A Warped Wish Granted or: That Time I Was In A Coma Pt. II

Be careful how you wish, for wishes can come true
Be sure that every wish you make is one that’s right for you
So many people find their happiness in dreaming
But dreams can fool you, and they very often do
Be careful how you wish, remember when you start
To only wish for things you really want with all your heart
And don’t go chasing every rainbow in the blue
What more is there to wish than to know that the one that you love loves you
— Be Careful How You Wish, The Incredible Mr. Limpet

 

Voices over loudspeakers. Cold. Everything reeking of sterility and isopropyl alcohol. My blurry vision was blinded by intense incandesence.

I felt weak; I could barely move….

 

WAIT.

 

I FELT?

 

I SURVIVED?!

 

And then, what can only be described as the agony of a heavyset Sicilian lady stomping grapes on your abdomen while a Xenomorph is trying to dodge her gruff dance of joy to burst from your body kicked in.*

 

Unfortunately, the morphine had not.

 

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*Actual post-op picture; no, really, I’m serious. 

 

I kept moaning something along the lines of “man, this fucking hurts” over and over, a mantra of relief and regret, a plea to the gods of synthetic drugs to make the pain go away.

“Of course it hurts, you just got out of surgery”, said my father, gently smiling, serene, stroking my hair as I stiffened with pain as the general anesthesia kept sticking its tongue out mockingly, bidding farewell to another sucessful act of corporal mutilation.

Dad immediately paid $200 to the staff for them to integrate the morphine drip into my IV to alleviate my suffering.*

*Surgery is a complete package deal; post surgery amenities always cost extra, just like a cheap motel

 

Post surgery recovery went surprisingly well; though I had more tubes sticking out of my body than Geppetto’s dungeon dolls (don’t ask how I know this), everything seemed on the up and up. According to my surgeon, the procedure required a total of three days to complete – one day for surgery, the next for observation, and the third for early morning discharge.

 

Everything was going great.

 

And then I stopped peeing.

 

My body temperature went supernova; I went delirious.

 

You see, doctors had warned me that there was a 1% chance (if I remember correctly) that my body would perceive my sutures as a foreign object, invade the intruder with impunity, therefore unraveling the work done on my digestive system.

As luck would have it, I would not be part of the Wall Street 1%; I was now a member of the Profusely Hemorraghing Organs Club, leaking bodily fluids all over my insides, becoming a caustic human water balloon.

After an emergency X-ray, I was immediately wheeled in to the operating room in a frantic bid to avoid my body going into sepsis.

 

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

 

I was put under, and doctors immediately got to work on repairing the damage to my fresh wounds, hurriedly stopping the spread of bile, chemicals, pus, and other delicious cocktail of fluids swirling around wreaking havoc on my immune system.

 

And then, a funny thing happened.

 

I woke up.

 

In the middle of surgery.

 

I’ve always said the Universe is not without a sense of humor; it’s just very dark, bleak, ironic, and precise.

 

And so, I felt an itching at my nose that I needed to scratch very badly. That’s the moment I mindlessly decided in my feverish, anesthesia-induced delirium to start pulling out the nasogastric tube (NG tube from now on, for the sake of brevity and laziness) and rip it straight out of my nose, in the process tearing through my esophagus and causing further damage to what was already a delicate, fragile body undergoing extreme duress.

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*A handy creative commons picture of an NG tube; definitely not for the squeamish.

 

Did I mention I used to smoke menthols like a chimney?

 

Here comes the plot twist.

 

Everything was dark, yet audibly clear; I could vividly hear the voices of doctors and medical profesionals losing their shit, barking orders, desperately praying to the gods of malpractice to spare them from the wrath of a lawsuit.  I felt the equivalent tonnage of the Titanic pressing against my chest; I couldn’t breath, yet I was strangely calm, dreaming.*

*Later I would learn that’s how it feels to go into respiratory arrest.

