Crohn’s Disease and Metallica

by Bill Brenner on March 4, 2011

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” album. Which reminds me: It’s nearly the 25th anniversary of my last major attack of Crohn’s Disease.

Mood music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQbPqINoSlc&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

It might seem bat-shit crazy of me to intertwine these two things, but the fact is that the “Master of Puppets” album is probably what helped me get through that attack. That, and the book “Helter Skelter.” I read that book twice as I lingered on the couch, rising only for the frequent bloody bathroom runs that are the hallmark of Crohn’s flare-ups.

But man, I listened to Master of Puppets nonstop. It tapped right into the anger I was feeling as a 16-year-old still reeling from his brother’s death and under the influence of Prednisone.

I had plans back then. I was going to lose 30 pounds, grow my hair long and find myself a girlfriend. I was going to live a life closer to normal. Not that I knew what normal was back then. As an adult, I’ve learned that normal is a bullshit concept, really. One man’s normal is another man’s insanity.

When the blood reappeared and the abdominal pain got worse, I wasn’t worried about whether I’d live or die or be hospitalized. I was just pissed because it was going to foul up my carefully designed plans.

When I listened to the title track to Master of Puppets, the master was the disease — and the wretched drug used to cool it down.

“The Thing That Should Not Be” was pretty much my entire life at that moment.

I related to “Welcome Home: Sanitarium” because I felt like I was living in one at the time. I was actually lucky about one thing: Unlike the other bad attacks, I wasn’t hospitalized this time.

Though Master of Puppets came out in March 1986, it was that summer when I really started to become obsessed with it. At the end of that summer, the Crohn’s attack struck. The album became the soundtrack for all the vitriol I was feeling.

That fall, as the flare-up was in full rage, Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a bus accident in Europe. It felt like just another body blow. I found this band in a time of need, and a major part of the music was ripped away.

I recently found a track of “Orion” where Cliff’s bass lines are isolated. It puts my neck hair on end every time I play it.

Though Crohn’s Disease is something that sticks with you for life, that was the last brutal attack I suffered. I’ve had much smaller flare ups since then, but only days-long affairs and nothing that kept me confined to bed.

It still manifests itself in other ways. If my eating goes off the rails, I’m much more susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome. Too much information? Perhaps. But for those who need to watch for the signs in themselves and loved ones, it’s important.

If I feel joint pain, which I do once in awhile, that’s partly the Crohn’s Disease manifesting itself. People think it’s exclusively a disease of the colon, but it’s more than that.

In later years, some of the mental illness and addictive behavior was easily traced back to the childhood illness. The experience left me with some deep insecurities about what I could and couldn’t do, and instilled in me a biting fear of the unknown.

Given the severe food restrictions that were part of the treatment, I was destined to become a binge-eating addict.

With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that a lot of the same treatment I’ve had for OCD and binge eating has all but eliminated the Crohn’s symptoms.

Getting rid of flour and sugar and weighing out my portions has led to a lot less pain.

I know it’s not gone and never will be. Another bad flare up is not out of the question. I’m also a prime target for colon cancer later on. For that reason, I have to have colonoscopies every one to three years. My colon is a tube of scar tissue.

I have a theory that the Crohn’s has been mostly dormant all these years for the simple reason that it ran out of colon to attack. It attacked so thoroughly that the scar tissue formed a protective layer.

That’s probably not true, but it’s not an entirely unreasonable theory either.

I’ll just thank God some more that I’ve been spared the agony in recent years.

And I’ll listen to Master of puppets some more.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica March 4, 2011 at 4:41 am

I have two words “Crohn’s sucks!” I’m glad you’ve been mostly healthy and avoided major flair ups so long. I also share your hatred of Prednisone. While on it my normally mild, happy and loving husband was grumpy, depressed and volitile. But despite what we’ve been through with the Crohn’s (several hospitalizations, surgery, shingles and other sudden illnesses due to the medication he has to take for Crohn’s) it has proven to me that hardship either stregthens a relationship or breaks it. We are lucky in that we are closer than ever, and it sounds like your wife and you have the same luck.

Sara March 15, 2011 at 8:17 am

May I ask about you cutting out sugar? Does that include fruit – or is that a processed sugar thing?

Also, didn’t one of the guys in Metallica have Crohn’s? I swear I read an interview somewhere.

billbrenner1970 March 15, 2011 at 8:49 am

Hi, Sara, I’m not sure if any of the guys in Metallica have the disease. I’ll have to investigate! I cut out all processed sugar. I do eat fruit, especially at breakfast time. I cover what I do more fully in this post: http://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/flour-and-sugar-a-tale-of-slavery/

Fury June 13, 2011 at 3:15 am

Hi dude.

I have Crohn’s disease and I love Metallica, glad it has been 25 years since your last bout. I’ve just had an ileostomy.

Regards,

Alasdair (Drummer from Fury)

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