my monkey brain

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(Warning:  this post is a rambling mess, just like me).

The other day I spent the entire afternoon at the botanical gardens.  I had my Vancouver Trees book clutched in one hand and my umbrella in the other as I wandered around identifying flowering trees in the drippy rain.

In doing this, it struck me that since my diagnosis three months ago, my world has either gotten very small – say about 2.8 cm (the size of my tumour) – or very large.  I don’t know the answer to this, just like I don’t know the answer to anything anymore.

I typically write essays that have a definitive beginning, middle and end, like writers are supposed to do.  Marry that up with a couple of poignant life lessons, and voila:  there’s a tidy story I’m happy to slap my name on.  Lately, I don’t even think in complete thoughts, never mind poignant life lessons.  My mind jumps around like this:

-What did I do to deserve cancer?
-Is it going to rain today?
-Why is the cancer research building so fancy while the patient treatment centre is so shoddy?
-What should we have for dinner tonight?
-Why is the breast cancer world so polarized and politicized?
-How am I ever going to find a swimsuit now?
-Do people know how little of their breast cancer fundraising dollars go into services for actual patients?
-I feel guilty for not needing chemo.
-When can I go for a walk today?
-Why has this been such a shitty year?  Everybody told me when I had to leave my job that when one door closed, another door opened.  But that door wasn’t supposed to be CANCER!  It was supposed to be something BETTER NOT WORSE!  (I think this a lot).
-When is that booking clerk going to call me for my next appointment?
-How many days until I see my adult kids again?
-Why aren’t mental health services offered to newly diagnosed patients?
-Why are the Republicans so cruel?
-Why can’t I motivate myself to work on my book?
-Is the new episode of VEEP on?
-Why have so many of my so-called friends and family dumped me?
-How many steps have I taken today?
-I am over-sharing on my blog?
-Why are people with disabilities so devalued by society?
-Are the Oilers going to drop out of the playoffs so I can get my husband back again?
-How do I accept my new ‘sick person’ identity without getting stuck in being a cancer patient forever?
-When is Aaron going to finally get that sleep study?
-I need to calm the f*ck down.
-Should I delete my Facebook account?
-What’s with the war metaphors and cancer?
-Is radiation going to burn my skin?
-Where is the nest of the bald eagles that fly past our window?
-Is it too early in the day to have a drink?
-Is this Tamoxifen making me sad?  Or is this sadness just situational?
-Are the Liberals going to win our provincial election? (God, I hope not).

I mean, this doesn’t even form an inkling of a well-constructed essay.  This are clearly signs of a ruminating monkey brain.

I am in the in-between days as I wait for radiation. (Teva Harrison eloquently termed the phrase ‘the in-between days’ in her book of the same name).  I am so far from having my shit together, I wonder if my old life was just a carefully curated illusion.  I fear this cancer has triggered a mid-life identity crisis.

On Wednesday, I finally saw a therapist at the cancer agency.  She gently suggested that maybe it is okay to allow myself to be stuck in the mud.  This kind permission helped, a lot.

So while I am stuck with no epiphanies in hand, I am eagerly gobbling up lessons from others further down the path.  Melissa McAllister wrote this fine piece for The Underbelly called Where Are All the Silver Linings four years after her own breast cancer diagnosis.  I lean on her wisdom:

You don’t get to step away from cancer and climb back into your old self. That person is gone in a lot of ways….the only way out is FORWARD. Remember that.

No wonder I feel as if I’ve been disappearing, invisibly inching along the side of the road while the world zooms past me.

Melissa also talks about the steps she has taken to make her feel good and right again.  I’ve only figured out these three things so far (I document these things often on my Instagram account):

1. Go for a walk to look for some beauty
2. Practice being still
3. Try to be kind to myself

Perhaps I have to be okay with not being okay.  Maybe that’s enough for now.  As the dearly-missed Lisa Bonchek Adams said:

Make the most of this day. Whatever that means to you, whatever you can do, no matter how small it seems.

I will endeavour to listen to all these beautiful women who have recently floated into my life.  For if we can’t learn from those who have stared at their own mortality, who can we learn from?

And now I will press publish on this messy, imperfect post. It isn’t that well-constructed and it doesn’t even have a proper ending – but then again, neither do I. xo.

5 thoughts on “my monkey brain

  1. Katharina Staub says:

    Ahh, that illness of perfection. Many of us suffer from it. When did we start thinking that it had to be “perfect” before we published, talked, even thought? What is perfect anyway? This world isn’t. Far from it. I am not, have never been. I ramble most days and jump from one thing to the next. Somehow it makes a life. Not a perfect one. I am grateful for a moment of stillness, a warm exchange, a talk with children. Why are we where we are? Why did it happen? I remember only that I have no control over people, places and things-that includes illness and other life events… as I try to become more still, I am able to let go, a bit. It helps.
    ramble off.

  2. msteele34 says:

    Sue, I think this might be my favourite of your essays I’ve read. You capture what it’s like to be a person struggling to live well and understand. You capture what it’s like to only be able to live in the moment and how that is both a curse and a blessing. I love what you say about only being able to focus on the very small and the very large–that strikes me as the goal of mindfulness/being in the present. You ask a ton of great questions too. We just saw a play last night that was about slavery, the civil war and a Jewish slave owner. One character makes the argument that faith is about asking God why, not about receiving answers. This Jewish Atheist was moved by that. My favourite therapist, Ervin Yalom, focusses a lot on “using the here and now” in the therapy room. By that he means that everything that is going on in a clent’s life outside the therapy room manifests inside the room, but because it is happening now, it is accessible in a way narratives and regrets about the past and wishes/yearnings for the future or not. The present is so very fleeting but so completely meaningful if you notice it the way you are doing now. I love you my friend. I would love to take a mountain walk with you and see your bald eagle and talk about whatever comes to us in no particular order and without the necessity of being clever or structured. xo

  3. sue robins says:

    Oh gosh, finding comments from my eloquent friends is my absolute favourite thing.

    Thank you Katharina for your empathy and for being so real. I know you’ve had your own ride these past few years and that’s where your compassion comes from. xo.

    And Melissa, coming from my writer (and now almost therapist) friend, your words mean a lot. I think you touch on the ultimate truth: we only have this moment. xo.

  4. Amy Elliott says:

    Sue- I read every one of your posts and then think about them for days afterwards. I so appreciate honest, insightful nuggets of wisdom. Or even just honest thoughts in a busy, sometimes superficial world. Thanks for “oversharing”, if that’s what it is. We are coming up on the 1st anniversary of the initial diagnosis for my husband and I find myself looking for your posts in my feed! I relate to many of your mind jumps above, although it wasn’t even my own body dealing with it. The “guilty for not needing chemo” was especially significant.
    Regardless, I just thought I’d share that I think about you almost daily and am grateful for your words. – Amy

  5. sue robins says:

    Amy, I miss you and our little Family Inclusion group in Edmonton so much (I don’t know any families at all at Aaron’s new high school here). Thank you SO much for connecting – it makes me so happy that my words help, even a bit. xoxoxoxo. ps: I love your ‘thanks for oversharing’ – so awesome and perfect. I think sometimes we don’t share enough about what is REAL.

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