 

You see, my lungs were weak from years of smoking, and the stress of pulling out my NG tube, doctors restraining me, and two straight days of anesthesia was the perfect condition for my body to stop fighting.

 

 

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I died.

 

 

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it….

 

 

PS. No worries, the coma is just right around the corner.

 

 

 

 

Shots Fired!!!

“Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” – Ron Burgundy, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy

 

We’ve all been there; we’re sitting around with friends, shooting the breeze, debating over who would win in a fight, either Superman or Batman (hands down, Batman; his only weakness is being exposed to all those guano-related infections), and then out of the blue, a real argument breaks out, voice-raising leads to yelling, yelling leads to screaming, screaming leads to insulting, the Germans invade Poland, and -boom- a pleasant evening just became a real bad time for everyone involved.

 

Why?

 

Someone got triggered.

 

*insert typical condescending trigger meme here*

 

Please allow me to elaborate.

 

The following clip is an example of how people view escalation from someone getting triggered.*

*It also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time, capiche? Fuggedaboutit!

*Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese (1990)

Notice that horrible tension? That terrifying sense of dread that Tommy’s gonna jump at any second and stab Henry in the neck twenty times with a butter knife? Notice how Henry diffuses the situation by minimizing the event by joking?

 

It’s a movie. It does not work that way in real life.

 

Once again, it’s a great example of how people tend to view those with bipolar disorder quickly disengage from reality, swinging from one mood to another in quick succession, while those around them have no clue what just happened and what to do about it.

Let’s take a look at a more accurate depiction of the same situation:

*Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell (2012)

Now THIS is a more accurate representation of a manic episode (the technical, medical term for a mood state characterized by elevated, expansive, or unusual irritability) triggered by an emotional stressor. This scene shows it all; the point of origin, the trigger that instigates the episode, the narrow-minded focus, the sudden escalation of emotions, the surge, the desperation; logic, reality, all sense of emotional maturity and thought, gone. Not only does it show the pain and suffering, the agony of confusion, it also shows how loved ones are adversely affected by something they cannot understand.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking; it takes an enormous emotional toll on everyone involved.

 

Here’s a metaphorical scenario, just to put things into perspective:

Imagine giving a child desperately craving love and attention a metaphorical loaded gun.*

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*Please never give a child a loaded gun, for realsies; don’t try this at home, or better yet never, unless you’re at a firing range, and you’re a fairly sane, trained adult (a contradiction in terms) or some NRA nutjob. Muhrica! 

 

Now imagine said child imagining he is suddenly surrounded by monsters who are out to kill him, and the world doesn’t care.

 

He’s/she’s scared…. 

 

He’s/She’s alone….

 

Fight or flight just blew the transmission….

 

And so he/she does the only thing he/she can do to feel safe; he/she starts firing off rounds a la John Wick.

 

Except instead of John Wick’s wicked finesse, focus, and expertise, you end up with Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies trying to fire off an Uzi, but instead of killing bad guys, you metaphorically shoot into a crowd of innocents.

 

Innocents who were trying to help you snap out of it. 

 

Innocents who either love you, or care enough to stand by your side in a moment of need out of compassion, kindness, or circumstance.

 

And so you’re blindly shooting, screaming, hoping that the monsters will go away, or, if they manage to catch you, they make your death swift and painless. 

 

Sadly, those monsters aren’t real. 

 

To this day, I still struggle on a daily basis with triggers, and how media and society in general joke about them. Sadly, it is a crucial part of our disease, a symptom that needs to be constantly checked up on. It is a difficult task to learn your triggers, but that is only the first step. I have learned to live with the symptoms, and I have found these few tips helpful in dealing with triggers when they are set off:

1) Try as hard as you can to identify the trigger – What caused it? Is it real? Is it a distortion of thought? If so, purge it with all of your might; breath, use mantras or positive repetition to remind yourself that it is not real.

