Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reaching out, reaching in

This post is hard to start... that's why it has gone unwritten for these many weeks. Here I go.

This blogging project has forced me to hold up the mirror, to be brutally honest with myself and with those around me, even when I'm not posting what I'm writing. Blogging also allows for a certain degree of bullshit, for leaving out the details that are too hard to admit, too embarrassing to see in print, to share with the world. Sugar-coating. By leaving things out (and sometimes making things sound better than they are), not writing, I am lying to myself and to those who care about me most. This is where I come clean. Deep breath.

I am not OK.

Before you freak, my body is fine. Like, more than fine. My blood work shows wonderful things, I am firmly in remission (that is SO INTENSE to type), those donor cells are growing and flourishing, my organs are strong. The strength in my joints and muscles is returning, and rapidly at that. I am going to yoga again. My hair is long enough to actually get bed-head.  A super-gross drug side-effect I was having a few weeks ago has subsided. My nurses and doctors often comment positively on my progress.

My spirit? My heart? My soul?

They feel weak. So, so weak. This is the part of the journey that I was not prepared for, the survivor part. Sure, I was told this would be challenging, read accounts from other patients (though most of those focus on the physical challenges, and there are still many), heard the lectures from nurses. Nothing NOTHING could have prepared me for the intense feeling of loneliness and isolation that came as the dust began to settle. Sure, on paper I'm doing exceptionally well but guess what? There is no blood test for lonely, for sadness, for confusion. None. Spirit, heart and soul cannot be strengthened easily with yoga, pilates videos and hand weights. Oh, no. That shit is so much deeper.

Chemo week was a breaze in comparison to this (the sedatives may have had something to do with that...). Now look, chemo was hell, it was fucking horrendous. Yeah, I was all like ' this isn't as bad as I thought it would be', and it wasn't, but it still sucked balls. However, there was a defined end in sight, a goal, an achievement if you will. I knew when it would end, that the end would bring hope and new life. One hundred days of waiting? Well, that clearly has a time limit. My recovery is now measured in months and (god help me) years, not days. That reality should be joyful, happy, miraculous, AND IT IS, but it is also supremely terrifying. The morning that I woke up and realized that there lay nine months between me and the moment that I could begin teaching again, I curled up in my bed and sobbed. I stayed there all day. For several days. Didn't answer the phone, hardly ate, they were some of the darkest days of my life. These have all been dark days lately (this fucking weather isn't helping either), not always black, but certainly tinted in shades of gray.

These feelings are so intense that it has taken me weeks to even acknowledge them honestly, let alone dip my toes in the idea of actually dealing with them. Admitting to yourself that you are depressed is nothing compared to admitting it to those around you, to asking for help. Looking at yourself and saying "I cannot live like this.  I am drowning.". Not constantly feeding others (and yourself) the "I'm doing well!" line or hiding behind my tendency to follow up every painful emotion with a bullshit "...but I'm alive! Look at how well you're doing Laura! (or any number of other positive statements deployed to basically pour glitter on the wound to make it look like like... a fucking wound)". It is not always the best thing to 'look on the bright side', not always practical. That, as I have discovered, can lead to ignoring the issue and suppressing the pain. Energy (happiness, pain, fear, anything) cannot be destroyed, it can only be redirected. Taken in, acknowledged and used in the same measure that it came. All of that pain and sadness and fear that I have been shoving down for months is bubbling up. Maybe it's PTSD, maybe not. Whatever it is, it sucks. 

It has only been a few days that I have been able to talk about how I'm really feeling with anyone other that P (that blessed man), so many tears have been shed, so many more still will be. It is as gut wrenching to say these things out loud, forget about posting these things on the friggin' internet (which is insane coming from someone who has written about wetting the bed). Ultimately though, it has been a small spark of relief.  Typing this feels surprisingly good, a pebble of weight lifted. To reach out but also to dig deep and start to sort through the muck and mire. To do some fucking work. Reaching out as I go deeper has taught me that the wisdom of others is quite a salve to my heart right now, more than ever. What a sweet, wise community of friends I am blessed with, what a caring family.

The other night as I was catching up with a dear friend over the phone, she gave me this piece of advice: "You can't go around this stuff, you have to go through it." She is so right. I have been trying to go around this. Now I am taking (baby) steps through this hell. I am firmly in it, I will be for...well, I don't know, however long it takes I guess, but writing this is a step, maybe only a shuffle, but a movement in the direction of out.

Where do I go from here? Well, I don't know. What I do know is that this isn't working. That changes have to be made and I'm the one that has to take the proverbial bull (that bastard) by the horns and work. And I am, in small ways for now. I guess this is the one time when seeing only the trees and not the forest is OK. Another dear (and very, very wise) friend advised me to begin setting goals, small ones to start, silly ones even, and writing them down. She said that it may be satisfying to cross things off as I go. This morning, I did just that. They were small goals, definitely silly some of them, but she was right. it gave me that sense of achievement that I desperately needed to cross them off as I went through the day. The darkness was still with me today, but the sun broke through the cracks just a little. Maybe tomorrow it will be a millimeter brighter, maybe it won't.  What matters now, I suppose, is that I see the darkness for what it is in this moment, and that keep the resolve that I DO NOT wish to live in it.

