In 2012, I had a quintuple bypass and it changed my life.
I was 35 and had always been somewhat high strung. My view of the world was negative and all the issues that faced me – big or small – were of equal importance on my annoyance meter. I engaged in head games and paranoid mental gymnastics, all designed to shield me from harm and perpetuate this vision I had for the character I played to the world. If I made it clear that I didn’t take any grief, no one would give me any.
It was painted on my face. In 2010, I was working at a wrestling convention when the promoter, seeing me standing with my arms folded behind the table, asked.
You grew up in a tough neighborhood, huh? I can tell. You look like you’re ready to throw down.
This was a man who worked daily with people who punch each other in the face for a living. A part of me was embarrassed but a part of me was proud. This aura of aggression wasn’t something I was always setting out to do. It had become a natural aspect of my personality. In my head, it told others who I was.
That wasn’t who I was, though. Sure, it’s a part of me, but it was created through a lifetime of experiences that necessitated it. Growing up, we endure treatment at the hands of others which turns us into the people we eventually become and the people we think we need to become to protect ourselves.
When my heart surgery sprung up out of nowhere, I took a different look at my own mentality. I realized that all those years of preparing for fights that never happened were years that I wound myself up for no reason. The angry way I saw the world around me served no real purpose. It didn’t make my struggles any easier to handle and it didn’t make my peaceful moments any more peaceful. All it did was invite chaos, guilt, and anxiety into my life when, in many cases, there was no reason for it.
I started letting go after I returned home from the hospital. The things that teachers and do-gooders always preached started to shine through. I couldn’t control the actions of others, just the way I reacted to them. Standing with your arms crossed may dissuade some people from messing with you, but it also invites others to do so. It all depends on the individual.
There’s an irony in that. Seven years after adopting this more serene approach to life, I’ve found less conflict than I had in the three decades before the surgery. If you stop looking for drama so much, you stop finding so much. It’s almost as if my attitude itself was creating a lot of it.
Did people still backstab and gossip about me? Sure. That’ll always happen. I just don’t anticipate it at every turn. Instead of freaking out and telling myself, “I have to find that person and make sure they know that this or that isn’t true,” I started to look at things rationally. “If that person knows me, they won’t believe that story anyway. And, if they do, then screw them. I don’t care what they think. If I hadn’t built up enough rapport with them to make them see false stories about me as false, then they don’t matter anyway.” And, with that, I was done chasing down a whole boatload of drama that I used to mentally hunt day and night.
For me, there is one thing I found that I need to remember when adopting this more positive attitude. The person I was before is still there. I’ll still get thoughts or instincts that hark back to the early days. It’s natural. The difference is that now I can recognize when my inner dialogue is off. I can hear the words in my head and differentiate the good from the bad, rather than embracing them all as equal. I can balance out their need in my life and find the spot in which they fit.
Sometimes, that old me will show himself in ways that work in conjunction with this new happy-go-lucky look at life. The perfect example happened a few weeks ago, when I had, what can best be described as, a moment of aggressive pleasantness. They sometimes come out of nowhere and my own actions can surprise me as if I was watching them on film.
I had walked out of the supermarket to find my car partially blocked by a tow truck in the parking lot. Two cars down, a fellow shopper needed their battery jumped started and the tow truck driver had left his vehicle in the aisleway of the lot, blocking all but a few feet behind me. If I were to back out, I could most likely have made it, but the chances of hitting him were pretty high. So, I called over.
Excuse me. Can you just move back a few feet? I don’t want to hit your truck.
He looked up for a split second and looked back at the woman he was talking to. I figured he didn’t hear me. I called back over.
Excuse me. Hey. I don’t want to hit your…
He put up his hand with an irritated expression and finally spoke to me.
Yeah. Give me a second. Ok?!
I paused. A small part me said, “Get in the car.” I didn’t get in the car.
Hey! Yo! Dude, I’m not talking to you aggressively. I’m not like, “Yo, move your damn truck”. Am I?! No. I’m asking you nicely, as a favor to YOU, so I don’t hit your truck. I’m trying to be nice over here! No need to talk to me like that.
He looked up surprised. The driver he was helping looked surprised. People wheeling their carts past us looked surprised. My lizard brain was like, “OK. Great. Now I have to fight this guy and the ice cream is going to melt.”
Sorry. I got it. I got it. I’ll move it in a second, alright?
Sure, man. Thanks.
I got back in my car, settled into the seat, and my first thought was, “What the hell was that?”
That was me. That’s what it was. Had I just been the angry guy who battled the world, that would have been a major issue. Had I just been the zen-like guy who let everything slide, I would have beaten myself up about it for weeks. Instead, I was neither of those guys. I was the calm person I always wanted to be, working in conjunction with the non-nonsense person I was, to make me the complete person I am today.