The Stolen Year

By Jonathan Diener

For once this isn’t about celebrity deaths or the election. If you don’t mind I’d like to talk about myself. I’m not holding it in because someone near me has had something worse happen to them. I get to talk about the year my body started falling apart, my brain got its ass kicked and the one constant in my life was stolen from me. 2016 was my stolen year.

If you’re familiar with me or my writing, I usually preface the stories with me having been in a band that traveled the world. We broke up and I was thrown into reality. Getting normal jobs, trying to understand the concept of growing up and adjusting to stationary life. It sounds like I’m spoiled, which is true, but keeping my mouth shut because of that could be the worst thing I could do now.

However, things weren’t all bad in 2016. My relationship is great. My girlfriend and I moved into our dream house because of my awesome, supportive parents. I’ve gotten to play some very cool shows with my friends and there were definitely a lot of highs. But the lows were something I’ve never really experienced before.

Years ago when I was a full-time touring drummer, I started experiencing problems with numbness in my right arm. I went to a chiropractor for a few months (between flying overseas, sleeping with my head titled down for 10 hours at a time and making things worse) and eventually things went back to normal. I was getting in shape again, perhaps the best shape of my life. Things were great. Then about eight months ago my right arm started going numb again. This time it didn’t go away the next morning. I went to physical therapy until I built up enough strength in my neck (the source of the problem) and my shoulder (additional potential problem). I got out, started a new job and thought things would be fine.

Then without any warning, my right arm bypassed the numb feelings and decided to turn into constant pain all the way down to my fingertips. Instead of getting an MRI I was sent back to physical therapy to build strength, but I started noticing things like my face going numb. It was terrible. I was put on a nerve medication that I had to take three times a day. If I miss a pill it feels like my neck is going to bulge out enough and my arm will fall off. I was consistent with my medication and made it work.

Drumming was a lot harder, loading gear absolutely sucks and I’ve been out of the gym for months now. I feel like I’m getting weaker and sluggish overall, even though my neck and shoulder strength are improving. It’s this constant battle of convincing myself that things take a while and stubbornly rushing into something again will just cause more of an injury.

Now enter the stress. I’ve had varying levels of stress issues my whole life, whether it was in school, on the road or at home making sure I got everything done for the day. It’s not the, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” hollow bullshit faux miracle cure people spew to those with anxiety. It’s the real deal. This may have also been a factor in my neck problems. I’m always tense and I obsess over little things: shrill noises, completing tasks and staying occupied. On a routine checkup my dentist pointed out I’ve been grinding my teeth way too much over the last six months. Being out of commission or in pain this long has just made things worse.

With physical therapy, dental work and doctor visits I’ve been in waiting rooms more than I ever have in my life. I’m making sure I take the steps toward bettering myself physically and mentally. Lowering my caffeine intake by at least 50%, sticking to my rehab routine, getting x-rays and the whole nine to make sure we can diagnose the problems. It’s been getting better, but feeling helpless and worthless for months hasn’t exactly helped my psyche.

Then two nights ago my band, Baggage (after reading all of this I hope you understand the name) played in Chicago, went out to get food and parked near a venue my old band used to play all of the time. Less than thirty minutes later we came back and saw our passenger side window smashed in. I’ve heard of this happening before, but 13 years of being in a band it never happened to me. It was my Final Destination moment. Instead of panicking, screaming or crying I got on the phone with the police while the other guys assessed the situation and cleaned up the glass shards from our van.

It turned out only my backpack was stolen in a quick smash and grab job. The backpack had our band fund (around $600 in cash) and my personal belongings. It sucked. We drove five hours overnight back to Michigan on a blisteringly cold night without a window and cranked the heat the best we could, covered ourselves in sleeping bags and embraced our inevitable sickness that was about to occurr.

What has been slowly eating me away inside is the fact that my backpack was with me for my whole touring career. It’s been to 18 countries with me. For a traveling person, it was my only constant. I always had my backpack with everything I needed in it for the day right next to me. Now in an instant it’s gone. The only part of my past life was taken from me. But as weird as it sounds, I’m glad it’s gone. It’s my literal baggage. It’s my fresh start. Sure I lost some of my favorite t-shirts, phone charger, earbuds, toiletries and medication, but I can replace those things. I didn’t have my laptop or passport in the bag either. Maybe this is the silver lining of that orange backpack.

It’s been a very strange year, but seeing people already donating and buying merch from our band to support us is one of those sparks of light in the darkness. I remember that people are good. There are people who do bad things, but I don’t know the circumstances they’re living in. I don’t hate the person who smashed our window and stole my possessions. I think everyone has potential and thinking things through has helped me immensely. It’s helping me grow as a person which is in turn helping me get back to physical and mental shape.

Maybe 2016 was my stolen year, but I can always replace it with something better. That’s exactly what I plan to do in 2017.