This journey is so much longer than I saw from the top of that mountain but I am in it for the long haul. I'm trying to find the tools to work through it and this is, in its absolute simplest form, hard. As long as I am in the business of setting small goals, I might as well go ahead and say that I am setting a goal to write here at least once a week. That is a goal I can stick to. Posting that on here may keep me honest to that goal. I hope that it does.

Thank you for reading this, I wish that I could say that this is all sunshine and gratitude, but that would be a lie. And lying to the people I love is no fun.

Much love.


  1. Hello beautiful,

    As a fellow transplanter (and beyond), I have been smack dab in the middle of what you're talking about. And, I just want to comfort you by saying -- you are not alone in this mix, at all. This is a definite stage all of us, warriors go through, and it is devastating as hell. To say this part is brutal would be an understatement...

    Winston Churchill once said "When you're going through hell, just keep going!" And for now, your friend is right... that is all you can do.

    Have faith that things will unfold as they are suppose to, and let yourself feel. Because this is only the beginning. What I continue to tell other warriors is, you have never really 'felt' until after the transplant is over. The lows, will be really low, the highs will be extremely high... our sensitivity is almost enhanced, and we are overwhelmed with the rawness of life, like never before. And only those who have been in our shoes, know what this means.

    We are able to taste life, in all it's flavors. And although, it can be painful -- the sweetness of life will always be more sweet, once you've experienced the sour.

    Also, love, make sure you give yourself a break. Don't be too hard on yourself. All of this is doable, but it's really hard. Really tough. You are doing amazing.

    Sending love and light,

  2. Hi Laura,

    Thank you for sharing what you're going through. I have found that in the times I have been in darkness I found it extremely hard to admit also.

    In the activism work I am involved in we often experience a "post action depression." Its after a crazy event, action, meeting, etc. that took an extreme amount of effort. It was really really hard, everyone was stressed, and then it's just over. And while everyone is happy it's over, everyone is sad too. And feels useless and aimless. And then there comes the next thing to move towards, however big or small.

    I think your friends suggestion of goals, however big or small, is great. You will have a next thing, and many more things.

    Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with all this chatter, but, really I just want to hug you and bake you cupcakes, so, pretend to get a hug and eat a cupcake, and when I see you next I'll make them be real.


  3. I wish I had something great to say, but all i have is this.... I love you and admire you, and would listen/laugh/cry/shop with you anytime you're up for it. and way to be so honest. You're doing important work.


  4. hello dear...i love you. thank you for writing about this. it's totally ballsy to put it out there. not sure i could do it. hugs and looking forward to talking to you this wknd. xoxoxo

  5. i for one am supremely grateful for your honesty. why is it so hard for us to give ourselves permission to be negative? to be depressed? to grieve a loss, even if that loss is the structure your transplant gave you, the laser-focused pinpoint your life fit into a little while ago. IF that's the case here. you didn't say specifically. that's what I got out of this post. and the whole mindset of "I should be grateful" yet I find you can be depressed and feeling lack in the midst of gratitude. this blogging business is not worth it if you're going to candy-coat life. that's just one of the reasons why your blog is so readable. hell, life isn't worth it if candy-coated. I say hell yes, accept that anger, despair, what have you. have you read Radical Acceptance by any chance? it's pretty good and relevant. lots of love and strength, xo e

  6. Dear, sweet Laura,

    I am not a cancer survivor, but I am a survivor of bi-polar disorder and severe depression. Putting your feelings out there, acknowledging you need help, being honest with your self and others that you are not ok - these are HUGE first steps to take. Give yourself credit - you are doing something that took many of us YEARS to do, and you are doing it with grace, even when it doesn't feel like it. I wish I had magic words, the secret to making it all better, but honestly you have to just keep on keepin' on and I PROMISE you will eventually look around one day and say "hey, I am doing better!" Just be kind to yourself and know that your are not alone. While ultimately only you can do the work of getting better, you do not have to weather the journey silently or without company. My best advice for dealing with depression is to communicate with others - through, talking, writing, whatever. Anything to get out of your own head and put things in perspective. What your are feeling is not wrong or bad and should be shared with those who love you.

    Please know you can write or call if you find yourself lonely and running down the list of people to interact with. Or to set up a double date! (Max was just saying he misses Phil...)

    Love, Dolly

  7. Hi Laura,
    Please remember that depression is a very serious, but also a very treatable disease. Don't get too caught up in the "I just need a good kick in the butt, I'm being a wimp" stuff. A good psychiatrist has a number of meds available that can help. Don't wait forever to go see one if this continues.

  8. Laura, thanks for keeping it real, and being brave enough to share your shadow side. Looking forward to hanging this week!