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Emotional State of Matt #5: CHALLENGED

This past December I got my first tattoo to commemorate the beginning of this trip and the new mindset I have adopted for life.

“Yes, and…” is a fundamental rule of improv. Although I never studied acting or improv, it always resonated with me. “Yes, and…” means that in order for improv to work, you can’t ever say “no” to your partner. Even if you don’t like the idea they are giving you, you have to say “yes” to it, incorporate it into your response, then add your own thing to it - “and…”. 

The “Yes, and…” maxim has also been adopted by the business world to foster inclusivity and open collaboration during brainstorming and creative problem solving. 

I have always run from my ugly feelings - the disappointments, the rejections, the tragedies, all the hard ones. I wanted to revel in life’s victories, but avoid languishing in its defeats. I would attempt to ignore them by binging a show, playing a new video game, getting drunk or high, anything I could find to distract myself. Two years ago, after Howard passed, I started “grief collecting” comics - almost all of which I never read. Yes, I started a side hustle selling them on eBay, but now I find myself on the road with thousands of comics just sitting in the basement of my old house devaluing.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that this didn’t work. Those feelings remained, growing and simmering under the surface causing depression, anger, self-loathing, fueling addictions, and other fun outcomes. 

I'm tired of running in the same destructive circular patterns. I’m ready to try to do things differently. My “Yes, and…” tattoo is not just a call to adventure and excitement. It’s a reminder to accept the hard stuff, process it, then let it go or turn it into something positive. Sounds good, right? Easier said than done, and I got my first real test this past week. 

I mentioned that I tweaked my back the first week of my trip, and it hasn’t stopped bothering me since - it even spread to my neck. I am missing my network of people back in Portland for sure, but driving hours and hours every week hasn’t helped matters. I've been averaging over 1,000 miles per week - seriously.

I finally had to find a chiropractor in Las Vegas, but the two sessions I had managed to fit in while I was there still hadn’t resolved the matter. I was increasingly in pain, sleeping poorly, and agitated.

When the Vegas chiropractor walked me through the x-rays he had taken, he showed me that I was suffering from relatively common neck issues caused by countless hours in front of the computer, on my phone, etc. Then he showed me that my spine lacks normal curvature in one area. At the same time, there was a problematic 12 degree curve where there shouldn't be, just over the threshold for a scoliosis diagnosis. No wonder I’ve had chronic back issues. 

My tooth had started hurting - a slow, dull throb. It was in the area where I had a crown replaced just before starting the trip. Not good. As the throbbing got worse I started worrying about the logistical challenges of getting a tooth implant while moving every week. 

I had noticed a mole that seemed to have grown. I have so many moles I call them my “chocolate chips”, so noticing a change to one of them was unlikely at least. I had a melanoma 10 years ago which was caught early with regular skin checks (go see your dermatologists, folks), so I have been extra vigilant since. It wasn’t cause for panic, but certainly concerning. 

Then, within a 24-hour span I got hit with a trifecta of bad news. Two of my friends had experienced sudden serious medical issues, and my dad ended up in the ER with what looked potentially life threatening. To cap it all off, I got some infuriating news at work - a critical project looked like it was going to push its timeline. 

It was a lot to process at once - the type of day that would normally make me run to the closest bar. But instead I looked at the words on my arm and sat with everything for a while. I went for a drive and picked up my dry cleaning. I talked to a couple of people. I picked up a pizza. I cried. I thought about life without my dad. I thought about having to deal with skin cancer again. I thought about this project at work falling apart…

Then I accepted all of it. Not like “this is fine”, but more like “This really sucks and I'm sad, but I can handle it.” It didn’t fix anything, but it felt good nonetheless. It took away my stressful, nervous agitation and left me with calm resolve. 

The next day - I shit you not - I got good news on every single item. My two friends are fine. My dad is not about to die. My back finally started hurting a lot less after my fifth appointment across two states. My tooth hurt less (and hasn’t hurt at all now in a few days). The doctor didn't think my mole is concerning. The work project got back on track. 

Talk about instant gratification! I know it’s not about me, but it sure felt like life was giving me a giant “atta boy”. Although I’m greatly relieved, I know it’s not going to always turn out like this. It’s life - shit will inevitably happen, but I’ll handle it then. 

Regardless of the outcomes, I am proud of myself for having dealt with everything the way that I did - I said "Yes, and..." to the hard shit. I didn’t run, I didn’t hide. I was CHALLENGED and I passed the first test in my new approach to life. 

Yes, and…



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