On a warm Saturday night in Atlanta, Georgia, I was a bottle of red wine deep into an even deeper conversation on life, death and reincarnation.
Like, deep, man.
As the wine-drenched hours pressed on and into the new morning, I felt a slight twinge in my lower back. When I later looked in the bathroom mirror, I noticed a small white spot in the area.
A mosquito bite? Perfect…
By the next day, I had forgotten all about the mosquito bite, but my lower left back had become sore. I groaned as I dipped into a full forward fold, head and hands dangling to the floor, desperate to stretch out the tightness in the area.
The ache must have been from traveling by plane and train in the days prior. Maybe it was from sitting in conference-room chairs for the last day and a half. I probably slept oddly, I said, being away from my own bed for a few nights.
(You might begin to notice a painfully obvious pattern in the story from here.)
By Monday, the mosquito-bite twinge had evolved to a deep ache throughout my back, stretching all the way around my left side to my abdomen. My lower stomach and belt-line area had become so sore, as if chaffed, that I could barely button my pants, let alone wear a belt.
“Guess it’s time to lay off the pizza a bit,” I told myself.
Later that day, I was due for more travel activity — car, plane, train, subway, bus from Atlanta to New York City — that would physically stress my body again; more of the very things that I told myself were probably the cause of the odd body pains in the beginning, and would probably exaggerate it over the next couple of days.
That Monday night, I slept pretty terribly.
By Tuesday, the pain I felt around my belt line and lower back had gotten worse.
By Wednesday, in spite of the laundry list of ailments that I’ve listed here, I began to recognize the pattern of physical pain was not an abberation, but indicative of something being very wrong: I noticed a rash on my back and left side, stretching around my side, where the aches had been all along.
I thought back to the mosquito bite.
On Thursday, the rash had grown. Spots on my lower back stretched around my left side and all the way to my lower abdomen — again, in the same areas where the aches had preceeded it.
Thankfully, that day, I was due to travel by train back to Rhode Island for a wedding I was planning to attend that weekend — and it was immaculate timing, because a doctor’s visit was suddenly on the schedule.
Within the day, I’d take my three-hour train ride to Rhode Island, drive from the train station to the doctor’s office in East Providence, sit on the patient’s table, answer a few questions, and get diagnosed with shingles.
At the age of 26.
Welcome to Your Own New Skin
All things considered, the diagnosis could have been worse. But the question remained, how was shingles even possible?
Shingles is typically associated with the elderly. Its the re-emergence of the chickenpox virus; your own virus that comes back, not one you pick up or acquire or catch from anyone else. But shingles if it happens to afflict anyone, it’s a sign of one’s immune system failing, or at a significant low point.
What was wrong with mine?
That’s when a somewhat funny diagnosis — when I heard it, I actually laughed out loud in my doctor’s face — starts to become a bit of serious concern. That’s when questions from smart people in white coats start to include phrases like “blood work” and “HIV test” and “cancer” and “white blood cell count” start to pop up.
Thankfully, a few days later my blood work revealed that I had no deficiencies, no ailments, and no life-threatening conditions. Just a curious case of shingles. And I=if the ailment wasn’t a physical problem, its onset was, by default, probably stress-induced.
So, the doctors began to ask,
Are you stressed? Not really.
Exercising and eating well? …pretty well.
Dealing with anything tough? Nope.
What’s been difficult these days? I feel pretty damn good, actually.
Why did I feel so damn good? I guess you could say I had spent a good amount of the summer finding, cutting and settling into my own new skin.
A shift was occurring.
Over the course of the last few hot and humid months, I had begun to externalize and challenge a series of internal questions, hurdles and challenges — in other words, I was noticing a mental-emotional funk and decided to turn into its discomfort and uncertainty by quietly shifting gears in how I live, how I work, what I think, the habits I have and the goals and dreams that I maintain.
Something within me was not sitting right. I wasn’t sure what it was.
But I began to feel a deep need to evolve, shift, change, grow, challenge, destroy, overcome — to shed my skin, and take on a new one.
After months of distress, struggle, and everything-is-one-big-question, I began to ask the right ones and suddenly turned a few mental corners. The shift was there.
That shift was returning to my roots as a writer: rededicating myself to the craft by exploring writing in new and different ways; diving head-first into publishing a book of poetry with reckless abandon; setting a goal to write for four hours every week day; and so on.
I realized my own pattern of excuse-making when it came to the craft I loved — I told myself and everyone around me that writing *had* to take a backseat to other entrepreneurial ventures in order to pay the bills, because writing wouldn’t do that for me.
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
What good do those ever do? What reinforcing does an excuse-making rationale make except something you tell yourself that you don’t want?
I was shifting back to my roots, but not regressing; evolving. Changing, growing. And with that progressive “return” to myself, I started to breathe easier, feel lighter — and re-engage in a powerfully-activated and totally re-immersed ways.
But then this odd ailment settles in…
Is it possible that the illness I came down with was, in fact, a physical expression of internal changes and growth I had been feeling? Was this virus a external reflection, an outer manifestation, of what was changing within?
Was coming down with shingles a peculiar welcome to my own new skin?
Maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe I was just way more worried about these changes, growth, and other stresses than even I realized — to the extent that my immune system would falter and give rise to something like shingles. Maybe so. But what fun is that?
Life is what we make of it.
And, how we see what we see is the reality we live.
This is how I got welcomed to my own new skin.
I hope your next evolution is a little less funky.
P.S. — Oh yeah, that “mosquito bite” wasn’t a mosquito bite at all — it was the first sign of shingles showing it’s fugly little face. :)
P.P.S. — I’m healed now, so you don’t need to hide from me.