Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Pursuit of the Elusive Normal

Try to imagine this.

One day you're walking along, innocently minding your own business, when out of the blue you're randomly selected from the crowd to be kidnapped and brutally tortured by a gang of sadistic sociopathic terrorists.

These evil thugs hold you hostage and threaten to kill you. They torture you, they humiliate you, they isolate you. They take all your money, they lock you inside your own house and tell you they'll kill you if you try to leave. They deprive you of food and sleep; they cut you and stab you and poison you until you're so sick and weak you can barely stand up. They mutilate you and disfigure you until your own family wouldn't recognize you. They do this again and again, over and over, for six months, constantly threatening to kill you if you refuse to submit to their torture. They threaten to kill you if you don't have a "positive attitude." Though of course if the whim strikes them, they're always reminding you, they might kill you anyway, no matter what you do, just for the hell of it.

And then suddenly one day they're bored with torturing you and decide to leave you alone. "But don't be so sure we're really finished with you," they warn with an evil laugh as they're slithering out the door. "Because there's a damn good chance we'll come back for you. It could be any time: maybe tomorrow, maybe next month, maybe a year from now. Never forget: we've got your number, lady, and we know where you live. Nobody can stop us if we decide we want you again, nobody."

They slam the door and they're gone. Silence. You weep with relief. You still feel weak, your body is wracked with constant pain and fatigue, you look terrible, you're forever branded with the social stigma of having been assaulted and violated, but at least, thank the Universe, you're alive!

You struggle to pull yourself back up on your feet and set about trying to resume your normal life. Sometimes you feel giddy with happiness and gratitude, but then other times you feel inexplicably empty and depressed. You try to go about your business, but you can't seem to concentrate. You can't focus on what it is you're supposed to be doing. Your mind is in a fog. The future seems uncertain, you're nervous and jumpy. Every sudden noise might be them, coming back to get you.

"Relax!" your friends tell you. "It's over! Don't be so paranoid. Sure, they might come back some day, but then anybody might get hit by a bus on the way to work tomorrow. You can't live in constant fear. Forget about it, and just live one day at a time."

You try. You really do. And sometimes you manage. You try to go out and do "normal" things, the things you used to enjoy. People stare at you when you go out in public, but you put on a brave smile. You try to engage in small talk. You struggle to keep up. You try to stay active. It's been two months now, your energy and stamina should be bouncing back, but you're still so tired. The fatigue tackles you without warning and grinds your soul into the ground. You have crying spells that just won't stop. The poison doesn't seem to be leaving your body as fast as it should. You wonder if it ever will. Your hands and wrists and feet still hurt unbearably where the nerves were damaged, but you don't want to complain.

Because frankly, people are sick of hearing you whine. The novelty of hearing about your horrible experience has worn off and now they're ready to move on. Your support network drifts away. Come on, you tell yourself, act right for gods sake! You're sick of feeling sorry for your self, and you want to move on too. What the hell is wrong with me, you wonder. Why can't I get over it and snap out of it and have my normal life back again?

And what the hell is normal anyway? You sit and stare at the wall for two hours, and you honestly don't have any idea.

22 Comments:

Blogger layne said...

I can't offer you any real solace. It is what it is. I do believe it will be better in the future.

Don't think that because the support net has drifted away, that means there's something wrong with you for not bucking up. People who love you and have the best intentions turn back toward their own "normal," whatever that is. They don't mean to leave you needing, but it happens. Don't be hesitant to tell them you still need them and explain the new aspects of this need.

It's a gorgeous day in Acadiana and spending some time outside would probably do you some good. The dogs would like it too.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Corley said...

I think that you are acting COMPLETELY normal about the last eight months or so. Damn Liz! You've been through some really nasty shit and your life is still changing because of it. Be depressed and bitch and whine and complain here all you want. I know that there are MANY people who will not drift away. We know that this isn't "a moving personal account of a woman's struggle with cancer," it is a documentation of your life. It will be tragic, funny, angry, or boring on any given day (If you ever seen my blog you know I often stay on the safe side of boring), but "at least, thank the Universe, you're alive!" to share it with us.

I originally stopped by to direct you to this story on NYTimes Online:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/17/us/17weight.html?th&emc=th
I saw it and thought of you. Maybe you will find it interesting? Girls! Encouraged to be strong! ONLY in Florida?

