You could say I first walked into this room five years ago, right about the time I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, and a few months later when the doctors added that I also had an acoustic neuroma—a benign tumor lodged between the ear canal and the brain. I’ve been struggling with health issues ever since, not in a life-threatening way, but certainly in a way that affects my quality of life.
Of course, you could also say this room started a year ago, just as I hit the halfway mark of the 999 Rooms experiment. I had decided to take a break from writing and was ready to reclaim my life. To find my mojo. Make a comeback.
My idea was to head to Walden Pond. I bought myself a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, stove, water purifier, and a pocket knife for cutting out snake venom. I was ready to head to the local mountains and as Henry David Thoreau advised,“to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
It was bold stuff.
At least it would have been if I had made it any further than my air conditioned living room. It’s hard to suck the marrow out of life when you’re sitting in your REI tent, playing Words With Friends while watching the Dodger game. My comeback went nowhere unless you want to count one scary night camped out in my front yard.
By the end of the summer, I came to the realization that a guy with balancing issues had no business scrambling up mountains with a 50-pound pack. After months of testing out a store full of REI gear, I ended up returning it all, except for the pocket knife for cutting out snake venom.
It was an unsettling feeling coming to the realization that I couldn’t do what I used to do. That my life was now different. But I was determined not to take it lying down. I wrote the words “Make A Comeback” on the top of a freshly barren piece of paper and started listing all the ways I would come back, beginning with jumping out of an airplane with my wife. There would be time to tell her later.
Of course, almost before the ink was dry on my paper, my yearly MRI results came back. My tumor was growing unusually fast and was now edged up against the brain. My doctors advised surgery.
“As in opening my brain?” I asked the doctor, knowing clear well that I’m the guy who cries when my wife has to take out a splinter.
The fact is, I would have had the operation a long time ago, but one of the risks of this particular brain surgery was hearing loss in that ear, not to mention facial paralysis. Hearing loss wouldn’t be so bad, except that my other ear already had poor hearing due to the Meniere’s Disease. But now I had no choice. Because of the size of the tumor and where it was resting, along with worsening balance, dizziness, and fatigue, it was the only thing to do. That or wait for it to kill me.
I opted for surgery. It was better than skydiving anyway.
I began prepping my body. I gave up gluten, rice, corn, dairy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and drum roll please…Advil PM. For those who know me, that was like giving up heroin.
Right off the bat, I started feeling better. I started sleeping better. I had more energy. And life. They hadn’t even sliced open my head and I could feel my life starting to change.
Here, I’ll mercifully spare you the boring details and cut to the chase.
It’s over. Sixteen weeks today.
The anesthesia, catheters, staples in my head, heavy drugs, even the parting enema my nurse gave me as a going-away gift. It’s all a distant memory. All I can say is that there is more than a biological reason that men don’t give birth.
I am also happy to announce that the tumor is gone, and I have no facial paralysis. I was secretly hoping that I would wake up like one of those savants on 60 Minutes who could suddenly speak French or sing opera backwards. But no such luck. I was still tone deaf. And deaf in one ear for that matter. Well, I do have 12% hearing left, but with no ability to recognize words, it doesn’t help much. But I still have 60% left in the other ear, which is more than enough for a guy who has a magical sense of smell.
In the meantime, my Siemens Pure Cross hearing aids work like a charm. For the first time in years, I don’t need to cup my ears to hear someone, which never worked anyway.
And with all the balancing rehab I’ve been doing, I no longer walk like a frat boy at a sobriety checkpoint. At least most days. I’m also back at work full-time, relishing in my creative life like I haven’t experienced in years.
All of which brings me to this day and, once again, to that blank piece of paper which has been waiting for me so patiently.
I am finally ready to push my way through that 500th Room and shout from the rooftops that I’m officially back.
Room 500: Make A Comeback
Let me start by dispelling the myth that a comeback is all about returning to exactly who we were and the same life we had. Nothing could be further from the truth. A comeback is much deeper than that.
The moment they wheeled me out of the hospital—I wanted to start running, hiking, maybe even take up figure skating. Nothing was off the table. Right away I tried to prove just how “back I was.” I took great pain not to use my walker, or even take off time from work.
I remember insisting on having a phone call with a client a week after surgery when I had practically no hearing in both ears. I laid in bed and faked my way through the whole call, agreeing with everything the client said, and even laughing when I thought he was joking. He could have told me his grandmother was run over by a truck for all I knew.
