I saw a ghost the other night
I saw him in a hotel room in the David Whitney building in Detroit. I was staying there for an Illustration Conference. I came to this conference to gather insights, experiences, and advice for the next chapter in my career. I didn’t expect to see a ghost.
The hotel room I stayed in was pretty nice. It’s in an older building that was recently renovated. The low light and dark colors of the modern furniture in the room made it feel somber and unwelcoming. The carpet had a geometric rectangle pattern on it and the grain of the carpet was very short so you could hear a distinct shuffle when walking on it. On the second night of my stay, this distinctive shuffle is what I heard first.
It was about two in the morning when I heard the shuffling coming from across the room. I was pretty tired from socializing earlier so the sound wasn’t clear at first. I thought it might be the air conditioner but as the sound inched closer to my bed, it was unquestionably the sound of feet moving across the carpet. I was laying on my side facing away from the sound but I gathered up the courage to flip over to see if something was there. As I spun around I found myself staring into the black depths of a shadow figure. He was only a couple of feet from me and I could see him hunched over and swaying slightly. He looked tired and frail. Within three to five seconds he was gone. I sat stunned for a little bit desperately looking around the room for some kind of explanation. Having found nothing I tried to calm myself down and I somehow went back to sleep.
The next day I woke up a little later than planned and went on a run. The sighting was still pretty clear in my mind but I set it aside to focus on the reason I came to the conference in the first place. The rest of the day I went to a number of talks and socialized with other attendees. At the end of the day I went to an after hours party. I didn’t know too many people there so I used my ghost story as an icebreaker. It was fun to tell the story and it lead to other fun conversations about weed, cats with anxiety, and bad tattoos. The day was fun and it calmed me down a little but I was still thinking about the ghost. I started to wonder if the ghost might just be a manifestation of all the recent stress and anxiety that I’ve been having.
This year has been tough. Around early March I started to notice some weird physical problems. I was constantly dizzy, I had weird numbness in the left side of my body and face, headaches, I was constantly lethargic, and a number of other symptoms. I assumed this was because of work stress and bad eating habits but my wife was convinced I was having a stroke. Either way I went to see my doctor. The initial checkup was fine but at the last minute my doctor ordered an MRI. I wasn’t too worried about the results, I was more upset that it was going to cost me over $1000 to get it.
It only took an afternoon for the doc to get back to me with the results. He told me my MRI showed plaques in my brain and spine. He said that this was evidence of Multiple Sclerosis. He started to say some other things but I kind of blanked. I tried to keep my composure and listen to his explanation. It was all kind of blurry and I had to ask him to explain it a couple more times. After the call, I aimlessly wandered outside and eventually I called my wife and mom telling them the results. I ended up having to get three more MRIs, tons of blood tests, a vision test, and two lumbar punctures. It took months to get everything done but in the end the diagnosis was confirmed. It was MS.
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. I have Remitting and Relapsing MS. This is the most common type of Multiple Sclerosis and it’s characterized by clearly defined attacks of new or increasing neurologic symptoms (relapses) and followed by periods of partial or complete recovery (remissions). When in remission, all the symptoms may disappear, or some symptoms might continue and become permanent. Right now my symptoms are not too bad and there is potential that I can keep the disease pretty manageable with exercise, low stress, good diet, and medicine. Still, there is a chance that it can get a lot worse.
Before all this started I was very focused on building an illustration agency. That meant I was a business owner, manager, marketer, bookkeeper, salesman, and many other roles outside of just being an illustrator. In addition to that I’m the sole finical provider for my wife and son. All of these responsibilities started to take their toll. After the initial MRI, I began to shed a bunch of these work responsibilities. I lost clients, I turned down jobs, and even had to stop working with friends and colleagues. I was trying to simplify my life and manage some of the anxieties of running a business. This change really affected me. I felt like a failure. I knew that wasn’t really the case but it was hard to shift my thinking away from the career I was building. I started wondering if I should keep working as a independent illustrator or if I should get a full-time gig. Moreover, I wasn’t sure if we should move back to Colorado to have a bigger family support system or stay in the craziness of San Francisco for a more secure career path. All of these things were floating around in my head when I got back to the hotel room close to midnight after the party.
