What if You are Not so Happy
This is a rather difficult, but important, post to write. Yesterday, I met with a woman whom I have been seeing very regularly for several years. Over the course of those years, she has had three separate cancers (breast, ovarian, and thyroid). Each was diagnosed at an early stage, treated, and she likely will stay well from those cancers. But she carries an unusual gene mutation that increases the odds of another cancer developing, and she is painfully aware that any previous life as a happy-go-lucky-sure-of-her-good-health woman is gone.
There have been other disappointments in her life, and she has struggled for many years with depression. Very fortunately, a new treatment for depression has been succesful, and she is learning to live without that cloud. Knowing her, watching her, talking with her as she has begun to experience life without depression has been instructive and amazing. Not being depressed does, unfortunately, not mean that she (or any of us) is automatically happy and fulfilled. It just means that the ground feels pretty solid under our feet and that we have a fighting chance to building and living a satisfying life. For her, it has meant the first opportunity to really examine her feelings, her choices, her relationships, and her history--and to not always like what she finds.
Important note here: She encouraged me to write about her and even said I should use her name. I won't do that.
Yesterday, when we met, she told me that she always reads this blog and is frustrated/irritated that I always sound so happy. She went on to say: "What do you do if you are a f****ing a***** and everyone around you is cheerful?" Suspect that the general air of good cheer is more intense during this holiday season.
She wrote me to say: " I'm bored, unfulfilled, connectionless.and alone and i am not feeling sorry for myself
i had no great love affair that brought me to an unexpected place.
so how do i live with an unfulfilled life? a lonely life. how do i accommodate this? how do i live with these things,
and these facts, being unfulfilled and alone, may never change about my life."
These thoughtful words are an excellent example of an existential crisis, a crisis that is exascerbated by a cancer diagnosis and the personal invitiation to mortality that accompanies it. Three cancer diagnoses in a short period is more than anyone could manage. Yet, manage she did. She worked full time, took care of herself, stayed in contact with family and friends. She comported herself with dignity and great courage.
Last weekend she had an incredible experience that really proves her intellect and wits and composure. Walking on the edge of the road on a dark, rainy night, she saw a car coming directly at her. It was too late to get out of the way, and she reported that her only thought was: "If I fall down, he will run over me and kill me." Determined to remain upright, she jumped up on the hood of the car and banged on the windshield with her umbrella. I was amazed by this story, and am astonished all over again as I type these words. I don't think that I could have thought or reacted so quickly, and she clearly saved her own life by her fast actions.
Saved her own life, but is still feeling unfulfilled and unsure of her place in the universe and too stuck. I know that my writing about her does not solve these concerns, but I surely hope it demonstrates my admiration. And I hope that some of you may relate or comment and appreciate the challenges of life after cancer when you are just determined to "go on, going on" without any underlying sense of gratitude or delight or excitement about life. Some days it has to be enough to "just be". And to somehow sustain enough faith or hope or grit to believe there will be better days.