Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Chemical Romance

"When All I Want To Do Is Wrong"

I want to fuck. Right now. This is a problem.

Technically, it shouldn't be a problem that I want sex, given that I'm a 46-year-old man and not, say, a 76-year-old man. Despite my best efforts and some of the most powerful recreational chemicals created by man or nature, I'm not exactly in the ground just yet. So with that in mind, there's nothing wrong with still having a healthy appreciation for that unique thrill of being inside someone, making her feel good, making myself feel good. Sex is one of those profound experiences that not only reminds you that you're alive no matter your age, but, if you're older, has the ability to put you in touch on a primal level with the person you were in that glorious nascence of your experience. If you can vanish into that rare headspace where you completely let go and allow the passion and bliss to just wash over you, the feeling is nothing short of miraculous. It's spiritual, lovely, so abundantly human.

But that's not what I'm talking about here. What I'm referring to -- what I want with every fiber of my being more and more these days -- is something else entirely. It goes beyond the flowery language or the clear-headed, rational explanation of what sex is and what it means. No, I want to fuck. I don't want to drift away on shit. I want to have the kind of sex where it feels like your very soul is shooting out of you when you come. I want insane. I want dangerous. I want the kind of fucking I remember from my early 20s. And here's why: Because chemically, I am in my early 20s. From a biological standpoint, I may as well be 22 all over again -- and this is only a recent development in my life. For years I wasn't simply my advancing age; I was in fact much, much older than that. Most men in their 40s see their vitality begin to slip away -- noticeably so. But I had something else working against me that a lot of men didn't. And it had effectively closed the door on who I was: who I used to be and even who I was meant to develop into in middle-age.

Put simply, I wasn't who I was supposed to be in my 40s. Until a single shot changed all of that.

"Don't You Know How Sweet and Wonderful Life Can Be?"

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the surgery that removed a tumor the size of a pinball from my head. I was diagnosed with it in early April of 2006 after spending five days in the unshakable grip of a headache that felt like something was eating its way out of my skull from the inside. I remember laying there in my apartment in Brooklyn with a cold washcloth over my face, literally in tears as I pleaded with some higher power for just a few hours of sleep -- a tiny slice of time away from the torment. I had made the mistake of telling my doctor at the outset of our relationship that I was a former heroin addict, which meant that under almost no circumstances would she prescribe me painkillers that actually work, certainly not for a supposedly excruciating pain that she couldn't confirm was the real deal. So that's how it went for days: me moaning and groaning in anguish with nothing but naproxen and a some codeine to supposedly -- but not really -- take the edge off and no idea what the hell was going on inside my head. It took three days of this before my doctor, suitably concerned, finally scheduled an MRI.

I was led to believe that it wasn't the job of the MRI technician to tell you what he or she saw during the procedure, only to whisk the findings back to the doctors and let them break the bad news. My MRI technician, however, decided to take the initiative and met me in the dressing room as I slowly, painfully put my clothes back on. "I can tell you what's wrong with you," he said. I didn't respond, since speaking made my head pound so hard it had, on several occasions, nearly made me pass out from the agony. "You've got a tumor underneath your brain that's about that big," he continued, holding his fingers maybe an inch-and-a-quarter apart. "And it's bleeding." I just stared at him blankly for a second, then asked the obvious: "Am I gonna die?" "Probably not," came his response. "It's likely benign, but you still need call your doctor and tell her you're going to Cornell Medical Center immediately." I had been in so much agony for so long that I'd almost reached a place of peaceful Zen, where every waking moment felt like a surreal pain-hallucination, so I didn't really process what he was saying. It came through in fragments. Brain. Tumor. Hospital. Now.

A little while later, there I was -- curled up on a bed in an ER room, the lights kindly switched off so that my brain didn't feel like the white beams coming through my eyes were burning it like a magnifying glass incinerating ants. The actual diagnosis as a result of my MRI was "giant pituitary adenoma" -- a large tumor wrapped around my pituitary gland. It had been there for years, growing, secreting its own hormones and screwing with my pituitary's own hormonal output. It was likely the driving force behind the mood swings I'd been experiencing for some time and the night blindness I seemed to be developing at the ripe old age of 36. Who knows what caused it to begin bleeding -- something called "pituitary apoplexy" -- but it was the blood pooling around it that created the excruciating pain I was in, which meant that the tumor and everything near it had to come out. Hearing this didn't send me into a tearful frenzy simply because, well, at that time I could think of nothing other than my own suffering. But when the nice, young doctor told me they were going to have to cut open my head to get it out, that registered. That turned my blood ice cold.

