Sometimes life-events are so shocking or overwhelming that people react differently than they normal would. This change can be valid, and even necessary at the time, but when things heal or settle, there can come a time when safety mode is no longer effective, and can even be counter productive. That’s where I am.
It all started when I learned my new life expectancy. It actually makes me gag to think of that- “life expectancy”. It’s like putting a sales quota on a person’s life, but getting a discount on their timing. “Be a success, raise your kids, be a superpower in the world, fulfill all your wishes and dreams, make the world a better place, and… uh… hold on… I have a coupon here for thirty years or so off your life…”
That’s a huge challenge and a lot of pressure during a difficult time. So what did I do? I hedged a bet. I used everything I knew and everything I had, I put it all on the table and played my best odds at winning. If I was right, the payoff would be my best chance at life- quality and quantity- I wanted it all. I packed my family and my stuff and moved across the country to better weather and where I could be healthier and more independent.
I don’t regret that decision in-and-of-itself at all, in fact I don’t think I’d be alive right now if I didn’t. For someone with brain cancer, I’m about as healthy and almost as normal as possible, but my coping method did have side effects, and in that regard, I’m ready for a change.
What Happened and Why
During emergency mode in my hometown, everyone found out about my cancer. It brought out a lot of love and support from the vast majority, but I started to see some negativity, ignorance and prejudice too- mostly from strangers and people I didn’t know as well. Given that I was already stressed about my diagnosis, treatment options, effects on my family, and my life expectancy, I chose to cut those people out and be very selective with who else I let in. In retrospect, I think if I was still in my hometown, that would probably still work because I had a big enough inner circle there, but it’s not working very well anymore here and now.
My almost-exclusion of most new people became a problem after the move when I didn’t know anyone. I did make some friends but stayed closed off with most people. I didn’t want to be treated the way so many people had already shown me- writing me off, feeling sorry for me, talking down to me, looking to replace me, No! So I began to put up big blocks on most people. I did take risks and make a very small group of friends, but I limited myself on everything and everyone else. For example, I don’t talk to other parents on a team or at a school event very much because I don’t want to expose “the whole story,” or risk reactions that I’ve seen before. Now I exchange pleasantries and make small talk but keep things shallow and brief. The consequence is that I’m closed off and my family is sometimes too. Relationships formed like that are transactional, shallow, and fake. At some point you’re safe but does that even matter if you’re empty and lonely? I take ownership for my actions, but am looking to move on and wish I knew what to do about my self imposed identity crisis. I don’t want to be the Brain Cancer Lady or take people’s stupid hits but I can’t keep holding back. I want to do more things and meet more people but have some challenges that I need to come to terms with.
So obviously I need to mention what I already know everyone is thinking, “you don’t have to tell people everything, you can keep some things private..”. I know I can and that’s what I was trying to do, but things are different now. For example I take a lot longer to remember people’s names and once they’re there, they still jump right out of my mind pretty often. That’s challenging because in most conversations you address people by name and it looks disrespectful or like you don’t care about them if you don’t bother to address them by name. Other parents ask me who my daughters are friends with and what am I supposed to say? Should I open my notes on my phone and read off the names or maybe describe them, even say where they live but not know their name? That makes me look really fucking stupid and unqualified to be a parent. But the only way it makes sense otherwise is to hand over my medical chart. This is only one of many examples of why I just put people in the Fuckit Bucket, but I am getting tired of that too. I yearn for more inclusion and need to stop hiding from myself.
I’m ready to take the risk of being more vulnerable for the payoff of living a more normal, open, and fulfilling life. I had an emergency mode reaction that stretched on too long and now I want out.
I guess my next step is to figure out how. I’m heading to a school event tonight and maybe I’ll find a friendly soul to have a real conversation with. Hopefully nothing weird will come up- the name thing was one example, I have more… I hope I can just push a little farther outside of my Once Safe But Now Limiting Zone and have some success.
I’m inspired by others and if you’ve gotten over something challenging in life I’d love to read your story. Please feel free to share your blogs, comments, and inspiration!