2) Once the trigger is identified – Assertively diffuse the situation;  if someone’s words were the trigger, be honest, never disrespectful. Be mindful that if a loved one is the source of the trigger, remind yourself that they do not mean you harm. Communicate your anxiety, let them know what you are feeling. Do not be afraid to confront, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. If that is not possible, and you feel an escalation incoming…..

3) Walk away – It is not a sign of weakness to walk away from a situation, especially if it means avoiding a confrontation that could become physically or emotionally violent. Do make sure, though, that when you walk away, be very specific as to WHY you are making the choice. NEVER leave ambiguously; ambiguity is the enemy of clarity, it will lead to further breakdown of communication, and it will end up in further confrontation.

 

The most important part is to always be mindful of your emotions and physical reactions; if you feel tension, if you feel your hands curling up into fists, your breathing becoming rapid, your heart feeling like it’s in a hyper DDR session, odds are you are triggered and going into full blown Chernobyl-mode.

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*Actual image of my head once while playing Werewolf The Apocalypse and having an argument with the Storyteller.

 

Take it from me kids; sticks and stones may break bones, but metaphorical gun fire will leave you with a very empty, lonely life. 

 

 

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might or: That Time I Was In A Coma Pt. I

“When the gods want to punish you, they will answer your prayers.” – Karen Blixen, Out Of Africa

 

The rain pitter-pattered constantly against the car window, as I stared out at the Cayey mountains on October 11, 2005. It was fairly dark out still at 5am, and I am sure I was quite groggy still, but the streetlamps glimmered orange with blurry halos; the rain, the slight tangerine glows, the mist over the mountains, the whole car ride was sublimely surreal, yet I remember it vividly.

 

Little did I know that less than 48 hours later I was going to drift into a coma.

 

Let’s wind back the clock, say, maybe a decade and a half. For most of my young adulthood, my body weight usually maintained itself at around 155lbs. (Another example of my lack of education – I have no idea how the Metric system works, but I’ve heard it’s the be-all-end-all of measurement. Whatever.) The point is, during my teen years, I was on the heavy side, robust, not flabby nor chubby, just husky, and many other adjectives that superficial people use to politely describe the exact amount of disgust they hold over what standards of beauty they deem fit and appropriate.

Personally, I prefer the term husky; it always reminds me of snowy, majestic hounds. Either that or it sounds way better than rotund.

Once I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began medicating, though, my weight skyrocketed; many have adjudicated blame to medications stunting my metabolism due to harmful side effects. They may be right, but I have another take on the subject:

 

I ate my pain away.

 

A lot.

 

Sadly, overeating is a very common symptom of many mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. It’s all a cycle of filling the emotional void with whatever immediate self-gratifying element seems to be lying around and within reach, whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or all of the above.

I was never one to take my medication regiments seriously. I always considered psychiatry to be a hoax, a conspiracy theory-laced pharmaceutical cash grab that offered magical pills to dimwitted dopes like me that were aching for a quick fix permanent solution to life’s problems. And so, I would lie to my family, like a good reverse-junkie, fooling them into believing I was following my medication regiment, all the while abusing alcohol, stuffing my face with two BK Double-Whopper combos, chugging down at least 2 liters of soda a day (it’s a damn miracle I’ve never had kidney stones; they’d probably be the size of Kanye West’s ego – pretty damn big, painful, and insane).

You think hobbits had too many meals? Amateurs.*

*The fact that I am even considering comparing my former eating habits with those of fantasy literature races should be alarming enough

In any case, haphazardly taking medication, while combining it with massive alcohol consumption, scarfing down massive quantities of junk food, all of this on a daily basis….well, do the math. At 345lbs (damn that stupid Imperial system again; what’s a damn pound besides somewhere you keep cartoon puppies?), I had officially ballooned out to behemoth proportions. You’ve never lived until you can’t even fit in 2XL clothing, people staring at you as if you’re a walking genetic anomaly; there’s an odd sense of freedom in not giving a flying fuck about people’s opinions.