1:11 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Liz,

I'm a just-turned-27-year-old thyroid cancer survivor - just finished my treatment in January. I was a fan of your blog back when you posted at Granny Vibe, long before the tumor, and I was so sad and worried when your blog disappeared, but so glad when Skwigg wrote that you had a new site. Thyroid cancer is far less deadly than what you went through, but I still completely relate to your experiences and I totally felt you on this post. Now that all the tumor-zapping is over, you're left to pick up the pieces and re-learn how to live, and it's a lonely lonely place, even if you have a great support network. Anyway, no platitudes from me - just wanted you to know there are others (survivors too) out here who get it and we're listening to how you're mucking through and looking for our own clues!!! :) good vibes.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Sassy Pants said...

You'll have to forgive my horribly inadequate analogy but I couldn't help thinking about relationships as I was reading your post. In some ways, you and your cancer had a relationship. It was disfunctional, intimate, and intense and you managed to end it. (Whoop!) If you think about what "they" say about relationships when they end - that it takes about half as long as it lasted to "get over it" once it's ended - you have every right to not know which end is up. (I'm not sure how your actual relationship is fairing, so you may even be experiencing a double whammy).

I spent the last three days ranting and raving about my ex-husband to various friends and he's been out of my life for a year and a half. Plus, I have a wonderful new boyfriend. I felt like an idiot, telling myself, "shouldn't you get over this?" Perhaps I should, but that's not how it works. Something reminded me of a past wrong and I couldn't help myself. And you're getting both psychological AND physical reminders.

It's not necessarily comforting to know there will continue to be days like this, but I'd sure as hell consider them normal.

And we're all here for you. Whine away!

4:22 PM  
Blogger MzNicky said...

Liz: Visiting here from Twisty's place. I send the URL to my husband, the thyroid cancer guy, so now we can both visit your site. I'm glad you're here. I hope you know what a service you're providing with this blog.

I don't think you ever get over chemo. It's been going on 8 years since I had mine and I know I've never completely gotten over the physical effects of that, and the radiation. I spent a couple of years wondering when I'd get back to "normal" and then gave up, realizing I didn't know what "normal" meant anymore. The crying jags? Oh yes. Everything you're describing sounds so familiar.

I think of whatever life there is after cancer as the Sword of Damocles, always dangling overhead. But I love your random terrorism metaphor too. Yes, exactly.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Citygrrrrl said...

as i have read through your blog, i can't help but keep thinking of a star wars episode i saw eons ago. doctor whatever his name, was performing some procedure on someone and commenting that back in the dark ages they would have cut the guys leg off and how backward it all was back then. and all he did was wave his magic wand over the leg and it was healed.

i keep thinking how barbaric these procedures are for cancer, but right now, that's all they've got.

you have survived torture, and all of a sudden you are supposed to go back to "normal" while moving yourself out of the big purple house.

talk about post traumatic stress disorder.

there doesn't seem to be a day that goes by that i don't think of you. as a matter of fact i was starting a long email to you this morning, (t is in town and there is gossip) but got distracted by the damn sparrows, and being ever muddle-headed went on to other silly things.

please know we are all here for you and you are in our thoughts. just tell us what you need and we will be there. it will get better.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Ya Looblue said...

please try to believe me (us) when i attempt to tell you that you're not whining. second of all, even if you were, i for one would stay firmly planted behind you with a kazoo singing your theme song whenever the hell you needed it.
huge hugs.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Man, you need a friend to come over and share tea and just rub your shoulders and listen.

(I think that?) You're so new to that town that you don't seem to have the ring of folks that most people have when they've been rooted awhile.

This may sound like total crack to you, but you might want to check and see if there is a local Stephen Ministry. One of these fine folks would be happy to spend a bit of time with you, just being.

Their mission statement is pretty much all about helping people who are in crisis, and you could do with a bit of company.

*raises a mug of rooiboss tea in your general direction, and signs off*

Peace.

11:20 PM  
Blogger johnieb said...

Holy Moly, MzNicky Darlin'

I just discovered tonight through GB where Liz is kickin ass these days, or more accurately, kicking and kicking back.

Damitol, Liz, I so missed ya when you signed off back in whenever the fuck it was. Remember: if you don't feel like doin it for any reason, you can always talk about it, with grace and style.

Love y'all: yeah, damitol, all y'all.

11:36 PM  
Blogger johnieb said...

Oh Liz! Really? Oh Liz!

Thanks be to God: Creator of the Universe, which sometimes comes through after all, but still is what it is.

11:43 PM  
Blogger MzNicky said...

johnnieb: First off, what is "GB"?

Second off, I posted a comment at TGW yesterday observing what a small blog world it is that Liz had popped up in a thread there on the VERY SAME DAY! that I found her blog via Twisty's. Unfortunately the cotton-pickin' HaloScan ate it and I was too lazy to reconstitute it.

Now I'll have to tune in tomorrow to see how Liz's hair looks this week.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Marn said...

