Living in Denial


A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Too Stupid to Know Better”. To this day, it remains one of my more popular and frequently visited blog posts. It’s amazing some of the search terms used to get to it, but regardless, it’s a popular post. Don’t know why. While I suggest you take a moment to go read it–especially if there’s something you’ve been wanting to do but are holding back on it. The post, essentially, talks about how we talk ourselves into or out of things we want or need to do. Sometimes, knowing too much information stagnates us–we don’t move. In honor of Derek Odom, I’ll say: sometimes, information is like a chess game… where you sit and spend so much time figuring out your opponent’s next move, your response, his response, and so on, for every possible move on the board. This makes you unable or unwilling to move, if you know that every potential move leads to losing the game… but that doesn’t take into account mistakes, human nature, things you can’t see, things you can’t know.

When we let knowledge and fear immobilize us, somewhere along the way, we stop being living and are merely just alive. I like Bon Jovi’s words, “I just want to live while I’m alive.”

So back to the title of this post: Living in Denial.


Denial is actually one of the steps of grieving. I am living with a terminal illness–that is, what is wrong with me, medically, is expected to kill me. I was going to say, “Provided I don’t get his by a bus or struck by lightning,” but I wondered–why do we always use those two things as examples? Is it because these things are not common occurrences? Well, statistics say that’s not true. Did you know that NOAA says that about 400 people are struck by lightning every year, just in the United States? About 14,000 people are injured in bus crashes each year. Fewer people die from my terminal illness each year than do from bus crashes and from being struck by lightning. So really, I think a better comparison would be, I could walk out tomorrow and be killed by a cannon from a Spanish ship that washed ashore during a hurricane, after traveling in time from the 1600s. There, that is a better comparison.


You’ve probably already heard about the five stage of grieving (though some schools of thought have increased that to 7, really the two other stages are just variations on existing ones), but just in case you forgot them–or for those who don’t know them–they are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Well, I went through denial already. When I was in the hospital last year, the first time, for the pulmonary embolisms, my doctor had told me two days prior that my heart was strong, but that my pulmonary pressure was a little high. I didn’t know the number at that time (now that I know it, he was being kind by saying a ‘little high’, ’cause it was actually moderately high to severe, but okay)… so I walk (or rather, roll) into the ER and the moment I say I have chest pain, they start taking my dress off, pushing me down the hallway, with the intake person yelling–yes, yelling–“We have chest pain!”, and they hook me up to all sorts of leads, and tubes and start poking me with needles and asking me questions.

If you work in the medical field at all, especially if you’re in the emergency room, and your patient is awake and coherent, please don’t look at printouts of things and slowly and sadly shake your head. It really doesn’t do much to help calm the patient, yanno what I’m saying?

So then they take me to x-ray and they take me to CT, and they give me some hydrocortisone via IV and they do a bunch of other stuff, and they finally get an IV in me, and then they say, “We’re admitting you; just waiting on a bed to become available on the cardiac unit.”

“Cardiac unit?” I mumbled, but by then, everyone was leaving the room and cleaning up from the ‘trauma’ mess they’d made, and the nurse who was working with me, he was trying to figure out why my blood pressure was so low, so no one answered me.

They wheeled me into the room upstairs, seventh floor, cardiac wing… and a big, burly EMT comes in and start unbuttoning my dress and sticking these leads all over me and hooking me up to something that is similar to a Holter monitor, if you’ve ever heard of one. It was telemetry, heart, pulse, waves, and such, that read back to their monitors. Man, I still remember going to the bathroom at one point and one of the leads fell off of me, and that burly EMT came literally FLYING through my door, because he thought something had happened to me. n a way, it was comforting to know someone was watching over me that closely; in another way, it was unnerving.

Anyway, while everyone is hooking me up, transferring me into bed, messing with my IVs, asking me questions, etc, one little nurse comes in and says, “The doctor wanted me to give you this…” and she hands me a packet of papers. Now, mind you, I’m lying on a bed, unable to hold my head up, wearing all sorts of wires, feeling like dog poop that’s been stomped on, and she expects me to follow along with her as she reads, “Congestive Heart Failure… this means…” and I interrupted her and said, “No, the doctor said my heart was strong!”

