I've been tirelessly pondering existence from various toilet views for over 2 years.. Here's
I've had a "nervous stomach" for about as long as I can remember, say 6 or 7 years old at least. I use to leave school sometimes up through middle school with excruciating sharp pains that never got an explanation from a school nurse, and my household wasn't under the luxury of "run to the doctor" insurance. The pains went away as I got older, but something clicked inside of me when I was 22 years old. I was in the Navy then, my last year, 2008. I had just gotten a DUI in February right after signing a divorce decree in December of 2007. My nerves and anxiety were going through a lot. It was summer, and I was living in a studio apartment on 14th Ave North and 3rd Street in Jacksonville Beach. I could smell the ocean spray.. I should have been loving life but I couldn't see past my circumstances. It went to show that happiness is an essence, not a location. To my credit, 22 years old is a fragile age, especially 1200 miles from home. In the midst of this DUI era - on the tail end of a year's alcoholic, woman-laced binge - and misery of being away from my son, I had met a girl that seemed really right at the time. She was gone now too.. One morning I woke up and walked down my short hall to sit on the toilet and it didn't feel right. I don't think my stomach has been "right" since.
I had been through my bought with alcohol, one part my own emotions, one part military culture. It really amazed me to see how alcohol dictated so much around me.. how it's ingrained into every culture from the country to the hood, across the suburbs, and throughout each military command I experienced. These three cultures convened in the shops of the hangar where I worked, and stories were replayed with more pride than notions of shame. At one point, a DUI was a rite of passage in the Navy. In fact, shortly after my DUI my shop Chief shook my hand out in the smoke pit with his corny smile and said, "Welcome to the club."
Fast forward to 2015. I still drink here and there today - mostly for occasions - but it's something that's been mostly left in my past. The notorious season changes of the Midwest came on in the spring and I catch a sinus infection, which also does good to flare up old dental needs (that part in the intro about insurance). I took antibiotics from the VA like most people would do, but with my stomach tendencies nothing good is going to come out of that. A month later comes another sinus infection in addition to a 3 day trial with an allergy pill that would bring blood out of me after suddent sprints to the bathroom. This was all new to me. The spiral was in motion and the only way was down. By December I was almost dead, 112 lbs. I turned 30 on the 2nd, a couple weeks out of another breakup (that's 2 of only a few since married life), and by the middle of the month I was given steroids and a Crohn's diagnosis. Up to my diagnosis I was running to a toilet 10 to 15 times a day, struggling to eat, was ashen and gray, developing massive welts on my legs, and napping whenever I could. Weed is all that kept me eating anything at all, yet I was on probation (another entry, another day), so I'm really jumping through hoops to get by. I had decorated my bathroom with as much of my personal art and collection of other artists because I spent so much time in there. It felt like an institution with the walls bare, and I didn't wanna die in a place like that. I felt the death creeping on me. Anyone with knowledge about medicine and healthcare knows that 60mg of Prednisone is a massive dose. Within a number of days I was "new" feeling and swollen to 145 lbs. I took the medicine for roughly 5 months, slowly bringing down the dose, which slowly brought back my symptoms. I was eating everything after months of not being able to eat without leaving the table for the bathroom. Mind you.. this is America. There was no focused discussion or hardly question about my nutrition habits, just the pills. A meeting with the nutritionist at the VA was elementary at best.
Prednisone is essentially a form of methamphetamines, so as the dope haze cleared from my brain it was like sitting in the blast zone of a bomb that dropped weeks ago, naked. I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt more vulnerable. I've inventoried everything from the toilet. I've reflected on every memorable moment in life and re-lived things a million times. I'm still using various toilets, because I became a "I'm not waiting to get home" kinda person years ago and it hasn’t been a “swallow this daily” fix. I manage my gut the best I can, but some days and most moments are out of my control. When you gotta go, you gotta go, so you head to the nearest toilet. You learn your habits and tendencies, finding energy and ways to work around them.