 

That, of course, was a lie.

 

I cared.

 

Very much.

 

Too much, in fact.

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*The only existing picture of Seba at 345lbs. circa 2005 BM (Before Maria)

 

My only saving grace to avoid social exile was my inexplicable way of charming people and getting them to like me, by any means necessary. That became an addiction as well; there is no better drug than the subtle art of social engineering, knowing that you are able to get your way when others cannot. I was always the wingman in our hunting pack at night clubs; I was the scout who would point out targets of opportunity, would lull the ladies into a false sense of security, while the hyenas closed in for the kill.

Unfortunately, I didn’t want prey; I just wanted, and needed, love and acceptance, a sense of connection, unity, to belong. Making friends was not the hard part; it was keeping them that I truly failed at.

(That, as I always say, will be another story for another time)

 

*insert record scratch here*

 

Enough backstory, let’s get to the part where I get cut open on an operating table!

The year 2014 was spent in massive preparation for what would become THE defining moment of my life. I underwent extensive physical checkups, had a team of cardiologists, nutritionists, pneumologists, shamans, witch doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc. just prepping me for the road that lay ahead of me.

 

I was pumped! I was excited! I was motivated!

 

All because I expected to die the morning of my surgery.

 

I had elected to commit suicide by doctor. *

*I had many suicide attempts in the past, unsuccesful of course, just attentionwhoring pityparties, cries for help; for the sake of not triggering anyone or having someone get any ideas, I will not divulge any details. Needless to say, I know I was unsuccessful every time because I had hope that someday, my mind would find peace, magically, through fairy dust, alcohol, and blissful ignorance. Seba, always the dreamer, always the dumbass. 

 

On the morning of October 11, 2005, I was about to undergo gastric bypass surgery, otherwise known as “let’s staple this dumb shit’s stomach so he’ll be obligated to eat right under the threat of rupturing his insides, and he’ll naturally starve his body so rapidly that all muscle and fatty tissue will be gone, leaving a saggy husk of drooping, scarred skin loosely draped over bones, Ed Gein style”.

I arrived at the hospital; my whole family was there. They had no clue that I had selfishly signed a death warrant.

My grandmother, my best friend in the whole world, the one source of purity I was never worthy of being gifted, joined me during the prep procedure. My mom was in the prep room as well; may aunt and father would take turns coming in and out of the room, but they were visibly anxious, not wanting to witness what might have been the last few moments they would see their child and nephew alive.

Grandma held my hands, kept making jokes as she would always do, smiling softly, gently patting my shoulder, rubbing me with warmth and comfort in that freezing room, while the nurses were injecting anticoagulants into my abdomen, tapping my veins for the IV, shaving my stomach to clean the area.

I lied on the cold stretcher, naked except for the surgical gown and pressure socks that would pump air in and out to promote blood circulation during surgery. I trembled, not out of fear, but out of the cold quietness that permeated the waiting room. They wheeled me to the checkpoint; it was time to say our farewells.

 

I cried.

 

Hard.

 

I held their hands, squeezed, and they prayed for me before being wheeled off into the sterility and loneliness of the surgical prep area. The nurses came to take me on my way. I kissed each member of my family on the forehead, and I told them that I loved them very much. That was not a lie.

Staring up at lights in a hospital hallway while being carted off to the unknown is quite the experience. It is silent, lonely, yet oddly peaceful in a very creepy way. The only sounds present was a TV with the local morning news, which I paid absolutely no attention to, and the sporadic, curious beeps and sounds of heart monitors, and other assorted medical gadgets .

My surgeon arrived (a tiny doctor who, I was told, needed ladders to be able to reach over our grotesquely immense bellies to work her voodoo magic); she was a genuine sweetheart. She tried to comfort me, gave me the pre-op pep talk, and then the staff proceeded to slide me unto what could be considered Antarctica’s butthole; I would assume White Walkers would shudder looking at that infernal slab of ice and doom.

