I’ve known Chris as a writer for probably twenty-five years or more; however, the first time I met him face-to-face was five weeks after he was diagnosed with viral encephalitis. Although most of the people who knew him discovered that he had become a new Chris, I have only known the new one. And quite honestly, I have struggled to understand his struggles. Although intellectually, I know what he has been through because of the words of his two books describing his journey,Changing His Mind and Underwater, I didn’t understand emotionally what his every day struggles are like . . . until recently.
I am now the person who struggles with memory, and it is enormously frustrating. As someone who relied heavily on his ability to remember every aspect of my work and personal life, I have been reduced to writing everything down; and if I don’t, I may never recall what I can’t remember.
I have only glimpses of events from January 2, 2017, to sometime in April or May. On January 2, a disk in my lower back basically exploded and started four months of unbelievable, excruciating pain. After a major back surgery, surgeries to remove and replace a filter to prevent my death from blood clots, and two epidural pain blocks—all of which required anesthesia—and four months dependent on a narcotic to slightly moderate the intense pain, my body is pain free, but my memory is broken. The cause is likely a combination of the narcotic, anesthesia, and being over sixty years old. My doctor recommended that I memorize Scripture and play memory building games, but the words in the Bible verses get jumbled up and, although I score well in problem solving, my attempts at succeeding in memory games is mediocre at best.
Last year, I edited Chris’s book, Underwater, and I recall thinking (amazing that I remember this), the difficultly that the women and men whose stories Chris told is astounding and how frustrating life must be as they learned to live life with epilepsy. Now I can truly empathize as I struggle with learning how to cope with the frustrations of a fragmented memory. And I wish it were just not being able to remember the first four months of this year. I have discovered through my interaction with others that there are gaps in my memory that reach as much as twenty years or more in my past experiences.
So how do I cope? First, I don’t hide and I don’t minimize my issues. I decided to allow people I work with and fellowship with to help me. I have been honest with my struggles (thank you, Chris, for teaching me this). Second, I pray. I need God’s help to get through every day. Third, I depend on the emotional support of my close friends. I have been a part of Celebrate Recovery for almost a decade. The help I find just knowing that these people aren’t trying to fix me, but totally supporting me in my struggles, allows me to be me and helps me not to have unrealistic expectations for tomorrow.
Life isn’t the same—it is what it is. But it is life. And I can live life in the Spirit even with a broken memory. God can and will continue to converse with me—our relationship hasn’t change even if I have. And that is so comforting to know. Jesus is with me and we can continue living together so that my life will bring Him the glory.