Sitting on these toilets you have plenty of time to think about shit. What you give a shit about, and who gives a shit. I’ve been living out on my own for over a decade as it is, currently and mostly in Kansas City. I have a little family back home to go see and who occasionally visit. They give a shit, but they don’t know what to do or say. Most people forget you’re even working through it, especially when you have a tendency for resilience and charisma. Yea, that’s me I’m talking about. Everything isn’t doom and gloom on the toilet, right? You also get to think about fond memories or ponder your own positive attributes and strengths in attempt to move forward mentally. I think the mental drain may be the biggest downer of it all.. After a lifetime of anxiety and recurring depression, you're asking God "why is this getting put on me? Is this part of my privilege package? Where is this going if I can't fix it? diet, diet.. Is this gonna kill me? .. this could turn to cancer, I know. Why didn't mom take me to the doctor? ..nutrition.. I wonder if my dad has this problem? lights cigarette.. What am I gonna do when I get through this? Everyday becomes getting through it, so I started doing now as much as possible, and if anything I've been living more fully, from the Rocky Mountains to NYC.
When my head first cleared from the dope haze and I was starting to frequent the bathroom more - the problem wasn't fixed, masked rather - once again, my mental inventory went straight to who should have gave the biggest shit and saw what was happening. I had an assistant at the time who I spoke with weekly and saw at least every couple weeks, often inviting me over for home events she would make up reasons to host. It was a “Friendsgiving” in 2015 (pre-diagnosis) that I sat down with her and her social circle, took two or three bites of something that was fire (really good), and left for the toilet. You get over the embarrassment of excusing yourself from conversations and tables to shit. You just wanna feel better. My stomach wasn’t primed to try eating again, so I hung out and smoked. It was getting late so I decided to go, and remembering how good the food was I asked to take a to go. She told me “no, that’s mine.” She didn’t give a shit. I had a low key girlfriend all of through the 2015 spiral who watched from close up and this is her one sentence mention. In the end, it was a contracting colleague of mine and my probation officer who were otherwise seeing me most and showed the most concern. I couldn't get away from what I was looking like when I saw them, and I'm glad.
What I’ve done with Matt Diamond Photography since 2009 is cater to what other people wanted, or thought they wanted. I've stretched for compliments a time or two and heard out a lot of people. I took pride in being someone's photographer, getting to know people and doing my best to bring out their best. As a kid and a teenager I was always empathetic and didn’t like the idea of someone being cast aside or forgotten. I see the same in my son. Over the years I’ve been sought after for help, advice, guidance.. and I’ve always been happy to help and encourage. Giving so much of that, sometimes you need some back.
I read a short story (The Death of Ivan Ilyich) last winter about a judge who injured himself falling off the ladder in his drawing room (old school). With no initial symptoms, he went on with life, although problems would arise. They snowball, in fact, ultimately prompting his retirement, and finally leading him into the misery of his deathbed. As sickness wears on, you get frustrated, and in moments it'll flare to anger. First off, he couldn’t understand or accept how someone once so respected, dignified, and seemingly powerful could be set aside in poor health. He became a complete burden to his wife and daughters as years ticked by, his moans and cries became greater, and nearly up to his death he despised them comparably to their spite for him. Finally, he did find resolve and peace before he passed. The lesson I took from it:
No matter who you claim to love, and whoever may claim to love you, your burdens are your burdens alone, like any prison or death sentence. Find strength in that fact, not submission. Life has shown me since young that this isn't a matter of choice, but a matter of our human reality. I used to talk about it with a certain pride, how I never got sick. I caught strep a few times and I had dental problems growing up, but as I got older and had temporary fixes on the dental, was left with two colds a year whenever major season changes came along. Aside from that, I had always considered myself healthy, not even knowing what allergies felt like. I had been healthy enough that I've never dealt with sickness so well. One, because it wasn't my normal, and two, because it reminds me of rarely getting a doctor when I did need one as a kid. Sickness is lonely, especially when you live in the city alone, and it'll become you. It'll make you bitter and resent others, like the family that forgets and the friends that fade. It's like growing up poorer than others, or without a father. Where I've learned my lessons in those circumstances, I can't forget them now. I can't let my sickness and shortcomings define myself today, or the potential of my future. I know I'm much greater than my body feels and within my will I can be better.
I’m wise enough to know that none of my old friends, acquaintances, or family can cure my ill, but for now I'm finding comfort in my anti-inflammatory pills. I’m working on the fix, going through the doctor's process. Regardless of what those around you seem to be able to do or not, consider a company of people who will encourage you at the top of the mountain, or from the bottom. Be cautious of those who ask others how you are, rather ask you themselves. Re-arrange it all if you have to, even if you haven’t turned 30 yet. Don’t be needy with those who remain, as your needs are ultimately your responsibility, and never forget to reciprocate. Whether dying or doing perceivably great, call someone you love from time to time and ask them , “How do you feel?” It’s the little things that often fuel another day.