January 13, 2014

In Sickness and In Health

 

As noted in the past, on a peaceful summers midday afternoon in August 1972 my father collapsed in a restaurant in Manhattan while having lunch with some associates.

Just like a sudden snap of a falling majestic oak tree, he collapsed and died instantly. For years afterwards I too was sure I was dying without him. I invested in every conceivable malady sure this was the one that would bring me down. I was convinced that the bind that tied me to my father was unbreakable, and that without his strength and power to protect me, I would fail miserably.

My early adult life was filled with anxiety and hypochondria, which surrounded my conscious life with failure and sickness. Deep down though in the very private unconscious realm that resides within us all, I was surviving, progressing, and actually flourishing as a photographer.

From my early childhood, and especially in my adult life I was terrified of doctors. What might they discover by their probing tools and penetrating eyes on this weak and frail person. Just a thought of visiting a doctor ignited an anxiety attack. For years I simply avoided doctors. I was easily able to talk in front of hundreds of people, but seeing a lone doctor for an annual physical was out of the question. Standing naked and vulnerable in front of a doctor who was more knowledgeable about health and sickness than me was terrifying. Face to face confrontation was simply tortuous. If I let someone in, all they would find would be a failing sick person who was hiding under the veneer of health.

For me a visit to a doctor was even more emotionally intimate and revealing than physical intimacy with a woman, although being close and intimate is what I have most craved and needed my whole life. I was filled, even overwhelmed with desire and attraction but so fearful of it. My early adult life was so confused and anxious that real intimacy was mostly a dream and hope rather than a realization.

But not in my pictures. It was with my camera that I began to find intimacy. With a camera, I responded to this sick frail person I perceived myself to be, with a strong YES. The pictures were strong, powerful, and invincible.

 

I see it all now, all so clearly. I truly understand with over forty years of introspection with a doctor in New Haven. I took my mothers love, and it’s perceived withdrawal because of her sickness, and I then attached all the guilt I felt in the belief that my strength was the fault. If I remained frail, sick, and did not stick out too far by being overly assertive or strong then everything would be alright. I could keep things under control. I needed her love so badly that I would even take her sickness on to me. I would do anything to keep her alive. and well even if it destroyed and changed me. So at age five I turned a powerful vibrant smart young boy into a sickly failure for all to see. How could a mother abandon a child so in need of her love. I thought my strength was killing her and I changed everything to keep her alive.¬†Instead of accepting my new state internally, I was always unconsciously fighting it with ruthless determination. This conflict in the end led to years and years of enormous anxiety.

Then I remarried at age forty, started a new life, and things began to change. As my fiftieth birthday loomed closer on the horizon this wife of mine insisted that I didn’t need my head examined anymore but that “now it was the time to get physical”. No matter how much I feared it. It was now time to have an extensive physical exam. My psyche was in good shape but how about my body. For me it was now time to open up and finally find out what was wrong with me. I was now going to let some doctor probe, inject, and look closely into my being and my heart (which I was sure was failing) and face my fears straight on.

So one Spring we went off to the Pritikin Institute for a thorough physical and the start of a new lean diet. I was finally going to face all my fears. I was going to let my father die. So with the help of many Valiums and enormous encouragement of friends and family I set off on an adventure of a lifetime.

This is just the beginning but until next week it is the END.

 

 

 

Comments

4 Comments »

  1. Thank you for your openness and strength and being so brave.
    It moved me deeply.

    Comment by Stephan — January 15, 2014 @ 9:12 am

  2. A worthy woman your wife is and I love the introspection and the clarity that came from it about how you took on your mother’s weakness! Can’t wait to read part two:)

    Comment by Kina — January 17, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  3. A shame not to see you in the Bodaf but first things first, take care! and keep informed … from a distance indondicional my support and prayers. A big hug from Spain.

    Comment by Fotelias — January 28, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

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