At Client Server, we champion mental health and wellbeing. This month, our Marketing Manager Michael writes about a realisation he had in the middle of the night while lying in hospital.
There's an episode of The Big Bang Theory where birthday boy Sheldon Cooper orders his friends to say something "nice" about him. So, his nerdy comrades lob a steady patter of backhanded compliments as Sheldon responds, "Aww, that's so sweet!" like an unconvincing android pretending to be human.
It's the kind of joke shows like Big Bang Theory dine out on in a big way, wacky japes that make you go "Ha, I get it" only to be forgotten three seconds later. Totally harmless normally but profoundly annoying when blaring from a stranger's hospital bed.
It'd been 10 days since I had life-changing surgery, and I was five hours through a 12-hour feeding bag. I was getting my daily nutrition dripped into me intravenously, a process I called "automated eating".
I hadn't slept either, having spent most of the week in a high dependency unit with a rotating cavalcade of roommates. They were mostly men in their 60s, mostly cancer ops, but that wasn't enough to shut them up. Instead, they would yarn to each other like a pack of geezers in an East London boozer. I half expected to see Del Boy falling through the gap between heart monitors.
But I was offered some respite when I was moved into a new ward. To my surprise, the only other guy in there was a "sleeper" – a term I coined for patients who while away their days in hospital fast asleep. His snoring was like a form of hypnotism. Within seconds, my eyes were also shut, and I'm having a bizarre dream about my friend getting her hair cut. She asks what I thought of her new do. "I have no concept of hair right now", I replied usefully.
"What do you mean you have no concept of hair?!"
Then right on cue:
"OUR WHOOOOLE UNIVERSE WAS IN A. HOT. DENSE. STATE…"
And I'm awake, and apparently so is the sleeper with a late-night craving for Sheldon and the Big Bang Gang.
Believe it or not, I wasn't in any pain. I survived surgery and I knew I would survive my wardmate watching TV at full volume at 3 am. So, it was at that point in my recovery, I was struck by a profound moment of realisation.
People sometimes talk about a lightbulb moment, a precise point in time when you see things with perfect clarity. The neurons in your brain connect to make sense of some immense truth. It's usually expressed in quaint terms like "Oh shit… " and "Oh, goddamn it."
Sometimes your lightbulb switches on after a bad breakup or years later upon reflecting on some embarrassing personal screw-up. Mine was while agonisingly sleep-deprived recovering from colorectal cancer surgery. Often, these conditions yield nothing but self-pity, but all I could think of was this:
"You're in control here."
Mental wellbeing is a state of flux. You're always sliding headlong down a spectrum of thoughts and feelings. Yet, even when you're at your most useless and desperate, there's one kernel of truth that gets stuck in your teeth: You're in control here.
People don't realise how much control they have. To wield autonomy is almost an act of rebellion. But we're all capable of owning a moment, and then another, and then another after that -- William Ernest Henley even wrote a poem about it.
When confronted by something that just plain sucks , the best thing to do is to ask, "What do I have control of right here, right now?" The next best thing to do is to act on it.
I had a feeling I knew what was behind the sleeper's Sheldon craving. I buzzed a nurse and handed her my iPhone's headphone connector. "I think my dude could use this," nodding over to Big Bang Corner. A minute later, there was quiet. A small act of control to tilt my wellbeing towards good.
And then the nurse returned and handed the connector back. "Oh, he didn't want it?" I asked, surprised.
"No," she whispered. "I just told him to shut Sheldon up."
Not everyone's light bulb shines the same.