I’ve always thought that drowning, basically smothering in water, would be the worst way to die. At least if I burn to death, I can still scream. I can open my mouth in a wide and agonizing circle and let my animal nature escape for one last moment full of blaze and glory. For me, suffocation brings to mind all the metaphors of a life not fully lived … squelched, under a thumb, in a box, misunderstood, twisted and prodded and poked into molds often created by culture, society, dysfunctional families, caustic or abusive relationships, and even religion.
A long-suffering loneliness sits deep within those who feel unable to express their individuality. Like those who suffer from serious respiratory illnesses, they often grasp at whatever they can find–to just breathe. It’s this suffocation of life that frightens me the most; in my circuitous head, such a condition represents a tragedy worse than death. We will all experience death, a natural progression of biology, but some of us will fail to experience or celebrate our distinctiveness. In the end, death isn’t always the real catastrophe.
And so–me and my new friend, Max Kai, are here to suggest that you can’t just sit back and wait for someone to pry your lips open, punch you in chest, and get that sucker going. It takes personal bravery and determination to bust through the walls of suck life builds around us.
With all these metaphors swirling in my head, coupled with my own chronic allergy-related coughing thing that chokes me up from time to time, I can’t imagine how folks like Max must feel. Max has Pulmonary Fibrosis, a lung disorder characterized by a progressive scarring–known as fibrosis–and deterioration of the lungs, which slowly robs its victims of their ability to breathe. Approximately 128,000 Americans suffer from Pulmonary Fibrosis, and an estimated 48,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. It claims the lives of 40,000 people each year–the same number as breast cancer. There are currently no effective treatments or a cure for Pulmonary Fibrosis.
One thing I particularly admire about my new friend Max is his intensely positive attitude in the face of such a suffocating disease. He’s lived through the sad outcomes of seeing the glass half full but was ultimately able to tap into the overwhelming positives he still has. For Max, the turning point came when a close friend suggested that he study the Japanese martial art of Aikido.
Aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as the Way of unifying (with) life energy or as the Way of harmonious spirit. While I’m about as far away as one can get from being a martial arts expert, this small amount of information about Aikido suggests that a its powerfully combined focus on physical, philosophical, and religious balance can only result in great outcomes.
You struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. Can you explain what it is and how it impacts your health?
Pulmonary Fibrosis is newly understood. It’s basically an autoimmune disease that impacts the ability of the lungs to function properly. Over time, the lungs deteriorate and you essentially strangle to death.
When and how were you diagnosed?
I was basically born with this thing. At nine years old, I was diagnosed with asthma. The disease evolved throughout my life, as did knowledge about it, until I finally received a correct diagnosis.
So little was known about it when I was younger. It screwed up my life in a real bad way–mentally, physically, and emotionally. When I got older I found drugs and alcohol. WOW! Speed and coke helped me to breath, and the alcohol helped me come down from the high. With that said, I lost both my kids and my marriage. It was a sad way of life that took me through many years of hell.
Has your struggle with pulmonary fibrosis changed your view of yourself and life in general?
Well, after all my struggles and negative thinking, I finally came to a realization. I thought, “What the hell? I can still breathe!” Now I focus on the wonderful gift of just being alive and it has changed my life.
You are into martial arts. Tell us about that.
After having a stroke, I stopped self medicating. Then I got a doctor who prescribed Singulair and Advair which, in my opinion are both killers (might as well have coke). About this time, my friend of 11 years, Ruth suggested that I try Aikido. I took the plunge at her Dojo and got a green belt and now go at my own pace. My doctor always says, “Max, you’re dead and don’t know it.” I love that message. I’ve been at this for five years now with no alcohol or drugs. I feel great!
How have martial arts helped you cope with your health challenges and with life in general?
Aikido keeps me amazingly focused on the positives around me. It gives me positive, achievable physical and psychological goals.
To those who live in Fear, DON’T FEAR! I’m alive because I want to be alive! Believe me, I know fear very, very well. Once I got used to it, it dropped away, and its power over me was gone. No more doctors — all gone for me. And I must stress me because I chose a holistic health approach. My Aikido partner Ruth got me involved in Waiora. Seolite and the other nutrition products are helping me.
Things get easier when you decide to take control of your own life. Remember the movie, Highlander? There can be only one! You’re the One! Don’t let anything stand it your way.
“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” – Ian Fleming. It means that you only live twice. Once when you are born and once when you look death in the face. These are the words I live by. I will not waste my days trying to prolong them! I shall use my time.