Yup, denial.

Now, I didn’t believe them for days, because, quite frankly, I didn’t have any of the risk factors for congestive heart failure other than being a bit overweight. But I was totally in denial over the heart failure. Eventually, I read and read everything I could get my hands on about heart failure, and I came out of my denial and moved into doing something active about getting healthier. But I was in denial. I admit it.


I’ve had the depression, and honestly, it still comes and goes even now. There are days when my symptoms are worse and I can’t do something I wanted to do or planned to do that it hits me and I’ll get sad, I’ll cry. I’ll curl up in a ball in bed and be a big baby. But I don’t let that situational depression turn into a clinical depression, because, quite literally, life is too short for that. On a really bad day, I might look at my four-year-old dog and wonder what will happen to him if I died before he did–because that’s not supposed to happen.


I honestly don’t believe depression and anger are that different. In fact, it’s been said that depression is nothing more than anger turned inward. I think that’s true, for the most part. I get angry. Oh, man, do I get angry. I get angry every time I can’t do something I want to do. I get angry when I sit in bed and feel perfectly fine, and I get up to start my day and the moment I sit up, I am reminded I am most certainly NOT fine. I’ve screamed, and shouted and cried… I’ve thrown things and slammed doors. I’ve gotten angry that I can’t stomp off when I get angry, even!


I haven’t actually done the bargaining in the traditional sense, in that I’m not asking God to cure me in exchange for anything, or what-have-you. But I have done bargaining in that, when I’m whining about things, I’ll say, “Why can’t I just… (fill in the blank)?”


Are denial and optimism the same thing? I guess sometimes they are, and sometimes they can seem to be when they aren’t. There’s a difference between saying I’m in denial over being sick versus just laying down to die. There is, behind everything in my life now, a sense of urgency, a passionate desire to achieve things that before I was lackadaisical about. There is a better understanding of how short life is, really is.

It changes me. I don’t get as upset over the little things, and what’s considered a ‘little thing’ has changed. I feel more urgency about making sure my kids are grown, full baked, secure and self-sufficient, just in case I won’t be around to help them out like a mom wants to do. Like I said earlier, thinking about my dog. I fear the hospital visits and medical tests that are in my future. I take each new symptoms and problem seriously, though I don’t go running to the ER every time something happens–I’m going to spend enough time there in my future.

So if I say I want to cook a family dinner, or do Thanksgiving or Christmas at my house again this year, I’m not in denial about how serious my illness is. I’m trying to live to the fullest I can while I still can. And if that means that the turkey has to sit in the oven a little longer while I rest or take a nap while everyone else visits, so be it–but why call the whole thing off just because I’ve got this pesky little terminal illness.

I’m still working through the stages. I’m not at acceptance yet, and I’m not sure I ever will be until the day I say it’s okay to die. Until then, I’m sort of happy to be in denial, if that’s what this is. I mean, the massive embolisms were supposed to kill me, but I was too stupid to know that, so I lived through them. The second round of them should have killed me, but I lived through that too, ’cause I didn’t know any better. Docs ask how I’m doing so good, as bad as I am, and I tell them, “No one told me I couldn’t…” so I do. I keep doing what I can, when I can, for as long as I can.

Isn’t that what we all should do?

So do I know that this is serious stuff? Yeah. Am I aware of just how bad it is? Yeah, I really, really am. Oh, trust me, when I read the stats, the numbers, the figures, the life expectancy, the prognosis, the everything… it’s immobilizing. So am I in denial? No, not at all.

I’m simply trying to be too stupid to know any better… to keep living my life as best I can, as fully as I can, for as long as I can… and trying NOT to be immobilized by the fear, by the numbers, by the facts and figures–and still being willing to accept a miracle, technological breakthrough, or human nature or a mistake that works out in my favor. It COULD happen, even if it’s not likely.

If that’s denial, I’ll take it.

Love and stuff,


Psssst: Hey, buy my book. I need the money! Plus, it’s a good story, honest!

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