I’m not a healthy individual.
I know I project an air of fitness, health, and confidence but the underlying structure has a flaw. This flaw directly relates to me being a bartender and no it’s not my propensity to drink barrels full of whiskey or my possibly addictive personality.
I started bartending as a career when I was 25 and like most of us it wasn’t a planned career. I had been in LA for a few years quietly attempting to be a writer. It was going as well as you imagine. I had started my time in LA as an NBC Page, worked the desk of the Chairman of NBC and was currently an Executive Assistant at a large TV Production company but things were stalling. Not just on the career side but in my body.
It started with blurred vision and dizziness while play volleyball with friends. It happened frequently enough that I spoke to my doctor about it. Being young and fit he assured me it was simply dehydration repeatedly.
Over the next few months it got worse. I started getting what is known as hyperpigmentation, essentially a really deep tan, but I lived a block from the beach so of course I was tan despite never being in the sun. Then I started to feel constantly exhausted, I started losing a lot of weight, and craving a massive amount of salt. I started getting dizzy and nearly blacking out just walking the few blocks to my car. I lived alone and didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was young. I was invincible. It would pass.
I started making mistakes at work, which lead to me being let go, which lead to me finally feeling like I had time to go back to the doctor. The story was different now and I was quickly diagnosed with Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s is an autoimmune disorder that attacks your adrenal glands. If you’ve heard about it at all it’s because JFK had Addison’s. While we usually think about adrenaline in that “Fight or Flight” mentality the hormones produced in the adrenal glands do a lot. They help regulate your circadian rhythm. They maintain proper nutrient density in your blood stream for things like potassium and salt. They help you deal with stress, not even ongoing stress but the minor fluctuations throughout the day. And yes, that familiar adrenal surge that lets us be super human. And like all autoimmune diseases its cause is unknown and it is chronic.
I was devasted. Here I was unemployed, broke, and alone with my entire sense of self destroyed. No longer was I the invincible, physically fit person I’d always viewed myself as. Now I was this broken thing that would be forever reliant on needing daily medication. A weak mortal whos body couldn’t supply itself with cortisol to survive illness or trauma. I would forever need to have a syringe and emergency medication in case of a major injury like a car accident, or surgery, or a global pandemic.
I was so desperate for this to not be the case that when I went for a second opinion, I asked if I might be cancer. My internal headspace was so off that I was hoping my symptoms could be explained by a rare form of cancer. Because cancer at least stood a chance of being cured and I wouldn’t have to live with this forever.
The story of myself that I told to myself was forever altered. And I wasn’t even aware I was telling it. We all have this story, this set of assumptions, expectations, and ideals that we write about ourselves in our day to day lives. It weaves a story of who we imagine we are and what our future is going to be. But unfortunately, we don’t get to control the editor of that story. And my editor had just deleted the chapter where I could be an action hero or the lone survivor of the apocalypse.
I think it also deleted a portion of my spontaneity. Everything felt so uncertain. How can you be spontaneous when you need to know how much medication to bring with you for the trip?
I now had an answer to what was wrong but there wasn’t a “solution.” I didn’t know what to do next. I fell into my safety net of bartending. I had bartended in college but the game had changed. The cocktail revolution and craft beer movement suddenly offered a lot more than the occasional shooters I mixed up at the Irish Pub in Syracuse, NY. There was so much to learn and I threw myself fully into it. The bar manager left two months after I came on board and for some reason they thought it’d be a good idea to offer me his job. I took it and kept letting the momentum of that job, and the next job, and the next job, and this lifestyle drive me forward without a direction. I just a needed to move.
And still I didn’t talk about it. Despite this now being a daily influence on innumerable choices and actions I kept it to myself.
I’m talking about it now because for many people, especially in the hospitality world, it does feel like the apocalypse. The story that we’ve told ourselves about our industry, our professions, and ourselves as a community has radically changed. We’ve been given a new story line with no idea how it will resolve. It feels like things will never be the same. And they won’t be.
There will always be hope that it will be. To this day every time I go to my endocrinologist I hope that the tests come back that my body has magically reset to the before times. That I will suddenly be the person I imagined myself to be. But the test always come back the same. I maintain. And I work towards the next day.
I’m not saying things will “get better.” Things will eventually be normal though. A new “normal” one that takes this shattering of expectations and builds itself into a new tale. One that has new opportunities, new expectations, and new parameters. It will be life and few things are as sweet as having one more day of life.