When my mom-in-law had her bowel cancer surgery, the surgeon told her to expect it to take a year for the effects of general anesthesia to wear off. Her surgeon told her to expect a year of unexpected depression and mood swings, because anesthesia is basically a powerful depressant.

I don't know if you had to go under general anesthesia at any point in your treatment, but there's one physical possibility.

I can testify to the mood swings. My mom-in-law had some doozies.

When my mom-in-law began chemo, they also told her that it would take a year for her body to purge out all the chemicals. She didn't make it long enough post-chemo for us to know if that would be true and she died on Christmas Day.

From what the surgeons and doctors told us, what you are experiencing seems normal. Incredibly painful, but normal and nothing to beat yourself up over.

I'm so sorry that even survival is painful. Thank you for sharing the journey. It's been an eye opener.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

Have you tried Capsaisin Cream for the nerve pain? I know that it ususally used in diabetics but I think it has also been prescribed for cancer patients. I've never used it so I can't be sure but it might be a thought.

http://dermnetnz.org/treatments/capsaicin.html

I'm so glad you're back to blogging again. I sincerely hope you can find a network of people in your area to talk with in person. I think what you are going through is "normal" but that probably doesn't help one iota...

2:01 PM  
Blogger Lymphopo said...

Thanks, folks. It IS normal, it's very common, it's even typical to the point of chliche. I know it's normal, and I do have other cancer people to talk to, and they mostly go through the exact same stuff. I just felt like writing about it here and telling the rest of the world what it's like. Try to imagine this.

2:11 PM  
Blogger johnieb said...

MzNicky,

firstly, "GB" is greenbeing, our newbie to whom I owe the link back to Liz (I hope she's using that here; what's the new moniker?). I owe ya big, GB.

WHAT A COINCIDENCE: THE SAME DAY! Excuse the incoherence: I'm just so happy I'm gonna drop one wing and run around in circles.

2:16 PM  
Blogger pocketina said...

Hi...I just found your blog through Twisty's, and I am really impressed by your spirit. This post gave me pause, that you've been hit by feelings of guilt at being vulnerable. I know we all feel this way or get the sister symptom: those of us that had lesser diagnoses tend to apologize for not having been hit harder, which blows my mind.

There's nothing good that comes from cancer, there's nothing life-enriching about it (and certainly nothing wallet-enriching about it) but those of us who've experienced it spend the next decade or so contemplating it, sizing it up, fending it off, cutting it away...trying to remember who we were before we were cancer patients.
I wish you every possible best chance at forgetting all about this, body & mind & soul.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Simply the truest piece of writing I have ever read describing how being "though with treatments" is a far, far cry from "being through"

Lisa
only five more infusions. . .

1:28 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

describing how being "through with treatments" is a far, far cry from "being through."



damn chemo brain

1:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Simply the best analogy I have ever read about what it feels like to lose a piece of the freedom that good health gives us. This morning I woke up with terrible pains and for about 45 minutes I thought Oh my god it has come back. Then I realized oh no I just have cramps. Really not too many people could possibly understand that fear.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Aloha~Michelle said...

I know that you are tired of hearing us as well...telling you what an inspiration you are, telling you how much we look up to you, how much we admire your courage, takeing all we can from your story to help us...but it is all true. You are an inspiration to me, I do admire you, your courage amazes me, and I am in awe of your strength. I know that it doesn't always feel like strength to you...you just do what you must in order to survive. And I won't condesend to 'thank' you. But I will say that I selfishly take all the inspiration and motivation I can from your blogs and that I will continue to do so. And that I know there is no such thing as normal in the 'human world' Normal is a setting on my dryer.
Stay Strong,
Michelle

7:44 PM  
Blogger Aloha~Michelle said...

I know very well that you also get tired of us. Telling you how much we admire you and look up to you and appreciate you. You never asked to be admired or appreciated or looked up to, only to live in your own home, lift weights, and pursue happiness. But I will admit that I selfishly gain so much from reading your blog and I plan to continue for as long as you do. I won't be so silly as to "thank" you, but I must tell you that even if bravery is really just the steadfast will to live, then I am in awe. And if a positive attitude is really just the only way to deal with the most negative of circumstances without imploding, then I respect and admire you. And if living life to the fullest is really just what you learn to do when you think it will be taken away, I am still your biggest fan. Please have a wonderful day, and know that you are loved. By all of us and by the universal us.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

I'm very glad you wrote this here. My Mother is due to end her chemo in the next week, for a while at least, and this helps me understand what she'll be experiencing. I didn't realize it took that long for the effects to wear off. This is invaluable information for me. Thanks for sharing :)

Your hair is looking fantastic!! :) As are you {{Hug}}

1:25 AM  

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