That was the plan. It wasn't, however, what happened. Because at the last minute, as the procedure was being discussed with me and I was being prepped for surgery, a doctor dressed in a perfectly appointed suit -- minus a lab coat of any kind -- strode in and declared that he was going to take my case and that my tumor would be removed through a noninvasive resection technique that involved going in through my nose and pulling everything bad out. He gave me platelets to stop the bleeding, steroids to shrink the tumor and, finally, some decent fucking painkillers. And just like that he sent me home. I would come back in three weeks, after a series of consultations with an ear, nose and throat specialist, and have the tumor removed. It came out on April 25th of 2006. Certainly the procedure I had done was far better than having my head opened, closed with a row of grisly staples, then left permanently scarred, but anyone who tells you that endoscopic resection is "noninvasive" can go fuck himself. They still go into your head. They still pull something that was there out. You still deal with the aftermath.    

About that aftermath. Despite a hellish first night in recovery, I somehow felt shockingly decent in the days following my surgery. I was only in the hospital for five days and upon leaving immediately walked across the street and got myself a hot dog from one of the carts on the sidewalk near the hospital. It tasted good, better than any I had ever had. I was feeling so upbeat, in fact, that I placed on the mental back-burner the parting words of my neurosurgeon -- the warning he gave me about what was almost surely to come. "There's going to come a time when you'll wish we'd taken your arm off," were his ominous words. "Because there's going to come a time when people won't believe there's something wrong with you, but you'll know there is. You'll know you're not who you used to be." I was told a large part of my pituitary gland had been removed and that it meant I'd have to be on hormone replacements -- and I was told that the situation could counterintuitively get worse as the years pass -- but at the time I was too busy marveling at all the ways I was a walking miracle of modern science. Sure, I got shingles in the immediate wake of the surgery -- the one thing that finally made my doctor break down and prescribe a 100-count bottle of Vicodin, my addictive past be damned -- and there were the odd, confusing scents my nose suddenly picked up, but overall I was in pretty good shape.

But that did in fact change. It changed drastically. I began to recognize the constant upheaval in my body and the impact it had on my depression. (I would cry often and for no reason.) I was put on thyroid medication as well as hydrocortisone and Androgel, the lattermost for my suddenly unstable testosterone level. And that became the biggest problem for me. That right there. Because my sex drive dropped, then increased, then leveled off, then plummeted. The hair on my legs vanished seemingly overnight. The hair under my arms disappeared over time. My facial hair thinned. As I got older I wondered how much of that testosterone drop could be attributed finally pushing past 40 and how much was a direct result of the surgery. It seemed like my prescriptions for everything I was on had to be adjusted monthly to compensate for whatever the hell was happening inside me and what hormones were or weren't coming from my almost nonexistent pituitary gland. I was under the care of an endocrinologist and that person's job was to constantly monitor my system and compensate for whatever wasn't there anymore. The result was that it was difficult to ever truly feel like me. Ever. And when I explained to people that there were certain things I had trouble doing anymore and that when I said I was sick I really was sick, they sometimes reacted incredulously. It was always then that I'd remember my neurosurgeon's warning. I knew there was something wrong with me -- even if no one else could see it.

In the past few years, I saw my sex drive once again nosedive. It was holding steady, obviously meaning that my testosterone level was holding, but at some point it bottomed out. I liked to come, sure, but to be honest it and everything done to achieve it just wasn't a priority. It's a strange thing when you simply stop caring about sex. It's difficult to put into words what it feels like because it quite frankly doesn't feel like anything. It's negative space. The desire just isn't there anymore: the desire to go through the motions; the desire to feel, touch, taste and smell all those things sex represents; the desire even to masturbate. It just doesn't matter. I was aware of how much I had changed, transitioning from a guy who spent most of his life pursuing every hedonistic impulse on the planet to someone for whom none of that holds the least bit of interest, but in the end that awareness meant nothing. I didn't care that I didn't care. I knew it was a problem for my girlfriend because we'd sometimes go for weeks at a time without sex and I had heard on more than one occasion how we were turning into barely-there roommates and nothing more, but not giving a damn about getting laid was just who I was. You can't miss what you don't have -- and I had no sex drive, so I couldn't miss it.

Why did my once maddeningly powerful need for that feeling slip away? Because my testosterone dropped. And why did my testosterone drop? Because, for a time, I couldn't afford health insurance. All of that changed, though, last year.

"My Whole Existence Is Flawed"

After the results of my first blood test came back, my new, no-bullshit endocrinologist here in Los Angeles gave it to me straight: "You have the testosterone level of an 11-year-old girl. You're an idiot for letting it get this way." There it was, the confirmation I didn't really need: It wasn't age that had sapped me of all that manly testosterone, it was the surgery that had long ago removed a pituitary tumor from my head and part of my pituitary with it. And yes, I was an idiot. I was a constantly exhausted, listless, sexless idiot. I figured she'd be putting me back on Androgel, which had worked somewhat in the past. She shot that down in a heartbeat. "No, gel won't do you any good. You need injections to kickstart your system," she said. And that's how I wound up on a regimen of HGH and testosterone shots. I was vaguely aware of what that combination of chemicals might do to me and for me, but really whatever description I had heard about the benefits of HGH and injected testosterone, I'd soon learn, didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the actual result. The first time they injected me, it felt like someone had shot me up with rocket fuel. The impact was instantaneous and profound. I laughed uncontrollably at the sudden feeling that I could walk outside and stop traffic with my bare hands. I'd been bitten by a radioactive spider or maybe showered with gamma rays. I was a fucking superhero. I was BrundleChez. I had liquid fire coursing through my veins.