The anesthesiologist arrived, asked me some questions, tried to crack a few friendly jokes (bless his jaded ass for trying, lame as he was), and proceeded to instruct me to count backwards from 10.

10….

9….

8….

7….

The blanket of shivering cold was gone; everything was gone.

 

 

No worries, we’ll get to my coma soon enough.

 

 

The Maria Effect

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

– Bruce Lee

 

I was at a cafe not too long ago, and while having a conversation with a random stranger (which I DO NOT tend to do often, mind you), the subject of Hurricane Maria came up.

 

“SHOTS FIRED!!”, screamed my triggered brain as I calmly continued the conversation.

 

A professor of psychology at a renowned local university – which shall go uncredited and unnamed for now (mainly because I personally dislike the place, but hooray for the illusion of education in Puerto Rico – a whole other can of worms for another time) – had published online a compendium of experiences from various students, expressing how the storm took a toll on their mental health.

This conversation definitely piqued my interest, and I had a good read with the published articles.*

*A bit too bloated and wordy for my personal tastes, but then again, I never finished college, so what do I know about hoity-toity writing in Spanish? 

 

Kismet is a funny thing. I was rummaging through my home, cleaning up the usual messes, and lo and behold, I just happen to stumble upon this tiny, unpolished gem lying hidden, dormant, in one of my drawers:

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I had always intended on keeping a journal, mainly because it is a highly recommended therapeutic tool for dealing and coping with mental illness, a way to gauge moods, vent frustrations in a constructive, orderly manner, have conversations with imaginary friends without freaking people out, etc.

 

What better way to cope with what could be a life-ending disaster, right?

 

And so, I wrote.

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And I wrote….

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And I wrote some more….

 

Well, you get the point.

 

That last week of September 2017 changed all of our lives. We saw our homeland ravaged, torn asunder, devastated beyond recognition. We were an island full of scared, desperate folk, trying to survive, day by day. Time slowed down to a crawl, at points the days feeling endless.

Most people out there are blessed with not knowing the feeling of timelessness, of reality-altering ambiguity. Hurricane Maria not only affected our collective social consciousness, our homes, our businesses, our social media obsession, our Playstation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, and online gaming time (priorities, mind you), but it also unleashed a healthcare crisis of which no one could have imagined possible.

In the mental illness community, a new type of patient emerged: the orphans.*

*Patients who had lost their primary care specialist and had no other resource to fall back on

The medical community in general was hemorraghing doctors and staff something fierce due to the infamous diaspora of puertoricans seeking refuge on the U.S. mainland (much to the chagrin of mainland uber-boricua-patriots who have never stepped once on their “native soil”, but, as I said before, that’s a story for another time).

As islanders kept fleeing the devastation, those of us left behind were left without caretakers, without our required care; computer and communication systems were unreliable, so pharmacies went apeshit when it came to processing prescriptions for many conditions. Hospice centers and hospital systems were decimated, rendered useless and out of commission without the proper supplies to keep them running. Doctors disappeared without a trace, either through omission or self-preservation, with no way for patients to get in touch for treatment; we were orphaned, left without proper care, and many of us suffered severely for it.

 

I sound angry, don’t I? You might be thinking, “Gee, Seba, put yourself in their position. They have families and personal lives too! So you’re missing a few pills and you’re cranky because your cell reception is shit so you can’t watch your latest Netflix shows, oh boo hoo!”

 

Granted, they might have a point.

 

Then again, they were not the ones going through extreme chemical imbalances due to the lack of medication that is our lifeline, our anchor to a stable reality, an anchor that allows us some measure of safety and control, not only for ourselves and our day-to-day functionality, but for the peace of mind of your loved ones, of bystanders and co-workers that are incapable of understanding the pain and anguish of losing whatever lucid grasp you have on your thoughts and emotions.

They were also not the ones who, because of their lack of amplified sensitivity to ambient stress, went into deep depression, suicidal chaos, their carefully monitored routines lying in shambles right along the wreckage of homes and broken dreams.

