in front of my mailbox, and shuffled through the paperwork from my latest visit.

To say I no longer worry about cancer would be dishonest. Cancer has taken more family than just my parents. But I do have certain factors in my favor. For one, I don't smoke. I don't work around the smog of heavy machinery. I'm prioritizing exercise. And I now get regular annual exams. I do have some things I need to improve on—like my diet, as my doctor reminded me.

Still, that old fear may come to be true. But it's not true now, so I should live my best cancer-free life while I can.

For too long, I let fear paralyze me. Fear led to inaction. But action has proven the best antidote to fear. Our fears are often worse than reality. This is a lesson I'm constantly relearning.

How else am I letting fear get in the way? Where else can I take one small step to shut down that unhelpful part of my brain?

Enough about me.

What about you?

a fossil of some bear-like creature #essays #health

When we sit around and think about our own versions of lives well-lived, we most likely envision ourselves elderly and passing away peacefully in our sleep. There's something about leaving this world as an octogenerian that adds a layer of accomplishment to our struggle. I'm guilty of this romanticization on a couple fronts. When I hear that someone over the age of 80 has taken his last breath, I usually respond with something along the lines of That's a good run. Also, when I think of my own end, I hope I will have made the eight-decade club, though the odds may not be ever in my favor based on my family history.

I'm not sure how many of us think about what all goes into aging. The last few years of my own life have been a beginner's courses in getting old. Turning 30 hurt way more than I could ever have imagined. Aches started popping up for no reason. My energy level hit rock bottom. My memory went down the crapper hard. Though part of the pain of that time can be attributed to specific events and situations in my personal life, I'm sure there's a physical culprit to blame as well, as one's metabolism drops when he's exiting his 20's. What else naturally begins to slip so early in life?

I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to work out with my employer's personal trainer. A few weeks after my employment began, I finally took advantage of the perk and joined some of my colleagues to sweat it out on a Wednesday afternoon. It was obvious early into the workout that I had been aging passively. I'm not sure exactly how long I participated in the workout—maybe 15 minutes, maybe 20—before the trainer made me stop and collect myself. As I lay on my back with my ankles resting on an exercise ball, I found myself thinking, So this is it. This is how the Batman dies.

The trainer, I suppose having learned that humiliated clients are bad for business, checked on me every so often and offered words of encouragement. “This isn't your last time,” he said. “This is your wakeup call. Now you know where you're starting from” 10-4, Captain. I hear you loud and clear. Message received.

“We do this for our kids. We want to be around for them.” Those words hit close to home. I don't want to just be around. I want to have utility. I want to be an active participant in their lives and their futures. And my own future, especially once the kids have begun to chase their own dreams and have left me behind.

After a co-worker drove me back to the office and I emptied the contents of my stomach in the parking garage—not my proudest moment, but fortunately, not my worst moment either—I realized that aging with any form of grace takes a lot of work. For most of us, aging well will have to be an intentional practice.

I've had to miss a couple workouts since that embarrassing first flight in which I crashed and burned, but I try to go back every Wednesday. In addition, I've finally taken my doctor's advice and started going for 30-minute walks most evenings. After only a couple of months, I can feel a difference and even see the difference when I step on the scale most mornings. Now that I've built some momentum, I have to be sure to keep it going, because as I've recently been reminded, simply moving in the right direction—both figuratively and literally—can be the greatest challenge.

Though I've accepted that I will die someday, that doesn't mean I don't fear the inevitability. But in some ways I'm equally afraid of getting old and living old. Regardless of my exercise habits, my physical abilities are doomed to lessen. Cognition will suffer a similar fate. My dopamine system will whither away. Alzheimer's and dementia are possibilities equally as frightening as cancer. Even if I have a long run in life, there's no guarantee that it'll be a good run.

I recently read an article arguing that 75 is the optimal lifespan, and though I'm sure I'll attempt to preserve myself long past my age of usefulness, I can't say I disagree with the sentiment. Though it's natural to want to stay on this ride we call Life for as long as possible, seating is limited, and so we all have to hop onto the red line to Mortality Village at some point in order to make room for the new participants.

As I get older, I try to hang onto my youthful curiosity and the punk-rock essence of teenage angst. I'm someone who has always been fueled by the flames of discontent, so I constantly fear that compliance is a sign of submission brought on by Father Time.

I fear the prospect of living in a world that has passed me by and left me behind. A world in which technology now appears closer to magic. One in which customs and norms make me feel like a foreigner in a new land. I also acknowledge that lack of acceptance makes certain situations harder than they need to be, and I have a feeling that this is an applicable situation.

But when you get down to it, it is what it is. The Cycle of Life started long before I came to the party, and it will carry on long after I've called it a night and gone somewhere quieter and more peaceful. It seems that lately the Universe is doing all it can to make it clear that it doesn't care what I think or hope. The Universe is a power that can't stop, won't stop.

This may sound like nihilism poking its head around. But I make a point not to fully embrace nihilism—I only flirt with it. These feelings are simply an attempt at acceptance, the domino that must fall before one can adapt strategies that work out better for everyone involved and affected.

Author's Note: The title of this post was taken from the song Some Days by Ira Wolf.

remains of a fallen building in downtown Big Spring, TX #essays #grief #health

Though I am a bit creeped out by data collection, I do look forward to Spotify's end-of-year summary email. The summary always gives an interesting snapshot of the listener's year in music. How much time did you spend listening to music throughout the year? What songs did you listen to most? These questions and more will be answered.

