How Vanity Slows Progress

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Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Trauma taught me many things. I learned about pain. I learned about resilience. I learned about healing. In retrospect, one of the most cherished places of personal enlightenment was the hospital hallway.

It was a big deal to make it to the hallway. Really big. My journey had taken me through weeks in the ICU. My recovery then allowed the hard earned step up to step down. The Step Down ward meant you could get food through something other than a tube. You had a roomie and a bedpan and a TV and visitors came with flowers and balloons and contraband snacks.

Carrying ourselves from our room into the hallway was a distinct right of passage. My hallway was a broad, open expanse with four nurse stations serving as many passages. Filled with the usual medical paraphernalia of computers, wires, rolling terminals, gurneys and IV bottles.

Nurses spattered a dozen shades of hospital white with scrubs of green, blue, or pink. Replete with childlike patterns of puppies or daisies or even your favorite animated characters.

The patients were easy to see; we all wore the gown.

An amazing array of Fellini like characters roamed in the gown. From the old to the very old, from the young, to the not getting younger. A woman might be stooped and shuffling. A slim man covered in casts and tattoos might be rolling his chair into the wall. A housewife, somehow tan in the middle of winter, might stand with her tube and wire accessories seeming to come from deep within her bottom, contemplating another step.

I was the same. My head forced upright in the neck brace. Weeks of whiskers growing rampant underneath. Tubes came from my left side where the extra holes had been carved in my flesh to drain the bloody bile from my weakened chest and lungs. My walker held it all in one place and let me pretend I might actually be standing on my own.

It mattered not from where we came. What school we attended, what job we did, how much money we had in the bank; it all meant nothing. The gown made us all the same.

Mine was a dingy turnpike restroom cream, with the little blue dots, round from afar, but star like up close. It was super oversized for my narrow frame, to keep my tubes clear of snagging.

Looking back at my hallway classroom of life, I remember the folks in the gowns were in three distinct groups; the Hurting, the Healing, and the Vain.

The Hurting were still in some deep shit.

Maybe we got ourselves off the ICU ledge, but one bad day could easily send us back. The fact that we had made it into the hallway carried a high significance. But staring into pain med soaked space was common. Conversation was generally impossible. The Hurting were shut down emotionally, for the entirety of their work was physical.

When I left the Hurting and entered the Healing group in the hall, that’s when I made my greatest strides back to health.

The Healing are in a very special place of awareness and are now trying to get better. we can finally get ourselves out of bed, walk, talk, share some of the basic elements of a day. Though our bodies trail behind, our minds become unclouded.

At first glance, you will probably avoid the Healing. That’s because we don’t behave like you wish. We’re working and we don’t give a damn how we look. We moan out loud in pain. Breath spit and gunk and don’t stop to wipe it from our chins or chests. We make no attempt at closing our gown. If our actions leave our crack flapping in the wind, then so be it. If we’re moving in your general direction, it’s best to just get the fuck out of the way.

We curse freely, flatulate openly, and exude a broad range of socially unacceptable behaviors. The salient distinction is that we do not care how we look in the gown. We care only about making progress. About taking another step and one more after that and then one more.

Lastly, you’re going to see the Vain in the hallway. We’re easy to spot and usually noticed first. Physically, we’re not out of the woods enough for clothing, but we’re damn close and we know it.

The Vain are hyper cognizant of the gown and do everything in their power to camouflage and hide the now hated garment.

Everything is attempted to transmogrify the rag into acceptable fashion. A hat, a scarf, fancy kerchief, sports team cap, with matching colored sweat pants. We’re fixing our hair, putting on makeup, and making sure the back of our gown is very tightly closed. We’re begging the universe to notice we’re not sick anymore.

I never forgot that hallway. The gowns. The lessons.

And I’m always humbled and amazed when I catch myself in one of these distinct groups here in the outside world.

Getting stuck in my own vanity is always the biggest element of what holds me back from my own success. Vanity kept me from writing my book. Vanity kept me from starting a business. Vanity kept me from signing up for my first marathon. Vanity kept me in a job that was bad for my health. When I’m not making progress in my life, I can usually find myself back in that hospital hallway, hanging out with the Vain.

Those times in my life when I stop worrying about how I look. When I don’t dwell on what my friends, or my peers, or all the strangers around me think. When I put 100% of my focus and energy on doing what is best for my life, for my health, for my relationships, that’s a time of progress.

Don’t worry about closing your gown. Decide the best moves forward for your life on this day, at this time, and make those moves. Take that step. Then take another and then one more.

And when you feel that brisk breeze of life running up your ass, you’ll know you’re making real progress.

Written by

Writer. Runner. Mental Wellness Advocate. I believe in ghosts, yoga, local beer, food trucks, and great coffee.

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