The Tale of Us Against the Monster: The Treadmill

I haven’t written my blog for so long. It’s been months. I think it’s because I’ve been stuck “grinding the wind.” What is “grinding the wind”, you ask? Please let me explain….
Back in the day, prisoners sentenced to hard labor were forced to walk the treadmill. It was arduous work where the prisoner was forced to walk in place on the treadmill while strapped with weights. And to do this non-stop. It was absolutely cruel in that it served no actual purpose, it was unduly physically and psychologically taxing, and it was meant to do nothing more than punish the prisoner. Usually, the prisoners who were condemned to this so-called labor had done nothing more felonious than simply be poor or out of work. We hear about how the poor used to be sent to the poorhouse and the treadmill…well, that’s what it was. Anyway, as laws modernized, so did the prisons. Poorhouses were shut down. There was no more debtor’s prison. And the treadmill was abolished…sort of. What they did instead was transform it into something nearing purposeful—a corn and wheat mill. And so genuinely criminal prisoners now walked the treadmill, sans weights, to grind wheat into flour. This seemed perfectly acceptable to the more enlightened society of the late nineteenth century. However, treading the mill was still as mind-numbingly, inhumanely boring as ever before. It was still physically draining to walk in place for hours even without weights. It was still a task that never ended. It was still akin to “grinding the wind.”
That’s sometimes where my husband and I are these days. We are walking together in place and any forward motion we occasionally sense is merely an illusion. Wishful thinking.  For those of you living with the Monster, you know precisely what I’m talking about. I think it’s like being in the eye of the hurricane, isn’t it? There are no changes. But nothing is better either. So you plod along together in the abridged version your life has become, and your ears ring with the silence of it. I know. This part of the journey is so weird. People not only stop asking after you and your spouse, some stop calling all together. Visits become more and more rare. When my husband was first diagnosed we were inundated with a deluge of well-wishes and visitors and people reaching out to us. Now, not so much. We have no hard feelings about this though. We aren’t insulted. We can’t blame anyone for how the Monster has bled their best wishes—their best efforts—dry. They’re tapped out. Every so often a close friend or a family member will check in on us or call. Other than that, we live on a quiet little island—separate, it seems, from the rest of the world.
Where we are is not, in fact, uncommon. It happens sometimes to people with a lengthy illness. It’s like walking a treadmill for both the one who is dying as well as for those watching the dying person die. It’s simply exhausting. If you are battling the Monster, don’t be alarmed or saddened by this “dropping off” of supporters. The throng of people will thin out until there remains only a small and intimate inner circle. Don’t be surprised by this. People want to help and support you, but death and dying drains their strength and willpower. It is not a measure of how you are loved or cared for. As for my husband, and aside from family, there is only one friend—his best friend—who still calls him and visits him regularly. It’s okay. We’re okay. It just is what it is. The Monster terrifies people, bottom line.
So what can you do? I think it just comes down to focusing on quality of life and finding that life wherever you can. They say that the meaning of life is found in the search for the meaning of life. I know that sounds like a wad of crap, but I honestly think there’s something to it. My hubby and I find ways to pass the time, to while away the good hours. For instance, we were movie aficionados this past year and we basically nailed it when it came to guessing who would win all the Oscars before the Academy Awards aired.
On sunny days, we make the front seat of the car into a bit of a bed and go for drives. We have sat beside every beach in our area—there are many—and watched the birds and the waves and the people while sipping double/doubles and eating Tim Horton’s Fruit Explosion muffins. And we talk. We talk a lot. I ask him if he’s afraid. His answer has changed over the years that the Monster has been in our lives. At first he was plenty scared. He now says he’d rather not, but he’s okay…a little sad. He asks me what I think I will do with my life afterward. He wants me to find happiness again and not to grieve for a foolishly long time. I tell him I’d like to see Rome someday, and he says that’s a great idea and wishes he could go with me. I say I wish he could too. Then we hold hands for a while and watch the endless ocean and the white puffy clouds settling over the horizon. The world is silent again except for the sound of the wind and waves.
We are peaceful together now. I suppose that’s the only mercy of knowing the Monster for as long as we have—it finally sinks in. We reach a place of acceptance, and when we do, we can finally lay down our arms and take a deep cleansing breath. It is during these times of peace that we are able to step off the treadmill for an hour here and there. And then, I guess it’s about finding quiet interests and moving together within the space allotted…talking and laughing and exploring all the many levels of intimacy. And there are just so many.
You who are grappling with the Monster, all your Ts are crossed and your Is are dotted by now. Everyone has been and gone. It is human nature to have the sense that you are “grinding the wind” when it seems like everything is in a state of limbo, because all you’ve found is an intense boredom that matches your growing uneasiness. Yes. It’s true. You really are on the treadmill, but it’s the Monster’s treadmill. Step off—remind him he’s not in charge.

Find something that makes you smile, and go do it for a while. Accept your journey. Breathe. You’re okay.

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