Twofish's Blog

July 19, 2006

Pain, sadness, and hate

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, personal — twofish @ 5:16 am

I’m going to start with a total piece of fiction.

In the fall of 2001, I was hit by a truck. I spent about a month in intensive care, then about a year in rehab with an intense amount of pain to the point that I wanted to die. I’m still in chronic and intense pain. There was a huge amount of legal activity as a result of this situation, and in the next month or so, the case is likely to be settled with me receive a settlement from the insurance company. I will find it impossible to spend the money on myself, because it is covered with blood, but I want to spend it on my kids to make up for the year that they were without a father.

That paragraph was a lie. What I describe didn’t happen, but what did happen was close enough so that it has the essential truth so that I can talk about the rest of the story.

I am in chronic pain, and I still have a great deal of injury which isn’t obvious, but which causes some low level constant sufferring. It’s worst at night just before I fall asleep. My mind is clear, but I’m still conscious, and there is always a brief moment in the darkness when I want to start screaming.

I took some medication for the pain, and it helped for a while, but it had enough bad side-effects that I had to stop taking it. What does work is to work in really tough physics and mathematics problems, or to program C++. Once I’m in the zone, the natural opiates kick in, and that helps manage things. That works until my head starts hurting and I drop from exhaustion, at which point things become excruiating in the dark. It also helps to be at work, because it keeps me busy enough so that I don’t notice the pain as much.
I’ve recovered as much as I think I ever will. The pain is annoying, but it is not suicidally bad like it was the first year or so. The fact that the case is about to be settled marks a closure in some ways, and the fact that my wife is in Taiwan with the kids is partly from the money from the settlement, and partly confidence that I can be left alone to take care of myself.

You’d think I’d hate the driver of the truck for being at the wheel of a truck half-stoned out of their mind, but I don’t. You’d think I’d hate the company that hired him, but I don’t. You’d think I’d hate the lawyers on the other side of the case for dragging out the case, but strangely I don’t. Everyone in the legal system realizes that something really bad happened, and there is a surprising amount of dedication to make sure that there is a just and fair outcome. It just takes a while. (Again, I’ve changed the events slightly, but the essential truth is there.)
No, it turns out that the person I hate is this nice, wonderful, caring researcher, who I knew back at MIT. That person was something of an older sibling, and even back at MIT, that person was someone I deeply hated and resented. Nothing bad had ever seems to happen to this person. I’ve had to fight to survive, whereas this person had the royal red carpet rolled on in front. Yeah, to get the graduate students, the professorship, the department chair, and the adoring family that the magazine article talks about, said person had to work really hard, but that person had never had to deal with the obstacles that have been put in front of me.

My ex-mentor is not that much older that me, and that makes it worse, because they are a very painful reminder of all of the bad things that have happened to me, and that my life is just been more difficult. I have to work ten times as hard to get a tenth as much done, and that’s just the way things are. But they are a somebody, and I feel as if I’m a nobody.

After my accident, I e-mailed this person. It was a long and rabbling letter, which didn’t make any sense, because I was in pain, under drugs, and half out of my mind. What I got back was carefully phrased, cold, and clinical. It read like something that an insurance company would send back. And it really hurt.

It was just just so damn humiliating. The trouble with mentors is that they start acting like therapists, and MIT that person was so used to interacting with me in that mode, that it’s not surprising that this was the response that I got. But it was maddening, because I had therapists and doctors looking after me, what I wanted to do is to have an honest conversation with another human being to let them know how much I hated them for not having gotten run over by a truck like I was, and I got back something that made me feel ashamed for feeling what I did and wasting their time.

Part of the problem, is that I talked in code. This person talked in code. I don’t know if this person is incapable of saying things directly or scared to, but it just made things worse.
At some point in my life, I’d like to let this person know exactly how much I hate and resent them, and maybe find out that the glossy magazine articles on wonderful success don’t talk about the whole story, and that there is a flawed human being there. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon, so I’m just going to have to learn to manage my hate for this person in much the same way that I learn to manage the pain I’m in.

And the problem is that I don’t want to go up to this person in a position of weakness. They’ve always seen me weak. I don’t want to be in traction and in utter pain when they see me, because it’s so embarrassing. I want to come in riding a white horse.

I’ve often wondered what it is that I really want from this person. I think it is to be for once taken seriously as an another human being and not as a patient. I want to know that there is more to this person than the glossy magazines suggest. That they are human just like me, and have some bad moments along with the good moments just like I do.

I’ve also figured out something about our interaction at MIT. Thinking back what made this person tick (and probably still does) is this person craves admiration and validation for their accomplishments (and there is nothing wrong with that), and I was able to provide that. The trouble with this interaction is that it ultimately falls apart. Human interactions have to have some sort of equality to them, and if one person is always admiring someone else, this admiration eventually leads to resentment and hate. Life is also tough for the person being admired. They can’t be human for fear of losing the admirer. It’s was a really messed up situation, which is why I find it disturbing that it seems to be happening again.

But my deepest darkest wish is this. I’ve spent so much of life, admiring and resenting this person, wanting desperately to have they have, their family, their happiness, their career, their lack of pain. And just so that we are even I’d like for this person just to look at me, and just for a moment, have a fleeting wish that there is something in my life and something about me, that they wish they could have. I’ve spend so much time wishing I could be this person, that it is only fair that they could spend a second wishing that they were me.

I thought it was all over when I left MIT . I really did.

But it’s not going to end any time soon, and the worst thing about a magazine article about a “young researcher” is that there are going to be future articles about that person as an “old researcher.”

Honestly, I really think that person’s talent, energy, and the resources of a major university behind them, that this person is in line to win a Nobel Prize someday or end up president of a major tier-one university. What’s worse, I can imagine this person ending up with a better marriage and kids that are smarter and more well-adjusted than mine, and at least they aren’t dealing with the pain that I am.

Maybe that’s not the reality, and they they are human, it isn’t, but that’s what the magazine article makes it read like.

I wish I had the “idyllic childhood” and be the “classic immigrant story.” Damn.

But one thing has changed. When I was a MIT, I was deeply ashamed of what I felt.

I can’t control how other people behave, but I can control what I do, and I think it is important for me not to be ashamed of being in a bad accident and the rage and jealousy I feel to this person, and the fact that I can talk about this openly means that this is the case, and mentally prepare myself for the next magazine article that comes out.

This person may be a super science machine….

I’m just a flawed human being.

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