Three Serious, Personal Illnesses: One Is A Monster That Could Visit Me Again

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As an adult, I have had bouts with three different illnesses. Only one however stands above the others as the most concerning to me.

Which one do you think it is?

  1. Shingles
  2. Viral Pneumonia
  3. Anxiety Attack

Let me briefly describe my experiences with each, and then let you guess which one it is.

1. Shingles

The jet I was on had leveled off on its way from Salt Lake City to Palm Springs when a shooting pain went through the left side of my rib cage. The flight attendant noticing my distress asked me if I was alright. The only thing I could think of saying was, “I feel like I’VE BEEN SHOT.” After the initial stabbing pain, the left side of my body continued having a constant dull pain that I couldn’t relieve by moving around or taking Tylenol.

So was my initial experience a painful virus residing along the spinal column caused by having had chickenpox. The virus lies dormant and attacks a percentage of the population years later.

Upon my return home two days later, I went to my family doctor? After a short exam with my shirt off he said, “You have Shingles, look at the rash.” I looked down at the spot he pointed to and saw a straight line of blisters resembling a belt line. (In Greek, shingles translates as belt, thus the name “belt disease.”) The doctor gave me an anti-viral shot, and said, “I don’t know if this will do you any good, but in any event the pain should subside in about a week.” It did. While I have not had another shingles attack, I do experience residual pain from time to time. I don’t know what I would do if the residual pain would return to the level it did when I had the first attack.

2. Viral Pneumonia

In was 1987 and Les Miserables was the hottest musical on Broadway. I was 43 years old and traveled to New York City three times a year on business. On this particular occasion my wife traveled with me. We were invited to see the musical by one of our clients and closest friends.

We stayed at The University Club in downtown Manhattan. I had a sore throat when we arrived. That night I woke up, and coughed. As I did my throat closed off and I couldn’t breathe. Panicked, I ran to the bathroom, looked into the mirror and said, “I’M GOING TO DIE.”

At that moment my throat opened up and I took in a breath of air. But for the next two days, the same thing increased in frequency. I went to the doctor at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The doctor wouldn’t give me any medication or diagnose what was wrong with me. I was too sick and weak to argue with him.

We caught a plane home. Upon arrival I went straight to my family doctor. He took an X-ray of my lungs and said I had viral pneumonia. Go to bed he said. There is no medication for this. I was in bed for seventeen days. And for a year after that my voice would periodically give out if I raised it too quickly. And even now, if I have a coughing spell, sometimes I will have a gagging sensation.

3. Anxiety Attack

It’s somewhere around 1986 and I’m 42 years old. At the time I’m three to four years into being a management consultant and a radio commentator. I’m making great money. As The Eagles’ songs go, I was in the cold, cold city (LA,) living in the fast lane, cruising down the freeways in my silver Mercedes living in Hotel California. Then one day, I get hit with the possibility that we will lose our biggest client. It catches me by surprise. I only know getting clients, not losing them, especially big ones. Gradually I fall INTO A PARALLEL WORLD of anxiety. I wake up at night drenched in perspiration. I can’t turn off the obsessive tumbling of dispiriting thoughts.

After about six weeks the accompanying feelings of depression begin to leave. But the after effects of fearing I will lapse back keep me feeling vulnerable for another couple of years. This, more than anything else I have ever experienced, demonstrated how vulnerable I could feel. I’m not the vulnerable type. But I wasn’t so sure after this experience. From this point on I was more wary of the limits to which I would push my luck. But as luck would have it, this would not be the end of it.

Comparing

Of the three, the most PAINFUL illness was Shingles. The most FREIGHTING of the three was having my breathing cut off. And the most DREADED was the anxiety attack.

The One That Concerns Me The Most

If there is one that personally concerns me the most, it is anxiety attacks that lead to depression.

For a long time I believed that the type of life I led caused these bouts. I crave taking business risks. While I crave it, I also hate it. But while there is no denying that such a lifestyle exacerbates my condition, I have concluded that no matter what I chose to do, I probably would have ended up going through some kind of bouts of anxiety. The evidence suggests that many of us may have a genetic predisposition for this, although new studies also suggest that environmental factors also contribute. If you can believe it, people who live in higher altitudes register higher rates of depression than those who do not. (I wonder if flying over three million miles by plane would count as living in high altitudes?)

I don’t believe there is any theological underpinning for depression e.g. “it is required of you to suffer to qualify for heaven.” I am quite sure depression is a purely chemical issue, that is, a brain chemistry issue. With that, I believe it can be fixed, however, I don’t believe there is a one way fixes all remedy, at least not yet. What works for me is taking my morning medication (one pill), making sure I get as much light into my home as possible (even in overcast days), exercising, eating regularly, actively working at my profession and quickly communicating my feelings instead of holding them in.

Conclusion

Today, I manage my health. I still live an aggressive lifestyle. I do not want to leave this life with a whimper. But, I understand to accomplish that, constant vigilance over my health is a must. And in my case, depression is that monster in the attic that concerns me most.