Crashing in the Wave

I stumble over my answer to the question, “How are you?” because I don’t really know what’s going on with me these days. Except that I’m not fabulous. Some hours I’m not even sure if I’m okay. But then I think maybe I am, after all. (In other words, there are all kinds of confusion, not to mention all kinds of emotion, swirling around on my insides.) How can someone (me) who analyzes and reflects upon and over-thinks just about everything not even know how I feel?

Last night, I told Josh, “I feel separate from everything.” Not in a woe-is-me, no-one-understands kind of way. In an I-feel-like-I’m-in-a-haze kind of way, and I can’t even access myself, much less fully engage with the world or people around me. At times, I feel like a wax figure, fake-experiencing my day.

Except mostly it’s not so neutral-numb-feeling, because I also feel like my whole body is a grasping fist. (I am trying, oh how I am trying to let go, to let that wind carry me, but I feel like I am in an almost constant state of contraction.) Every – little – thing – overwhelms me. How is it that prior to my breast cancer diagnosis, I was working close to full time, more or less single-parenting two kids while my husband put in his 80-100 hours/week of grad school, engaging in a busy social life, making home-cooked meals and paying bills and cleaning my house and returning phone calls… and now, I can barely get my kids a cup of water without feeling like there is too much on my plate? That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. I’m not working and my husband is home for the summer, so my main commitment is co- (not single) parenting and getting to doctor appointments, and yet (here it is again): every little thing overwhelms me.

HeadOnDesk But here’s the other thing that scares me: I’m not keeping up. I’m used to overwhelm, but I’m also used to that overwhelm making me highly productive. Thanks to my Type-A personality and fairly constant free-floating anxiety, I’ve gotten a lot done in life (successful career, happy kids, hand-made gifts, clutter-free home). So the fact that it takes me days to listen to my voicemails (I’m so sorry) and that the other day someone emailed my mom looking for my new address because I hadn’t gotten back to her (nope, no new address here) and that I haven’t read the newspaper in weeks (just keep looking over my shoulder as I slide it into the recycling bin, hoping no one will catch me being terribly uninformed while also unnecessarily destroying trees)—well, it’s disconcerting.

For decades, I have longed to be less Type-A because I have longed to be less anxious, more laid back, more able to, say, sit still rather than being in constant-doing-motion. When I was in chemotherapy and as still as I’ve ever been in life, I had one of those “cancer changes you” commitments to once and for all live a slower, simpler, calmer life. I say this because, if dumping my unread paper in the recycling bin and letting people wait before getting an email response was making me more relaxed, I’d rejoice. But the fact is, now I am anxious and unproductive… which only makes me more anxious. (Not to mention bummed out that my cancer-commitment to change my life isn’t working out so well these days.)

And just about everything gives me yet more reason to feel anxious. Like finding this blog that I absolutely love: Invasive Duct Tales. I literally (yes, literally, not figuratively) feel like I am reading my own writing at times. Which sounds egotistical, that I love it because I love my own writing; but I love it because I feel like I’ve found someone on the internet to whom I can relate—someone who makes me think, “Me too!” And of course there is comfort in that. But reading it yesterday, I suddenly felt the opposite of that expansive-love-feeling; I felt that contracted-anxious feeling, because she’s a successful blogger with awards and gazillions of followers and cancer-has-opened-unexpected-doors opportunity and me, all I am is a wax-figure lump surrounded by unopened mail. (You really should check out her blog, though. In fact, I thought about simply including a link to her most recent post in lieu of composing my own since I felt like 92.4% of what she wrote could have been describing me, including the fact that her husband is named Josh—that, and how she describes her mood, and her reference to “riding the wave” which is how I’ve described my cancer experience and hence titled my own blog, really did make me wonder for a second whether I had somehow gotten confused and truly was reading my own writing.)

Writing this post has me thinking a few new things:

  • I sound like I am describing a depressed person, which is eye-opening, since I’ve really felt like I wasn’t depressed anymore; but maybe I have a touch of it after all.
  • Does this post really have to do with breast cancer, and isn’t that what I’m supposed to be writing about here: riding (writing) that wave? Have I derailed? And either way, aren’t people sick of hearing about my emotional state? I can add that to my list of anxieties. I’m (sort of) joking.
  • I actually think my current state has everything to do with breast cancer. With my hormone treatment. (I’m going to keep blaming it on that, okay? It makes me feel less pathetic, less like it’s my fault that my family has to put up with irritable, unpredictable me.) With the fact that I don’t feel comfortable in my body anymore and even wonder whether reconstruction was a mistake. (I’ll save that for another time because I can’t handle opening that door any wider right now.) With my fear that the cancer will come back. With the fact that I look at my daughter and wonder, “Will she have to go through this some day?” With the fact that my body feels tired and old and broken down by months of treatment and even though everyone keeps saying I’ll get my stamina and strength back—that, for example, I’ll be able to run faster than an 11-minute mile or more than 3 miles in a row again—I’m really not so sure.
  • It’s time to get back to my gratitude practice.

9 thoughts on “Crashing in the Wave

  1. Dear Jenny,

    Sounds like such hard times. Thank you, thank you for being brave and generous enough to share about this journey, because your honesty touches all of us in different ways. It must be so very hard to let go of your highly efficient, productive self, but there it is – you have to give it a break, for now. This is what your body is demanding. It is OK, and who knows, later down the line, you may look back and see how this has helped you slow down, do less. Time will tell. Over the years, I have gradually become less frenetic and have tried to do more of what gives me joy and purpose, but also do less. The judgmental voice does intrude at times and says “You could be doing this, and this, and this!” But mostly I just notice it, and say hello, and move on. Sending you much love, Jenny.

    Kim

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    1. Kim, it’s so helpful to read your comment, because you describe about yourself what I am aiming for, hoping for. Your words are a welcome reminder to step back and notice– and maybe even to let the discomfort be, versus trying to eradicate it with old patterns of doing-doing-doing. I’ll take that up as something to practice this week!

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  2. Dearest Jenny,

    You have a rare and beautiful capacity to describe your inner landscape with unflinching honesty and integrity. While I expect many of your darker corners are experienced with a sense of brutal aloneness, your artistry allows me to feel as though I am accompanying you. And, in my heart’s longing as your Mum, I find myself reaching into wherever I sense you might be to give you comfort and companionship.

    Your testimony continues to model for me the capacity to be present to whatever the moment is offering, to meet both the dark and the light and everything in between, including the unimaginable and unbearable. So our beings expand and grow and somehow through it all, we become more human.

    I thank you for your generous leadership and watch with great interest and respect as you evolve into newer uncharted ways of being.

    Bless you,
    Mama

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  3. Dearest Jenny
    So I understand it seems you are in a difficult perio now.
    Have yoou maybe thought to tallk with a psychologist you know already or someone you have heard of?
    It can help you with your worries and find some rest for your heart and head.
    Lot’s of love Mariejeanne.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this post Jenny, and I agree with Mama, it’s eloquent and honest. I too relate to some of your feelings and whilst I truly wish you weren’t feeling this way, you also help me realise I’m not alone in my thinking too. Much love x x

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    1. I’m so glad that sharing my experience brings someone else even a small bit of comfort. And I’m glad to know about your blog which I just started reading and following. Unfortunately, we are not alone in this– there are way too many of us with breast cancer! But fortunately, we do have each other/a community of women who understand the ups and downs of this “journey.”

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      1. It certainly does x Thank you for taking the time to read my blog too. I have found great comfort in the abundance of a number of online support tools, blogs being one.
        Take care x x

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