It was late but I was starving so I ordered pizza and wings. I knew I shouldn’t eat that late but I thought it wouldn’t be a big problem. As I ate my pizza I watched TV and thought about the ghost. I almost felt sorry for him. Does he need me for something? Is he lost too? I was hesitant to fall asleep but eventually the carbs settled at the bottom of my stomach and I dozed off.
I woke up in the early morning again but this time I didn’t hear any shuffling. This time when I woke up I couldn’t move. Even worse, I couldn’t talk. At first I tried to say something simple like “hello” or “anyone there?” but nothing came out. Eventually I was trying to scream or yell thinking that if I tried really hard I could get something out. I laid in bed for what felt like hours but probably was only a couple minutes. When I was finally released it took a second to shake off the paralysis to get out of bed. I looked around but saw nothing. I wiped the sweat from my face and got a glass of water. In the past I’ve had some sleeping problems like sleep apnea and I’ve even had some bouts of sleep paralysis but this felt different. This felt like something was trying to get my attention but it was gone. After a while I coaxed myself back to sleep.
The next morning I tried to shake off this new eerie nighttime episode. I went back to the conference, listened to more great speakers, heard a lot of great advice, and had a bunch of amazing conversations. I updated some friends on the new spooky activity and we all had a good laugh. After a couple of days at the conference I started to feel more comfortable with my two career options. I could imagine being an independent illustrator or finding a full-time gig. I came to grips about not building an illustration agency at this moment of my life. The one thing that was still hanging it the air was where we were going live. Would we try to eek it out in SF or move to Colorado. I let these thoughts settle as I took the night off from any socializing. That night I actually had a restful night of sleep!
After the conference I met up with my wife and son in Colorado. They were there visiting for a summer trip. When my wife picked me up from the airport, I talked about all the encounters I had experienced. I told her about the ghost, the sleep paralysis, and the insights I had about my career. I was feeling upbeat about the future but my stories didn’t elicit any response from her. I thought we could have a fun chat about the bizarre encounters or talk about the possible career setups but she was silent. Finally she spoke up and told me she wasn’t going back to San Francisco. She hates it in the bay area and she feels like she isn’t a complete person anymore. She is lonely. In Colorado she feels like she has people that care for her. I always knew that moving back to Colorado was a strong possibility but when faced with it I put up a wall. I think it will be fine leaving some of the pride and ego I have wrapped up with being in the bay area. The thing that will be really hard is to leave all the friends I’ve made here. I value these relationships so much. I know they don’t have to end just because I won’t be in SF but in reality these relationship will change with distance.
The next couple of days were tough. My wife and I were not getting along and we were scrambling to figure out where to live, how to move all our stuff, how to get my son in school at the start of the school year, and how to juggle all this with work. My wife and son stayed another week but I had to get back to San Francisco for meetings.
One night, when my family was still in Colorado, the ghost came back. I woke up early in the morning and again I couldn’t move. I was fighting it a lot more this time and when I was finally released I flung around in my bed to defiantly confront the disappearing shadow figure. Whether he is some lost soul from beyond the grave or a manifestation of my stress and anxiety, he really didn’t scare me that much this time.
It’s going to be hard for me to leave to bay area. I feel like I’m leaving a bunch on the table career-wise and might lose some friends. I do look forward to things being more chill, taking care of my health, my family being happier, and having the space to pursue more artistic projects. I’m still figuring out the specifics of my career but I’m sure it will be fine. I’m super lucky to be where I’m at today and I’m not going to let some dumb ghost get in the way of that. I’m sure he’ll pop every once and while but… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