One Second from Disaster

Why is it that some people seem to live a charmed life.  Nothing bad ever happens to them—they sail through life with nothing major going wrong.

Why is it that some people seem to live a charmed life.  Nothing bad ever happens to them—they sail through life with nothing major going wrong. That is my one question—why?

I get up in the morning with a vague feeling of anxiety that almost never leaves me. I am not one to feel sorry for myself and hate being on the pity pot. Yet I feel jealous of women with their big cleavages and think about what if they got this damn disease. How about all those women with their big manes of hair, so confident that nothing can touch them. Well, this fucking disease doesn’t care about that and this life is a mine field. You can be going along, all smug, posting your “best life” on Facebook, when suddenly your life as you know it comes to a screeching halt. That is how it is—we are all one second away from disaster.

When my friend Janet got the news that she had MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) the disease which ultimately killed her, she called it the “train wreck.” That describes it exactly –a feeling of disbelief and confusion. Any faith that you thought you had is shaken. “How could this be?” you ask yourself, knowing that you are not invincible and the grim reaper has come to your doorstep.

Having had the big C 34 years ago, for some strange reason I felt that was it. I was sure that I would never get cancer ever again—that my turn had come and I came through it.  But that’s not the way things work in the world. So, I put my big girl brave face out there and made it my mission to fight this. I was determined to remain positive and I actually did. On the days I had an infusion for 3 hours I actually was in good spirits. I tried to analyze why that was so and I can only surmise that I felt cared for and loved. My friend would come over, bring me lunch, and we would chat. I guess you would say I did not suffer from many chemo side effects so I was lucky (or blessed depending upon where you come from).

I counted down the chemo cycles (I had 6) and posted pictures of me getting the infusion. People responded and I felt loved again. But a strange thing happened after the last cycle—I felt let down and depressed. One would think I would feel wonderful and relieved but I was just the opposite. I didn’t know what to do with myself and I simply felt abandoned. I was no longer special and my purpose in life, which turned out to be just getting through the chemo, was gone. I felt that I lost my purpose. I have been struggling to get that back and I am having a hard time. People don’t understand how I feel—they think I should be happy, happy, and grateful. I am grateful it is over but I am left with the residual fear of having this return. I think crazy thoughts and get into my own head that I somehow have metastatic cancer and I will surely die of this. I have a mammogram next month and my head tells me that I have cancer in the other breast now.  I speak to other cancer survivors and many of them feel like me, so maybe I’m not unique, but I still can’t shake these feelings.

Logically, I know that we must “live in the day” and not the past or future because you miss the beauty of the moment. Yet I catch myself thinking about 10 years down the road sometimes and it is frightening. I engage in the “what ifs” which only increases my anxiety because the future is fraught with those nasty mine fields.

I know this is not exactly a very inspirational piece but this is how I feel. I have kept this inside of myself and whenever someone asks me how I feel, I simply say, “Fine” or “OK” when I really want to say, “I am fucking depressed and anxious”. But nobody wants to hear that—all they want to hear is that you are good so they can feel good too.

Guilt and Love

I have come to the realization that no matter what I do, no matter how much money I send, it will not be enough. Kind of like alcohol for the alcoholic, there is never enough. But last weekend something came to me, something that my friends had told me for quite some time, something that I knew in my heart of hearts—that I just could not keep giving him money above and beyond what we agreed to. Initially, it started out with $100 a month, but that was not enough. Then his dad agreed to $200 a month to be doled out incrementally by me as I saw fit. Of course I would have saved money by giving him large chunks at once, but I knew the money would be gone within a week or two. However, it is usually gone by early in the month anyway, then the incessant, relentless, phone calls start—multiple in one day. Then last weekend I just stopped taking my boy’s calls, not listening to his messages, and deleted them. This has been very difficult to do this, but I know that the minute I listen to him or hear a phone message, my resolve will crumble. In speaking with my wise friend, Janet, she made a good analogy. When I told her that my giving him money relieves the fear, guilt, and anxiety. She said giving him money is like an addiction; the anxiety and apprehension build up and is relieved only when I send him the money he requests. It is a tremendous relief, and I feel better temporarily, but it starts to build again, and the only relief is when I send him money again. Although there is an overwhelming sense of relief, I also have a sense of tremendous resentment, which equals anger. Then the cycle starts again, over and over. Just like an addiction, I needed to just stop this cycle because it is no good for him because he will never get the help he needs and no good for me because I am continually being drawn into his chaotic world. It is a symbiotic, sick relationship. I have to be strong, and I pray to God that this is the right call and will not result in a tragedy because I will never forgive myself. I just have to trust in the Lord that He knows what I don’t and will some day lead my son out of this never-ending maze to a better life.

