Anyone with a serious illness wants to go back to the time before it began. (Or to come through the other side with a new lease on life; the best of both worlds.) Of course. To experience yourself and the world as fully as possible. And although it's faded some over the years—sitting here today I find it hard to believe I could ever ski a black diamond trail, or even ride a bike—I want that more than anything anyone could imagine.
But I also wonder who and where I'd be without ALS. Maybe it's a pessimistic self-assessment—that I wouldn’t be better off in every conceivable way—but I very much don't think I'd be who I am. And I like who I am!
If you've read my book or much of my writing at all, you know that my mental and emotional makeup is well-trod ground. The way that I see and interact with the world has changed so much, and I have a hard time thinking any of it would have happened without ALS.
I haven't described these fundamental changes or how they came about. In the most general terms, I'm talking about a closed-off, cynical, emotionally empty, immature child of say, 25, evolving into an emotionally intelligent (I think), unafraid, relatively secure full human. Undoubtedly, some evolution would have taken place naturally through life experience in my 20s and 30s, but I don't think I'd be where I am.
I tend to credit self-reflection and writing with these changes; the types of things I didn't do in my younger years. Because it was easier not to, to keep my body busy and my mind occupied. ALS changed all of that.
I also read a handful of memoirs while I was working on my book; certainly, each had its lessons. And I’ve read quite a few books on a variety of psychology-related topics after completing my memoir. (Some of them would have undoubtedly impacted the way I wrote some of the “in my own head” sections.) I often found myself nodding along, their lessons further reinforcing my thoughts.
But I may be ignoring the elephant in the room. ALS didn't just take away my physical abilities and force me into contemplative thought, it's outweighed and overshadowed any other fear that may have existed in my head. And fear is what ultimately drives the classic I-don't-need-anyone man.
What do I have to be afraid of? Embarrassment? Awkwardness? Emotional pain? All of the things that may have once caused such inaction no longer seem so scary. And really, they never were. From where I now sit, so many worries/troubles/anxieties just seem so petty, useless and unnecessary. But would I have learned those lessons without ALS? A lot of people don't. And I'm afraid I would have been one of them.
Psychological books I found interesting and enlightening:
The Power of Vulnerability – Brené Brown (And everything else she’s written, but start with this one.)
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love – Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know – Adam Grant
What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing – Bruce Perry
Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence – Anna Lembke
Not specifically psychology, but there’s a lot to be learned in each Malcolm Gladwell book.
Memoirs, preferably non-celebrity