 

Just because you can’t see it, does not mean it does not exist.*

*Remember good ‘ole Doubting Thomas? 

 

Those underestimated death tolls you hear about? You know, the ones Orange Crush said were no biggie because Lousiana had more leaks than his lazy bladder during Katrina?* Many of those were not directly caused by a crazy wind surge whisking someone away to Oz, no sir; substandard healthcare logistics, irresponsible management, and the collective IQ of a radish we call a local democratic government (*insert sitcom laugh track here*) were responsible.

*Under no circumstance will I ever minimize Katrina and it’s destruction, for crying out loud we went through the same pain and suffering; I just wanted to insert a joke about a certain Cheeto-skinned buffoon who had the audacity to throw paper towels at the problem and call it a day. 

 

Breath, Seba; become like water, my friend, and everything will be ok.

 

It has been more than a year now (a year and approximately two months if my remedial math is correct), and we are still feeling the Maria Effect. We are comfortable enough now to make jokes, share our tales, mark dates as BM or PM (Before Maria or PostMaria, respectively), yet with every mention you can feel the sting of sadness, the void of comfort, that haunting vision of splintered wood, crushed homes, flooded shelters, and shattered glass, that terrifying thump of imploding doors and howling monsters pounding about, tearing the world apart.

I now use those words I scribbled to bear my scars with pride; to prove that even through the terrifying storm that is life, we all have a way to not only survive, but to thrive as well.

 

To me, Maria will always be etched in our collectives as the day that may have broken our spirit, but it adamantly strengthened our soul.

 

 

Grain Of Salt Recommended

“Long life stories are best received in bars, and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you are buying.” – Stephen King, On Writing

 

Greetings, fellow traveler.

 

I am diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, otherwise known as “oh look, there’s that guy with the mood swings who’s always cranky, complaining about the world and sad over nothing; he’s such a great guy at parties when he’s not such a downer”.

That should pretty much explain it all, correct? Well, unfortunately, I am here to take a lifelong struggle and chop it up into small, digestible morsels, creating a delightful little dish full of tasty treats, an odd-looking full course meal that will hopefully shed some light into the inner workings of what I consider an extremely debilitating disease.

 

Yes. Disease. I said it.

 

Bipolar disorder is an illness; not a fad, not a trend, not an insult, not a derogatory term, not a badge of courage, nor an all-access pass to PityPartyLand – it is a bonafide condition that affects millions of people around the world. I’ve read many comments online comparing mental illness to asthma, using the eternal trope of “you wouldn’t tell someone having an asthma attack to just breath right and they’ll be fine, right?”.

 

Funny.

 

Dark.

 

Too damn accurate.

 

Sadly, this is how most people view the state of mental illness – But he said unto them, except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” *

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“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio

*I’m a fan of the Apostle Thomas (Lord knows I’ve used his skeptic arguments plenty of times to my advantage), but man, did you really have to be such a doubting Thomas? Dick move, dude, dick move.

 

Pics or it never happened. (Please, no nudes.)

 

To this day, even after so much extensive research, there is still much to be explored about the illness, and so much stigma still attached to the taboos of the unknown, untraveled nooks and crannies of the human mind.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.”

Sounds spooky, right? Downright sinister, maybe.*

*Looked it up on Google, it looked official, so I quoted; seems legit, and that’s good enough for me. (Famous last words)

 

My personal cocktail of cranial spaghetti is “defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes”.*

*In layman’s terms, I see-saw, but I don’t go into full blown Hunter S. Thompson benders, as tempting as they may seem.

 

So, here I am, an amateur, a simple individual who will attempt to share his slice of life, his “wisdom” obtained through much scrutiny, introspection, loves and friendships lost, through stories of hope, desperation, and humor, to make this world a better place, and if not better, at least slightly more tolerable.

 

At least for me.

 

 

PS. The cake is a lie.