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Sometimes You Get the Bull, Sometimes the Bull Gets You


The bull got me today, and badly. Of all the crazy feelings and emotions I seem to contend with, the feeling of defeat is the most crippling. Sometimes you get the bull. I think that’s how the saying goes, but I may be mistaken. The ‘proverb’ is meant to illustrate something akin to when people say, “You win some and you lose some”. I suppose I could have used that analogy to exemplify how I feel today, or what *was* today, however today felt a lot more like I was trampled by a bull, as opposed to just having “lost one”. I should probably run you through my day and let all of you decide.
Today I woke up just like always, had my coffee, derped around for a couple hours to find some enlightenment, and reviewed my goals for the day. I try to make a habit to very carefully plan my day out. I’m not fond of surprises, and although they are usually unavoidable, I’ve found that planning my next 18-20 hours helps me manage things better, attain a more realistic plan of attack, and ensures I commit myself to whatever that level of achievement I expect beforehand. On this day I had a handful of commitments – get a few checks to the bank, get something to eat, eat, call the shrink and cancel my appointment, get to physical therapy (PT) early, fast break to my daughter Jorden’s school to watch her throw some rainbows (basketball game), and then drive about 22 miles to watch my oldest boy’s wrestling match.
By 9 AM I was ahead of schedule. I’d (thankfully) booked my next two guests for the podcast, decided on a new recording platform, and started to test out a new application that I intend to use to produce the shows (I’ve not been super happy with the current tool). I grabbed some clothes, took a shower, battled getting a hooded sweatshirt on, tied my sneakers, and went about it. Bank, check. Lunch, check. Eat, check. So far, so good. Call shrink, check. And soon, very soon, I prepare to leave again for physical therapy (PT). I always have some amount of anxiety and apprehension about PT, it’s true.
My therapist, John, has in no uncertain terms saved my life. Sans John, I’d likely still be in a wheelchair. I’ve been working with John for 14 months. Twice a week. Every week. John (actually Jonathan) has seen me cry in despair; rage out in anger, quite literally. He has seen me in my darkest moments, which are moments absolutely no other human on this planet has watched me experience. John knows when I’m pushing. John knows when I’m just going ‘through the motions’ too. John knows all of this, and we have built a relationship around what I would compare to something like a game of cat and mouse.
“I bet you anything that Jeremy has that cane in his car even though I’ve told him what, two hundred times to lose that thing already?”, John with facetiously pose this question as I enter the doors. I’ll typically tisk, and then retort. “What the f–k are you talking about?! Did you not see me walk in here without the cane? Jesus…”. “Yeah OK, but I bet it’s in your car. Isn’t it Jeremy?”, then adds “And I watched you walk in here. You looked like sh-t – why was your head down? What have we talked about? Your legs were so far apart. What…. did you think you were going to fall? Did-ja?”. I usually get huffy and simply ignore him. OK fine, yes the f-ing cane is in the car. I’ll walk right past him, and go about my business doing my regimented exercises.
Today, just like every other, I left the cane in the car, hobbled across the parking lot, up the curb, and entered. I’m greeted by Alex. Alex is the 26 year old receptionist who loves to heckle me. We talk for a minute or two while I catch my breath. How are you? Good. How are you? Fine. What’s new Alex? “Ugh, I’m so angry”, she says. “They told me they were going to give me a free tank of gas when I got the Jeep and I’m sti-i-i-i-l-l-l waiting”, she exclaims. Alex just bought a new (used) Jeep recently. Almost every visit to PT she has some complaint about not being ‘serviced’ properly, which I hear about in great detail twice a week. We have very different problems. Often I feel resentment towards her when she heckles me or makes a snide comment while I’m struggling during a session. John almost always snaps back at her (if I don’t first) because she doesn’t get it. She thinks she gets it, but she lacks the experience and knowledge. And while I don’t require John to facilitate putting Alex in her place, I feel good when he does. It concretes the idea that he understands that my walk across the parking lot is 200 times more challenging than anything Alex is challenged within a year.
John sounds like a nice guy right? He sounds empathetic. He sounds like he has my best interests at heart. But he is a complete prick. We have some deep heart to heart conversations, but we also have some difficult ones. There are many occasions where he straight tells me not to come back. “If you are just going to half-ass it today, leave. My time is valuable and you are wasting yours, so lift your head, put your right foot up on the step, or go home”. Those remarks hurt. They cut deep. Typically on these occasions we won’t speak for the remainder of the session and it’s very uncomfortable. Like a master mentalist, John has ingrained a means to manipulate my motivation, albeit at the expense of my pride and dignity.