Oh, and I wanted to fuck. Immediately. In a series of waves washing over my body it became clear what had been missing. Me, someone who had once treated women's bodies the way Native Americans treat buffalos -- let nothing ever go to waste as everything deserves to be honored and devoured -- had basically given up. I had stopped caring about something that most of my life had been hallowed and passionate and insane and glorious to me: sex. That perfect, wondrous, feeling of fucking. My doctor was right -- what had I allowed myself to become? No matter. I was back. That feeling was back. I wanted it. I wanted it now. So I went home, woke up my girlfriend -- now fiancee -- and we went at it in a way we hadn't in a very, very long time. I was present -- completely. I felt every little movement, every little sight, sound and scent: I took it all in. And when I came it was more intense than anything I had felt in years, maybe going all the way back to my 20s. That was it: I felt like I was in my early-20s again. All thanks to a single syringe full of synthetic hormones. Better living through motherfucking chemistry. The fountain of youth in a needle. My strength would come back. The hair under my arms would come back. I'd be normal. Better than normal, actually. Far better.

But there's a strange downside to all of that and, like those days when I barely wanted sex, it's difficult to put into words. Not having a sex drive is strangely, well, calming. I'm not sure whether it was simply a bottomed-out testosterone level or what stemmed from it -- the lack of desire to get myself or another person off -- but when you remove the primary driver that for centuries has made men do stupid, stupid things in pursuit of, it makes you more clear-headed. Even when I was younger I believed it would be undignified to be, say, a 40- or 50-something horn-dog still obsessed with his penis. I never wanted to be an older man who still chased women around like some pathetic latter-day lothario. I looked down on people like that and so when the need for sex evaporated I sometimes found myself reveling in all the ways I wasn't in danger of becoming that sort of tragic figure. True, my fiancee and I argued more than once about the fact that I had been so passionate as a younger man that I'd committed my exploits to paper and internet space -- and now here I was, with her but not in the way I once was years ago with others. But I had always argued that I was a better person now. That I was saner, more centered, less able to be victimized by my own dumb passion. Because that was always the thing with me: I allowed myself to become a slave to my most primal desires.

Now, though, I'm back. A regular series of injections has made me a young man again in many ways, but with increased testosterone and all that it brings I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by my hunger the same way I did when I was a young man. The slavery comes not when there's a desire but when there's a need -- and thanks to the flood of chemicals in my body, sex feels more like a need than it has at any point in years. Maybe decades. Granted, this is indeed balanced out somewhat by my maturity and experience, by the knowledge of what can happen when I allow something I crave to dictate the terms of my life. I may not feel like 46 most days, but I'm still 46 and I have a lifetime of shitty mistakes made chasing highs of every kind. But it's staggering on a personal level just how different things are these days thanks to the shots. It's not just that I have an occasionally overpowering sexual appetite, it's the way that appetite has changed me at a fundamental level. For so long I wondered when I talked to women whether they felt any sensuality at all coming from me given that I didn't feel it from myself. I wondered if anyone -- besides my gorgeous and endlessly patient fiancee -- was attracted to me, only because I knew I wasn't interested and therefore wasn't giving off anything in the way of "vibes."

But what about now? Can anyone actually feel my sexuality? Should I even want that as a 46-year-old man? Think of how balls-out fucking ridiculous that sounds to even say at my age. Remember, I never wanted to be that asshole and I still don't. But can a human animal read the changes in someone when they suddenly are a sexual being again after so long? And other than the person I've dedicated myself to, is it even important that anyone still see me as attractive or sexual or seductive? Doesn't not-being-that-asshole mean that by middle-age it just shouldn't matter to me anymore? Isn't nature sapping you of testosterone and the sex drive that goes with it in your 40s simply its way of telling you your time as a young man is up?

But it's not. Not anymore. Like so much, modern medicine has found a way to subvert nature's designs on us -- and it's turned me into a silly, horny teenager again. It's wonderful. And terrifying. And more than a little embarrassing. While I'm certainly supposed to have more testosterone coursing through my body than I did just a few months ago, I'm not sure I'm supposed to be -- this. I worry about the hunger that once led me to some truly dark places years ago. I'm old and experienced enough now to keep it all under control -- I think. But it's surreal to suddenly be here again. I thought I was past all of this. I thought that for my many sins of the flesh, ten years ago the universe had seen fit to relieve me of that which led me to commit them.

But chemistry has brought it all roaring back.        

I want to fuck. All the time. This is a problem.

Cross-posted at Banter M, The Daily Banter's online magazine, where you can read more long-form work like this every week