monarch butterfly on a hightop shoe

John Cotter undergoes a profound transformation, as he chronicles in his memoir, Losing Music. Yes, he is transformed by his illness in physical ways—in what he can and cannot do, and how he manages his symptoms. But he is also transformed in his personality and outlook.

Near the beginning of his illness, he gets in an argument with his wife. She contends that he hasn’t been as supportive lately: that he hasn’t been as nice to her as in the past. Cotter complains:

“How could I pay attention to the feelings of others? In the state I was in, all I could do was not walk into traffic.”

Cotter was at that time suffering from the misery of living with horrible symptoms, and part of this was extreme vertigo that could cause him to literally not know where the street was. Part of this was also depression and suicidality, which could be another reason why he might walk into traffic. (I love double meanings; this one is nicely stated, if indeed morbid.)

It’s tragic that the very thing that is causing Cotter to have trouble connecting with others—his progressive deafness—is at the same time pushing him away from others because of his temperamentality stemming from living with a chronic health condition.

But as the years pass, this changes. Later in the book, Cotter writes:

“What I took to be triage—hearing aids, a pocketful of Valium, time each day to rest—was in fact the scaffolding of my new life. And if the body is the self, if the body is the mind, then the hearing aids behind my ears and the lassitude that fell on me and the sounds in my head were my new bones and skin. I had to choose the way I’d be in the world with them.”

This is a new awakening for Cotter: the realization that he can choose how to live, despite severe difficulties. He finds ways to connect with loved ones and make new friends, and to strive to be the best person he can be, given his circumstances.

What is the best version of you, under your circumstances?