Sunday, November 15, 2015

Day 1,891: Headlines

This is the longest I've ever gone without writing here: 26 days. I have been living in a constant state of ennui, which is much more accurate than saying anything about "writer's block." I started writing a novel, a lifelong goal of mine, and got about 15 pages in, and then I stopped that too. I will go back to it--I have promised myself that much. But I have been feeling ambivalent about much more than just writing. Perhaps everything that's happened over the last five and a half years, or the last 40, is catching up to me. I feel vaguely depressed, the opposite of the anxiety that led me to be so active and productive during treatment. I feel isolated in myself and disinterested in general. We have had some fairly stressful times over here over the last month or so for reasons I won't get into, and the reasons I won't get into that are what has led me to write today, after all this time.

People have suggested, in the past, that therapy is a good thing for people with cancer. I'm sure that's true. We thought it might help Augie when he was going through those horrible, crushing night terrors, but it didn't, not really. He liked the therapist and appreciated her general calm. He enjoyed playing with her and talking to her. But his night terrors did not end until my chemo ended. We all knew what was wrong with him and what it would take for him to be less angry: he needed his mother to not have cancer anymore. Of course, I could still have cancer, right now--we don't know. But in his four year old mind, my cancer left with chemo, and he began to sleep peacefully again, no longer fighting death in his dreams.

And so I haven't gone to therapy. And yet, I have, of course, gone to therapy--right here, in this blog. But I know what my problem is. I know what I need to say about it in order to process what is happening, and I would never say it out loud--that's why I write it. I am not denigrating the value of therapy. I am not in denial about the isolating and scary and sad effects of two cancer diagnoses in my thirties. One of my biggest issues has been feeling overwhelmed by all of the things I have to do in my life, as a full time mother and worker and general human being, all while very functionally handling the fact that I have had a very serious and aggressive disease that has shown its intention to stay with me, all while knowing that my power over its return is minimal and that if it decides to go rogue, I will die. So therapy has seemed like one more thing there is to do, and I have chosen to spend time doing other things that make me feel sane, such as work out and write.

But there's another reason I haven't gone to therapy, and it's something that's been true about the way I have seen the world all my life.

I just can't accept that my problems are very meaningful. They are, in one sense. I have written many times about my belief that suffering and grief are real, and that we should bear witness to them, no matter how they manifest.

And yet at the end of the day, it is impossible to deny the suffering and grief that exists in every corner of the world that so far eclipses everything I have experienced or will experience that it seems selfish to focus on how I feel.

I grew up in a house where feelings of self pity were met with comparisons to what Jews had suffered in the Holocaust. It's a long story why that was the case, and it is somewhat beside the point. Eventually I argued with this, when I was maybe 12, and said that I could both acknowledge the immense suffering of people throughout history and have legitimate emotions of my own. My mother heard me, and the comparisons stopped.

The thing is--those comparisons were true. Hearing them shaped me in a way I would never change.

I always think like this, about what people have suffered, about what the ultimate potential is for evil, and my own life is brought into perspective. What's hard now is admitting that I feel I've suffered at all, because it all seems so...pedestrian.

I've written, mostly in my other blog, about sexual abuse and harassment, though I haven't given details about the stories that really matter. I think these things are more important now that I am a parent--my responsibility for other people's lives makes me see my younger self differently. And so I begin to think these things matter, and then I read this:

human trafficking victim says she was raped 43,200 times.

I think about any type of physical suffering, about cancer or all the times I've cheated death, about any kind of pain or even the mortal fear of having the cold metal of a gun at my temple, and then I recognize

130 people killed in terrorist attacks in Paris

150 killed in terrorist attacks in Kenya

7 year old girl found dead in creek 25 minutes after being reported missing from high school football game

nine killed by shooter in church, racism was the motive

man disembowels fiancé with his own hands

mass grave found in Mexico, 60 bodies uncovered

9 year old killed on Chicago's south side was targeted, executed

the headlines that remind us of the refugee crises around the world, the extreme poverty, parents being forced to watch their children's murders, rape camps, bombings.

I am not saying that I find the reality of the world depressing, or that I feel paralyzed by it. What I am saying is that I find the reality of the world to be real. I find it difficult to focus on my own emotions, or to even feel my own emotions in a full way, and that is not to say that I am deadened or detached. I recognize the beauty in life every day, and that is what makes the headlines so astoundingly sad--that there are people who believe it is their right to make others suffer, to attempt to strip the beauty of anyone's individual world away from them. I refuse to sugarcoat the repulsive or attempt to find the positive or the meaning in senseless acts of selfishness that destroy people's lives.

Suffering is real and it is not deserved. Horror is not something that happens to other, lesser people. Death is not always dignified. Everything does not happen for a reason, or at least not a good one.

These statements are not depressing. Perhaps that is what I have been saying for all of these years. Some suffering and pain are just a part of life, but some can be, and should be, stopped. We cannot truly be empathetic if we believe that everything will turn out just fine, as if the world is filled with magic. The magic in the world is created by people who make decisions to make the world a magical place. The horror of the world is created in much the same way. When the magic is broken and horror seeps in, it is not our place to try to justify injustice in order to make ourselves and our chances seem more favorable. It is our place to bear witness, to recognize that the things that happen in the world and that people experience are real. It is our place to try to make sure that fewer horrible things happen. If we cannot realistically do that, we have to at least acknowledge that they have happened. We must recognize that the terrible things that happen could happen to any of us, that odds are just that. If your life has not been pulled out from under you, it is not because you deserved better.

I think about this all the time, about all of the people I am not, and the arbitrary nature of my luck. I do not think I deserve to have had this luck any more than anyone else, but I do hope to live my life in such a way to be worthy of it. I have not felt worthy of late. And so after a long time, I wrote this, because that is what I do. I do not do it because I think my words are important. I do it because words enable me to give power to context and perspective to life. We are all everything to some and nothing to most. Let us focus on the everything.


  1. Good that you got that out. Soon you will start feeling better. You are absolutely right; in the grand scheme of things, our problems are meaningless crap. But they are very meaningful in the context of our own lives. And your life is precious to those in it, even if you are not particularly feeling it right now. So process a bit, then write that book.

  2. I think we are alike in many ways. I also come from a family of Holocaust survivors so we measure pain and grief on a very different scale. I'm also very attuned and sensitive to the suffering in our community, country and around the world. This week in particular has silenced me. I couldn't take it. And while it's easy to compare pain and suffering, it's not helpful either. I try to take on the mantra that pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. And yes, there is always someone who has it worse than you but that does not discredit or diminish your experiences. I sometimes have to remind myself of this. I don't always practice what I preach. But, I am going to therapy. This was the last thing I did in the way of self care. I needed to do this. I was losing myself completely after treatment ended. It was insane. I needed help.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Therapy helped me through cancer, and so did meditation with other cancer survivors.

  4. Going through your posts (while laughing and crying), and to think I found you via a search for French children's clothing! Don't stop writing...

  5. Going through your posts (while laughing and crying), and to think I found you via a search for French children's clothing! Don't stop writing...

    1. wow that is wild! I am glad that you came to read and found something here that touched you. thank you!