Rage

Sudden outbursts of rage have always existed in society and I know that. But, it just seems that I am hearing more and more about this. Maybe it is that it is reported more due to the News literally being 24/7 or is it that people are just in a constant state of frustration and anxiety due to this insane world we live in now. The most recent outbursts have occurred on airplanes due to people being inconsiderate by sitting down and immediately reclining their seats onto someone’s knees or people putting a device preventing them from reclining at all. When I rode the NJ Transit bus from New Jersey to Manhattan every morning, this would happen every so often. I was annoyed but I simply quietly asked the person in the seat in front of me if they could please just move the seat up a little bit because it was hitting my knees. Most of the time they just moved it up and that was the end of the story; incident averted. Conversely, I would do the same if I were the person reclining the seat (although I never put it back where it would hit someone’s knees). But, now some enterprising individual has invented a device that attaches to the seat in front, thus preventing the seat from reclining at all. That is ridiculous because everybody who buys a plane ticket has a right to be comfortable and I think most people are polite enough not to slam the seat back. But, I was not surprised when I heard that a fight broke out severe enough to divert the plane the other day. Then recently another one was reported as well. At first I thought that this was a gross overreaction to something that could’ve been fixed diplomatically but I think the cause is just RAGE; that this was “the last straw.” We live in a society where we often feel like victims of some sort. Most of the time we have no control of situations concerning bureaucracies such as the Healthcare Marketplace, Insurance companies, or other large entities where they call the shots. An example of this is with my own Medical insurance which was inadvertently cancelled last week. Trying to reinstate this has been a monumental chore, having endured endless arguments over the phone and no matter how much cajoling, threatening, crying or whatever I do, nobody can expedite the process without the required red tape. Years ago the famous scene in Network where Peter Finch yells out of an office window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” still resonates with most people. In the movie, when everybody opened the windows and started yelling out the same thing, I wanted to scream, “Right on.” Every day the average person is bombarded with life’s little indignities, and are often forced to just accept the injustice of it all. But I do think that most people are like “sponges” and can only absorb just so much before the inevitable slow leakage occurs. The media only covers the horrific acts of violence such as mass killings that are often the result of years of “just taking it”, as with bullying in school. But what gets overlooked are the average Joe or Jane, whose years of “just taking it” are manifested in high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and mental health issues. Most people have an edit button that prevents them from perpetrating violence (and there are degrees) but some don’t. How many times have we heard people being interviewed after a hostage or mass shooting situation where they say, “I don’t understand it; he was such a nice person. I never even expected this.” The thing is you don’t know what is boiling under a person’s skin. I think that with all the recent insanity in the world (beheadings, ISIS, plane shootings in the sky, HAMAS) and all the little indignities we face in our own lives, it is not unreasonable to expect to recline your seat in a plane and enjoy the solitude away from LIFE for a while. So when an inconsiderate passenger adds yet another measure of indignity to something that should have been pleasurable, we just explode and in our heads we simply say, “Enough is enough. I don’t have control of the world, or my health insurance, or my job, or much else, but I sure as hell have control of whether or not I can recline my seat.” So, I cannot blame the woman who went ballistic at the inconsiderate oaf who decided that he was more important than she was and took that one little pleasure that day away from her.

Adversity Teaches Empathy

It is amazing that so many people take for granted being well and feeling well. There is nothing more humbling than having a debilitating illness or injury to bring you back to earth. I have been one of those athletic people who would look at someone struggling in the gym or out just walking slowly, without trying to understand that each person has a story. I have been struggling for many months with debilitating back pain and severe degenerated right knee. My back and knee pain was so bad that I would have to hobble from bed into the bathroom each morning, walking like I was 85. The constant, unrelenting pain and soreness also affected my state of mind, causing depression. It is so hard to look at the bright side of things when you are hurting over and over and life looks so bleak. It was so humbling and embarrassing on my trip to Guatemala. On the plane I would start to get anxious when we were about to land knowing that my back and knee would be so stiff that it would take a while for me to unbend. Getting up and carrying my luggage out of the plane was torture. I always thought of myself as this physically fit specimen and now I felt like a cripple, limping down the aisle. Things that I used to take for granted, like climbing down the steps of the airplane (in Augusta for some reason you have to climb down these stupid steep steps to get off the plane) caused me so much anxiety—being so afraid that I would fall or need assistance. When you are physically well, things like that don’t even occur to you. Now things that were never issues were now major concerns. Once in Guatemala, I was in constant pain, living on Ibuprofen. It prevented me from going on walking tours and, coupled with me being lonely, I was miserable. When I went on a tour to Panajachel I had to constantly climb in and out of the boat that ferried us from village to village on Lake Atitlan and that was pure torture. Once if it had not been for two guys holding me, I would have collapsed, due to my knee totally buckling under me. Back in the States, it did not get any better and I have since had knee surgery (much more extensive than I thought it would be) and have also had epidural steroid injections to my back. I want to travel now, but I was unable to plan for anything due to the constant uncertainty of my physical condition. Whenever there is a life altering event, whether it be a loss of a job, illness, death, divorce, you always look for a reason. The thing is that I feel there are no coincidences in God’s world and it may not be revealed until years later or weeks, you do not know. I am slowly starting to feel better but being so debilitated gave me real empathy for others. When I see people hobbling slowly across the street I know that there is a story behind it. I have a friend who suffers from MS and is on disability. She is estranged from her family who is totally unsupportive, yet she still perseveres. Another woman I went to school with just finished battling stage 4 uterine cancer, having gone through hell with chemotherapy, major surgery, colostomy, and having to rely on others since she lives alone. Then I look at myself and realize that maybe it is not that bad. Of course, when you are feeling better it is easy to look back and say it was not so bad. I am still having problems with numbness in my body, but maybe this is God’s lesson for me; be grateful for each day that you feel well and don’t take it for granted. It has given me a better understanding of other’s problems and pain, physically and mentally. Nobody has a perfect life, although sometimes it seems that some people do on the outside. It has also given me more of an incentive to change my life because I can appreciate that there are no guarantees that you will be around tomorrow or even later in the day. We take for granted that we have an infinite amount of time to achieve that elusive happiness and that is not true. My friend Janet is now in France with her husband, one among many trips they take. They are living now, not putting off what may never happen if they waited. Being so ill has put a time frame to my plans. I know that I absolutely cannot continue to live a life doing what I don’t want to do. I ask myself sometimes, “when are you most happy.” The answer always comes back, “when I am not at work.” It is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life. I am so consumed with making money due to my upbringing (compulsive gambler dad) when money went flying out the window and life was insecure, that now it is my main focus. Yes, money does buy things I like, but continuing doing what I don’t want to do is killing me over and over. One day I will wake up and it will be my last day on earth and I will die never having taken the big risks and living a life of my dreams and how sad is that?