This afternoon, following my interaction with Alex, I proceed to get on with it. I showed up early with the understanding that I would need to leave early lest I’m late for Jorden’s basketball game. I literally rip through the ten or twelve exercises, grunting, and complaining about how warm it is in the place. I’m doing my squats with a bar behind my neck when John commands me to start over. “You’re cheating! Start over. ALL the way up; head UP”, he exclaims. I don’t even react; instead just curse him under my breath. My t-shirt is drenched in sweat and the only thing on my mind is getting the hell out of there on time. I start putting my plans together in my head – OK Jeremy, we finish this sh-t up, hobble outside, and we’ll chill in the car for like ten minutes. Then we will drive over to the middle school, and make a bee line out of the car, up the curb, around and across the long walkway, and into the gym BEFORE everyone floods into the place. Whew. Perfect plan. I finish my regimen of torture and await John to spend the last 15 minutes of my session with me.
Recently, John has me stand in front of a large bed-like table facing away from the table\bed. The thing is like a really low bed. It’s low enough that if I lose my balance I can simply sit down. The exercise works like this: I face away from the bed\table while John stands on top of it, behind me. John will have me stand there while he will push me. Hard. He will alternate pushing me and then pulling back my shoulder in an effort to get me off balance. My job is to remain upright, relaxed (as if), and of course keep my head and chin up. This usually lasts 15-20 minutes and gets pretty heated. I will always lose my balance ending up with my hands on the floor. More recently John has dialed it up to pushing me severely enough that my feet will jump and\or I end up completely on the floor, usually laughing.
Today however we do this for about 30 seconds. Oh sh-t. Blindfold. Before I know what’s going on there is a towel wrapped around my face, and I feel my anxiety escalate enormously. I am terrified of the dark. I am terrified when he puts that thing on me. When we started this some weeks ago I would scream, begging and pleading with John to remove it. “You’re fine Jeremy. Drop your arms. Do it”, he would say. It’s hard for me to say if it’s more embarrassing for me to document this here or more embarrassing that a grown-ass man would be screaming, begging and pleading because a stupid towel was wrapped around his face while standing. But both are true. I can say without an iota of hesitation that I have never felt that kind of fear and terror in my life so much as in that very moment. I was in terror being downtown in Manhattan during 9-11. I had a gun to my head buying weed with my friends in the Bronx once. That was terrifying. When I found out that my first-born son was going to be premature and might not make it, well that was terrifying (he made it by the way) (and wrestles varsity at 132 healthy teenage pounds). All those things were terrifying but none as terrifying as this.
You learn a lot about yourself when you’re scared. John will ask me what I’m scared of. I will shriek back telling him that I don’t know. Because I don’t know. Over a period of weeks, John will slip this fun little exercise in here and there. It’s become hard to predict, and while I’m still terrified, I’ve improved a little. Today though….today the blindfold went on, I stood my ground, and John added pushing. I did alright, no screams and only mild pleading to be done. “I want you to walk now”, he said. Pfff, uh, sure let me just take off this damn bli-“No. Walk. Now. I want you to take a walk straight to the counter and then you can leave”. Just the thought freaks me out. I use whatever soul I have left and slide my left foot just a tad forward of my right. My stance is wide though; I can feel it. “Move. Now. Put your feet closer together and WALK”, he demands. “It’s six steps. Six steps and you can leave. Six steps and you can go to Jorden’s game”. But I’m frozen. I’m terrified. I am shaking. Jojo’s game. I have to make it. I feel unsteady. “Take a step, let’s go J”, John’s voice is in front of me. “I CAAAAAAAAN’T”, I plead. “Yes you can. Six steps”, he retorts. I feel unsteady again. I lean forward attempting to reach for something, anything. And then I fall.
I believe in my heart that I forced the fall. I’m sure I figured that if I just fall down, game over. I was wrong. “OK. Now get up. Walk your feet back. Walk your hands up your legs. Gooood. Now stand up. No. Stand up. All the way”. We rinse and repeat this over the next ten minutes. I took three steps, forced a fall, and wept. I sat there drenched in sweat, feeling defeat. The bull got me today. I made it to the basketball game, defeated. I watched Jorden lead her team with 28 points of the 36 they collectively scored to win. I heard the crowd yelling Oster, Oster, Oster, but I still felt defeated. I drove up to Highland Park, miraculously found a safe place to park, and watched my premature seventeen year old baby (who might not make it) pin his opponent in 30 seconds for the win. But I felt defeated. The bull got me today. Thanks for listening.