I was clearly stubborn. I wanted my life back to what it was five years ago. And I wanted it back immediately. But there was no way around the inflammation in my brain, along with the headaches, blurry vision, and balancing issues. And I had Meniere’s on top of that, which comes with its own balancing and hearing issues.
As much as I fought it, I wasn’t close to being back. Not by a long shot. And there was no telling how long it might take before I felt well again. All the doctors could say was “maybe three months, six months, or a year.” You get better estimates from the cable guy.
I had no choice but to lie back down in bed, grab the remote and surrender my health to the universe, which is exactly what I did. I became like the Dalai Lama himself, if the Dalai Lama binge-watched Netflix and popped Hydrocodone.
But as soon as I surrendered to this peaceful new me, the next day I’d want to start fixing the gutters on the roof. And I’m a guy who has never been on his roof. The next day I’d go back to surrendering, then back to being frustrated because I couldn’t find my balance, or hear more than two people talking in a room. Back and forth it went for weeks, my emotions moving up and down like a yo-yo.
And all I can say is this. Thank God my wife is an expert with yo-yos. And a saint if there ever was one. She kept telling me to be patient, and even better, showed me how in the way she nursed me back to health.
Be patient. They were simple words, but life-changing. And eventually, they took hold and with them came an even deeper realization. I didn’t have to wait to make my comeback. I was already making it. I’d been making it for the last year. I not only re-energized my health and rid myself of a tumor, but kicked Advil PM to the curb. That’s not a bad years work.
And every shitty day was part of that comeback. Still is. And while I could moan all day long how I’m still not where I’d like to be, it doesn’t matter.
I mean, yes, it matters. No one wants to be where they don’t want to be. But when I looked a little deeper, I could see that I was clearly different than I was a year ago. Maybe not entirely healed, but a newer version of who I used to be. I’m stronger and more resilient, and at the same time, softer and kinder with myself than I’d ever been before.
That’s a comeback by any definition.
I know it’s easy to say this now when the worst is behind me. Just as I know that when it’s you who are caught in a rabbit hole, nobody can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And I also know when you’re sick, or any place you don’t want to be, whether physical or mental, it’s easy to dwell on yesterday and what it looked like and how you felt, or to fixate on tomorrow, and how great life will be once you’re able to do cartwheels again.
But mark my words with your highlighter—they’re both illusions and equal drains on our energy.
All we have is today. This moment. And it is only from this place of quiet patience that a true comeback can happen. Of course, we don’t know this when we feel distant from the world. When all we want to do is be somewhere else. And to be like everyone else.
And we’ve all been there, right? We’ve all fallen into that same rabbit hole. The guy in front of you at the checkout line. He’s been there. So has your dentist. He may be there now. And your son, spouse, best friend. We’ve all tried to come back from one thing or another. From illness, divorce, or financial ruin; from apathy, boredom, or anxiety; from sorrow, loneliness, or regret.
It’s all the same thing wrapped in different clothing—a desire to come back from a place where we don’t to be.
Nobody gets out unscathed.
Fortunately, there is a path back. And if we’re open to it, that path can transform us, and lead us from uncomfortable pain to life-altering awareness.
But don’t think you can come back with strength alone, or persistence, or even willpower. They’re certainly necessary. But not as much as kindness. Kindness is the miracle maker. It brings patience and compassion, which opens our hearts to joy, light, and love. And when you have those, you realize you’re already back.
I had been waiting for so long to resume my life again, but when it came down to it, the comeback—mine or yours—has nothing to do with what our life used to be, or is going to be in the future. It’s about getting back to who we truly are, beneath the facade of how we look, or hear, or walk, or make our way in this world.
The real comeback is about getting back to that part of us that is us, even after our body turns to bones and ash.
Sure, I’d like to hear crickets in the other room, or be able to ride a unicycle, or carry a backpack up a mountain, but then for that matter, I’d like to have 20-20 vision and fit into size 28 jeans. But, that ain’t going to happen.
Like the old Zen saying, “You can’t step into the same water twice.” We’ll never be the same as we were yesterday. But we can reclaim that lost bounce in our step, the sense of wonder we once had, or our connectedness with all that surrounds us. We can reclaim laughter, purpose, and joy.
That is the real comeback. And we can be there anytime we choose to live in the present moment. And it can happen in the blink of an eye.
So, however far away you may feel today, or wherever you may be tomorrow, know that you can always come back. Not to your same life, but to a better version of yourself. To who you really are.
After all, to be truly back is to know you’ve never really been away.
And thank you to my wife, who has always reminded me that wherever I am, and whatever I face, I am always home.
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