I guess I'm not so bothered by the practice of data collection as long as I get something cool or interesting out of it. Let's face it, everyone's a hypocrite at times.

This year, the summary revealed that my favorite artist of 2018 was none other than Jason Isbell. If you know me, then this isn't a shock. Isbell instantly became one of my favorite artists when I discovered his album Southeastern a few years ago. I've since had the pleasure of seeing him live in concert on three separate occasions, each time being special in its own right.

I imagine it's impossible to be a fan of Isbell's without knowing a bit of his story, but if you're not a fan, here's a quick summary:

Isbell started his career with the Drive-By Truckers, a country rock band known for raising hell. The band eventually kicked Isbell out because he was too good at raising hell and they were concerned about his alcoholism. At the insistence of his now-wife Amanda Shires, Isbell eventually entered rehab and now seems to have made a true recovery.

Isbell is one of the few artists who actually got better after rehab, a fact which I'm sure must aid in his sobriety. Having your post-rehab work suck must make a person want to hit the bottle.

I discovered Jason Isbell during an interesting time in my life. I was in the process of fighting my own demons and always had my eyes open for inspiration and direction. The thing I've enjoyed most about Isbell's music is his sense of confessionalism. He doesn't shy from his past. Instead, he shares it with his listeners and shows how we can all learn from his own experiences. Isbell gives me hope that we can all become something better than our former selves. If we don't believe that true and sincere self improvement is possible, how can we ever endure the painful process necessary for transformation?

No other artist's work has touched me as Jason Isbell's songs have, and Isbell's strength is definitely his lyrics.

Perhaps his words may push you to open your heart to love again, like in “Stockholm”:

Once a wise man to the ways of the world Now I've traded those lessons for faith in a girl

Maybe, as in the case of “Something To Love” they're an acknowledgment that life is hard and sometimes you just need something to keep you going:

I hope you find something to love Something to do when you feel like giving up A song to sing or a tale to tell Something to love, it'll serve you well

As I listen to Isbell, I often find myself envious of his ability to communicate so much with so few words. We often think that our heroes are supposed to inspire us to mimic them, but sometimes they can actually demotivate you when you accept that you'll never be able to reach their level of mastery. This describes how I feel about Jason Isbell and also Cormac McCarthy.

I am able to attach personal meaning to so many of Isbell's song but perhaps none moreso than “Relatively Easy”, because it's a song that I'll forever associate with an extremely painful and transformative personal experience.

Rewind to fall 2017

I've never been particularly fond of doctors' offices or hospitals. Let's face it, outside an annual checkup, if you're there, it's probably not for the greatest reason. But I've really hated the idea of them since losing both of my parents to cancer in 2011. I can't help feeling that a similar fate awaits me, and I can't tell you how many symptoms I've interpreted as a sign that its time has come. This kind of thinking isn't the most logical, but logic doesn't always prevail over emotion, now does it?

Before the fall of 2017, I'm not sure I'd ever had a checkup. But I most definitely hadn't had one since losing my parents. After running for 6 years, I had finally found the strength to face the monster. Or so I thought.

My fears and avoidance were on my mind the moment I walked into the office. I filled out the paperwork and then was led to the exam room. As I sat on the exam table in a gown, I found myself doing my best to fight off the tears and to contain myself. I don't think I've ever felt so alone and vulnerable at any other point in my life.

Finally, the doctor entered and she started asking her usual questions and I answered accordingly. Then she asked the big one:

Both your parents still living?

And that's when I broke. The doctor knew she'd hit a nerve. I know she knew because that's when she asked, “Did I hit a nerve?” Gee, what gave it away, Doc?

Through the tears, I spilled it all out. The horrible truth that I always wanted to hide, even though it was obviously impossible to do so.

We finished the exam, and the most basic things looked fine. Of course, I'd have to wait for some blood test results to come back before I could be sure, but for the most part, I was good to go. No reason to suspect cancer.

When I got to my car, I cranked it up and broke down again. If anyone saw me in that moment, he likely thought I'd just received the worst news, the kind that people often fear when they go to the doctor. But I was okay. I had faced my greatest fear, and I had come out okay on the other side.

This all happened inside my car as “Relatively Easy” by Jason Isbell played over my car stereo. And one particular piece of the song stuck with me that day:

You should know Compared to those on a global scale Our kind has had it relatively easy

Dealing with personal pain requires quite the balancing act. I'm convinced that not properly acknowledging my pain before almost destroyed me, so it's a personal mission of mine to be more honest about my pain with myself and others. On the flipside, we can't allow ourselves to endlessly wallow in our own pity. There does come a point when you have to suck it up and get on with your day and life.

And that's where those words from “Relatively Easy” come in. I've had troubles throughout my own life, as has everyone. And while there are plenty who have had it better than I, there are plenty who would love nothing more than to have a life like mine. I don't say that to brag. I say that as a function of gratitude. I say it as a sincere acknowledgment.

There may come a time when I stop listening to Jason Isbell. It's hard to imagine such a day, but anything is possible. But if that day ever does come, I know I'll never forget the impact that he his music had on me during a very crucial time of my own personal development.