I really don’t like going to the VA Medical Center. It isn’t really the bureaucracy or the building or anything like that. In fact, the employees and structure are quite nice here in Wilmington. I’ve received good care from polite and friendly staff. The building is clean, modern, and has some decent amenities (though, I wish they’d get something other than processed junk in the cafe area… is it really that difficult to have a banana or apples or something available?).
No, my discomfort and dislike come more from my fellow veterans.
I realize how shitty and pretentious that sounds.
I spent some time today giving some thought to my own negative emotions about the men and women who are seeking help from the VA and I realized my emotions are a reflection of my own fear. This fear takes two specific forms: health and achievements.
When at the VA I am surrounded by people who have significant medical problems. Many, if not most, of these problems seem to be related to obesity. I think this is part of the reason that I’ve been prioritizing activity and nutrition in my life more recently. As I spend more time at the VA I see what happens when you don’t take care of yourself and that scares the shit out of me.
I want to be able to climb mountains, much less stairs, without being defeated. I want to be healthy enough to dance at my nieces and nephew’s weddings instead of being winded. And, if I’m being totally honest, I want to feel like I’m sexy and attractive to the lovely men and women out there. Of course, there is a possibility that something will happen to me that prevents this despite my best efforts, but if I don’t take care of myself now then I guarantee that I won’t be able to be strong later. Going to the VA is a ghost of Christmas future and shows what I could become.
At first, I thought the health fear was the only thing that made me feel uncomfortable at the VA. After some more thought, I found something else that was a bit more subconscious, the idea of limited achievements in life. Many veterans, whether they served 4 years or twenty years, make that time period the focal point of their lives. They wear clothing daily and maintain haircuts that reflects their time in the service. It becomes all they are known for and they dwell on it.
Again, that scares the shit out of me.
I don’t want to be known for what I did for 5% of my life when I was basically a kid. It feels so one-dimensional to me. I want more for my life than any single role or experience. So many of the people that I have trouble relating to seem to be obsessed with only one thing… military service or being a parent or being a libertarian. I want more than just one identity, I want to be more than I was. Going to the VA is the ghost of Christmas past and shows me who I was.
As I gave it even more thought I realized that these two fears are really the manifestation of a single fear, the fear of a wasted life. I probably only have one life and I’m probably going to die someday. My greatest fear is that that time will be wasted. I don’t need to accomplish EVERYTHING on my list (spoiler: probably impossible), but I want to keep active and accomplish as much of it as I can. I think that is where a lot of my anxiety comes from, I’m worried that I’m a waste. That I’m am taking this beautiful gift of life and poisoning it by putting garbage in my body and by choosing existing over living.
It is actually kind of weird. I’m an atheist and don’t really feel like I “owe” anyone. This gift of life doesn’t really have a source, but I feel an obligation to make the most out of it. Maybe it would be easier if I was still a Christian, then I would have the added pressure of feeling like I was disrespecting God when I eat fast food, don’t exercise, or lounge in front of the tv instead of reading, writing, exploring.
Instead, I’ve got to motivate myself and I think this fear serves me well in that motivation. I feel kind of shitty for reducing the people I see at the VA to little more than motivational tools, but that is what I seem to be doing. I fear becoming the person they represent in my mind, not the real them (I don’t even know the real them). They are archetypes and stereotypes that I don’t want to see in myself. I don’t know if this superficial analysis is a good thing or not, but it is honestly what I’m doing… and I can’t grow and improve unless I’m honest with myself and keep asking myself why I feel the way I do.
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”