You Feel Like Crap — But the Time is Now

Tom Nickel
4 min readNov 12, 2017

Maybe you set The Plan in motion a year ago, maybe it was six months. It’s been your frame of reference because you care about it. You think there’s a chance you can contribute to something worthwhile in a place that needs it. Not that you ever really know what will come of anything.

You try to inform your intuitions, then follow them, which is what you’re doing. The weeks pass, living your actual life and gradually planning the next steps in the Big Project. Three months away. Ten weeks away.

Suddenly, your physical body goes completely haywire in some way. The signs might have been there but who knew the situation could get so serious, so over the top, medically?

You get it treated. You focus on keeping your poise and making good decisions about how this shit, I mean, how this unexpected development affects The Plan. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you can just recover and nothing changes. Maybe you need to adjust a little. You settle on the Revised Plan.

The Revised, post-shit-hitting-fan Plan is full of uncertainties. They all are but this Revised Plan is more uncertain than The Plan because recovery from medical issues is highly sensitive to individual factors, especially when you get older. What is “normal” may not be what you experience at all.

I drew the outlier card. No one told me much if anything about these non-normative aspects of my recovery. When things happened that I didn’t know could happen, I was more anxious than I needed to be, more anxious than I would have been with some cognitive prep.

But the days keep falling away until it’s almost that one way up ahead, almost time to go away and do The Project.

You can’t say you feel great, like you’ve really got your fastball working. You’ve rested and you’re on the comeback trail, more or less. There’s a whole body area that doesn’t feel like it used to and it’s not going to. It’s been in the foreground getting all the attention for weeks. Now the recovery story has to move out of the way for The Project. That’s what I’m traveling half-way around the world for.

I wish I felt better. When I was a kid, I knew I’d face some really hard stuff sometime off in the vague future. I remember me-then when some new cause for personal suffering happens and I try to act like I expected this. Sometimes I pull it off better than others.

Edwin Shneidman, Thanatologist

I think the general operating principle for this kind of Plan-threatening material that Life frequently throws our way is what Edwin Shneidman referred to as “Willing the Obligatory.” As the Dean of American Thanatology, he was talking about Death, but it also works for any serious issue, usually the more medical the better, that comes along and reminds you of your fragility — makes your mortality salient and totally hijacks your Things-To-Do List for a while.

I’m going back to Cambodia tomorrow. I am settling for ‘pretty sure that I feel good enough’ for The Project in Phnom Penh. A few days ago, I was feeling shaky. I couldn’t deny it. Now I’m watching my recovery timeline bump right into baggage and boarding passes.

I will have to pace myself carefully. Maybe that’s a plus right there. Maybe not being at what I affectionately remember as ‘full strength’ will help ensure that I act more like the guide on the side. I will be teaching people about Virtual Reality and 360 Video. If they decide the new media platforms can help extend their message, my Cambodian colleagues will be the producers, not me. Whatever energy it might have taken for me to tell their story, I don’t need it — that’s not why I’m going there.

I’m going there to offer something and then get out of the way. During my so-called career, I created websites and online courses, MOOCs and worldwide teleconferences, videos and podcasts. These digital creations have touched hundreds, thousands, but probably not millions, of people. I don’t feel done. I’d like to reach further.

There are inspiring stories to tell in Cambodia today. Immersive 360 video will be a fantastic way to tell them — that has always been the idea at the heart of The Plan. Help people there craft compelling narratives of hope and rebirth that they can see happening all around them. Share them and the message will scale.

I wish I could stop wishing I felt better than good-enough here on the brink of departure. A more typical scenario is to go far away and get sick once you get there. Maybe I’m getting that out of the way now. Maybe I’ll go there and get better.

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Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos