curiosity across disciplines

Hemorrhages and sunk costs

When I was 18, my brain decided it was an opportune time to leak life-sustaining fluids. Technically, it's called a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

It sucked[1], perhaps even more than it sounds.

And like the platitudinous protagonist in a time before troubles, it booted me down one of those alternative life-is-what-happens-when-you're-busy-making-other-plans paths.

For a long time, I hesitated to write about said cranial bleeding, not because it's hard to talk about. It's not daunting anymore. Nowadays, it feels more like a parenthetical footnote found in a history textbook.

Mundane events, memorable lessons; a veritable microcosm of existence.

No, I waited because of something far more sinister and far more boring: sunk costs.

This thing that happened to me, a thing I didn't ask for, was huge and horrible. I suffered[2] a lot. I almost died. It changed the stories I told about and to myself. Naturally, what followed was:

"I should at least try to make the most of it."

I'm guessing most of you are familiar with the concept of sunk costs, and probably the associated fallacy.

Put simply, it's the stuff that's already happened, stuff that's, for practical purposes, irreversible: the gaudy, discount sofa with a "no returns" policy, the muffin at the bakery you scarfed down, or the irreparable brain damage from thinking cryptocurrencies are sensible investments (far worse than my situation).

The fallacy part factors in when we try to make decisions that involve the already-sunk resources.

Though it needn't be, discussion of sunk costs is often relegated to the sterile world of economics.

As such, my example of wanting to "make the suffering count for something" by telling a story well enough that my pain might help someone else is, admittedly, a bit unusual.

Anyway, after I got out of the hospital I made a promise to myself. It was a promise that I would find a way to share the rare clarity that comes from almost-but-not-quite dying.

Sunk costs don't feel sterile to me. They feel heavy. And visceral; like the sadistically well-designed spikes and reinforced walls of an iron maiden.

They feel visceral.

In hindsight, it was the enormity of the task I set before myself that created this particular sunk cost monster.

How could I do such a massive, life-altering topic justice with nothing but my words? If you don't have a dedicated 501(c), millions in charitable donations, and celebrities repping said organization in commercials wedged between melodramatic narration from Meredith Grey, do you even care?

Sunk costs would tell you that you don't.

But the thing about sunk costs is that their resolution rhymes with the answer to to most things: you can always choose to let your crap go, and do the more difficult task of being vulnerable and connecting with others.

No internal bleeding required.

This article is far from perfect. In fact, in the spirit of its message, it might even be rushed and haphazard.

That's okay. It exists only as a reminder:

Prioritize whatever it is that you're delaying due to sunk costs.

Something you want to do is almost certainly being held back by a bloated, imaginary story about something irreconcilably in your past.

You don't have the time to dilly dally on telling those you love that you care about them. You don't have the time to waste "saving your best ideas" like some frenzied, lightbulb-hoarding squirrel.

You don't have time for fucking sunk costs.

  1. Technically my brain didn't suck. It anti-sucked really. The mega [iron] maid[en] in my brain "went from suck to blow." ↩︎

  2. As another reminder: I was lucky. Many people live with far worse than I experienced every day of their entire lives. Many have also died from the same condition I survived; some simply because of a lack of access to health care. ↩︎