I am a guy, so most of you will recognize that when someone talks to me about something bothersome, my first reaction is to fulfill the male role and try to fix it. Mostly harmless but admittedly irritating, whether it is the toilet running or the kids ruminating, deep in my psyche is the need to fix things. Poor Ev when she comes home with a challenging day at school. All she wants is a sympathetic ear, and instead she gets this guy that has solutions for everything. I actually have an archetypal name for him (definitely a him) –The Fixer. Over time, I’ve learned to hold The Fixer in check—keep your words small and your ears big—but there are still times when The Fixer just can’t help himself. I’ve just got to fix things. Most of the men friends that I have tell me they get this, that a lot of them are fixers too, and so I like to think that my fixit self is come by honestly as a well-socialized (although sensitive) guy who came of age in the late 20th Century.
You probably think you know where this is going. That as a Person with ALS, I suddenly have discovered that there is something I cannot fix, and that I am learning great lessons in humility from that. After all, ALS with its no-cure, high mortality, just try to stay ahead of the symptoms future would be the ultimate Worldwide Wrestling Federation Smackdown, with The Fixer really getting his from ALS. I can hear the announcer calling the match. “Arrogant Fixer, you have met your match! You’re goin’ down, Fixer!” And you would be about half right in your perception of the discovery, but it isn’t quite that simple. See, I have good days and bad days with this guy.
On my good days, I am able to hold Mr. TF in check just as you would imagine. But I also have bad days, and in terms of learning great lessons about the limits of fixing, these come much harder. Just as dis ease is changing my body, it also changes the familiar archetypes. The Fixer seems a lot less like a harmless guy thing on those days. No longer is he that kind of lovable pup who just needs “the look” from my significant other to put him away and get real. The Fixer now manifests himself in ways that are less recognizable and a lot darker. He appears shrouded in his new identity through my medical treatments, my friendships, and my family. He lurks in my psyche. Rather than disabusing me of this archetype, ALS has actually created a new Fixer persona that emerges at some of the most inappropriate times. Here is an illustration.
Tuesday night, I finally faced the fact that I would be traveling to warmer climes the next morning, and I needed to pack. I have been putting off going through my summer clothes for at least a week. Why? It is nothing that any woman who is going through a pregnancy wouldn’t understand–a changing body. The doctors want you to up your calories with ALS (weight loss is a bad thing). Dutifully, I’ve followed their diet so that I now count 7 to 10 extra pounds. Couple that fact with the unknitting of motor neurons from my abs, and clothing that used to be reflective of my svelte, bike-commuting summertime self, is now ludicrously small, particularly around a belly that gravity and muscle weakness seems intent on using to remove any pride in appearance that I might have carried. For a person who was in excellent shape, this is a hard pill to swallow. And at 11:00 Tuesday night, in reaction to this new normal in physique, one that I have been so carefully fixing with the larger pants and shirts of winter, the real identity of the New Fixer was revealed. No grace for me. I walked like a babe in the woods right into the ultimate consequence of the new and improved Mr. TF with a real meltdown that poor Ev and the cats, who were very excited by all of this activity with clothing, got to try to fix, each in their own way. Smackdown! Except the fix was in, and I lost.
My meltdown revealed that The Fixer has a new cloak–not of the experienced guy who likes to put his head around both intractable and simple problems. Not of someone who reacts to seemingly tiny losses with grace and dignity. Not even of someone who knows to just shut up and listen. That Fixer has gone into hiding. My new Fixer now appears as the denier, the rationalizer, the avoider, the one who just wants the hurt to go away. Whereas my old Fixer was probably my best of intents, my new Fixer is insidious. And if I embrace my new Fixer, then it really isn’t The Fixer that gets smacked down at all. It is me.
I admit that discussing The Fixer is just a little embarrassing, kind of like the stories your parents tell about you when you were thirteen. But it has to be surfaced–The Fixer is my need for things to be “old normal.” And I project this need on doctors, friends, our cats, our kids, and most of all my heart and soul mate, unfairly asking if you all can “just fix it.” Rationally, as I come to terms with the new Fixer, it helps me to acknowledge this shift in role. Emotionally, well there has to be the occasional meltdown–that guy just has to come out from time to time.
I guess it is important for me to know that you understand my new Fixer archetype. He is beyond my guy self. He is beyond the dis ease. He just is, and I don’t want you to do anything about him. I’m not saying that I don’t want to try to anticipate what is to come and make it go as well as it will. But revealing The Fixer’s new guise means that all of us, as we are affected by dis ease, need to find the holy balance between the fixable and the inevitable. Such balance allows me, as I kind of bumble my way through this new normal, to focus on the joys I experience, Buddha belly and all, and to not worry so much about whether I actually got it fixed.
And what about The Fixer? Deep inside, we all know the answer to this one. The fixing will come actually, no matter what we do. Life has a way of fixing things in the way that they will go. So I intend to honor that fact with the love and joy of family, friends, cats and life. These really don’t need fixing at all. They just need room to grow into the new normal of dis ease.
In the meantime, I need to gather up my clothes and get to the tailor. It is what guys who fix things would do. Smackdown!