Thursday, February 23, 2012

Post 27: Ups and Downs. Healing the mind as well as the body

Why is it that we feel we have to put on the fake smile and pretend everything is just perfect? You know you do it. I am so guilty of it. People casually say, "Hi, how are you?" or ask if you need help. The response is usually, "Oh, I'm fine! I don't need anything, but thanks anyway!" We are not going to get an award or a cookie for being perfect and pulled together at all times. I'm not saying walk around and be a rude grump to everyone. But we are human and we are far from perfect. I have been trying my best this past week to ask for help. I am stubborn and hard headed. I've also learned I am a control freak. I don't like to let go and let people do things for me. I am working on this and trying to let people in. And thank you to those who have just insisted and won't take no for an answer. I have some good friends I am so grateful for.
The other day someone said to me, "Oh, you're just so strong and you are handling all of this so well!"  In all honesty, I'm really not! Not even close! Each day feels like a mountain to climb. Once the day is over, I collapse on the couch and I am done. Then it starts all over the next day. When I hear that word strong I feel like this is a silly description for me. If only you could see me break down into the ugly cry at home. I have been one of those guilty ones of putting on the fake smile and just pushing through, only to loose it the moment I walk in my house. My husband really is the only one I usually let see me like this. He is constantly my hero and peeling me up off the floor.

Yes, I have had wonderful days. Days I am so grateful for. Days I feel good, and I am happy. Don't get me wrong, I consider myself extremely lucky. I have a beautiful, healthy baby girl and an amazing husband. A beautiful safe home. A great job. So I don't deserve to have a pity party right? That's what I tell myself and that's why I beat myself up constantly. I don't deserve to feel sorry for myself. So many have it much worse. This is where I have learned a valuable lesson from a dear friend and co-worker who has fought cancer herself. She has taught me that I need to allow myself to mourn, be human, take a day off to cry if I need it. This is what will help heal me. If I am not good to myself, I will be no good to others.

As I have been recovering from surgery and doing my chemo treatments, I still have days at home where that smile is nowhere to be found. My home is my safe place where I can wrap myself up in a blanket and close out the world if I need to. Some days I get lost in a mental funk and I feel like I am spiraling into sadness I can't shake. There are days I have trouble sleeping and have no appetite… some mornings it takes me an hour to eat a piece of toast. There are days I don't feel like talking to anybody and would lie in bed in the morning, dreading the thought of getting up and starting the day. There are days I am listless and have zero interest in doing anything. Some days I am in pain and don't even want to look at myself in the mirror. No amount of concealer can cover those dark circles, and the baggy shirts don't take away the fact that I have a bag of crap attached to my stomach and I feel disgusting. There are days at home I curl up in a ball and sob until I couldn’t cry anymore, only to repeat the emotional breakdown a few hours later.

There will be days like that...... And they will pass.

A big challenge I am having right now is not wanting to get out there and be social. I'm finding that I have become a little withdrawn lately, and feel like a lot of people just don't know what to say to me anymore. I fear running into someone I know who thinks I wear a giant sign that says. "COME TALK TO ME ABOUT CANCER!"  I understand, maybe people feel awkward and they want to show their concern and ask lots of questions about, but I just want to get out and be normal like everyone else. I just can't handle another conversation about  how someone they know suffered through cancer only to die in the end. Why people feel the need to tell me these stories? I will never know. I remember when I was pregnant, people loved talking about how they almost died during child birth. Why do people do this!!?? It's just mean. I find myself afraid to go to the store because I just don't have the energy to put on my fake smile and listen to people's unthoughtful comments. To avoid these conversations, sometimes I just want to be alone and stay home, but at the same time I feel so extremely lonely. It's a very frustrating feeling. I want people to remember that I am a real person with a real life going on despite all of this cancer stuff.  I'm a mother, wife, sister, daughter, teacher, photographer. I love to cook and sip on wine, I love the outdoors and I love my friends and family. I love to laugh, I love to dance. I love music.

I long for the days before my diagnosis. I miss the old me so much my heart breaks when I look at old pictures. I want  my life back. I want ME back. The playful silly me. The creative quirky me. Just the gal with the curly red hair. I want to be normal again. At times I feel like I am trapped in a bubble. I can see everything I want to do, but when I try it feels so out of reach. Chemo has made me so exhausted that I just don't have the energy to do the things I love right now. I miss that girl inside of me that I used to be. She will come back out someday. I know she is still there. I just have to find her again.

The most valuable lesson I have learned from some good friends, and I can't believe it has taken me 33 years (and 4 months after surgery) to get this through my hard head:  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.

Some people say, "Oh, I know so-and-so who was on chemotherapy, and she came to work everyday during her chemotherapy and never missed a day. She acted like it didn't phase her! So I'm sure you'll be fine!"  When people say things like this to me it makes me cringe. I know they might be trying to encourage me, and I still smile and say,"That's great! Good for her!" But it used to make me feel so defeated. What's wrong with me? I go home and cry and can't get out of bed. But so-and so is such a trooper. Why can't I be more strong like that?? 
I have realized now that I never need to compare myself to others. Ever again. It eats at my spirit and brings me down. Now what I'm really thinking is either that person is (A) a robot, or (B) they are having emotional breakdowns at home behind closed doors that no one sees JUST. LIKE. ME.
I am pretty sure the answer is B.

No matter who you are, everyone is going through some kind of struggle in their life. Whether it's cancer, divorce, loss of a loved one, healing after an illness, depression or anxiety issues, relationship problems, stress at work, being apart from your family. Everyone is going through something tough. Everyone has a story. Everyone is smiling to cover a wound.

NEVER, EVER, EVER compare yourself to others and think, "they are so strong and they seem like their life is so perfect. What's wrong with me? Why can't I be stronger and be happy all the time like that? Why am I so weak?" STOP DOING THIS TO YOURSELF. Everyone is going through their own battle. I am trying to remind myself of this daily. You are you. I am me. That is all we can be.

Oh, and good news. I am officially 1/2 way through my treatments! I completed my 14 day chemo cycle and did not get Hand & Food Syndrome this time!!! Yay! Three more rounds to go.


  1. I love this. Thinking of you!!!

  2. Meredith, I want you to know that even though you don't feel strong, I still think you are! You may not want to get up some days, but you still do. You may not want to deal with life, but you still do. You have experienced such an incredibly hard situation and you still strive to be the best mom, wife, teacher, friend, photographer you can. If that's not a sign of strength, I don't know what is! I can't say that I understand what it's like to live with cancer but I can say that I think you're brave for sharing your experience and your heart. I think about you often and continue to pray for your healing- physically, mentally and psychologically. I know you will have good days and you will bad days but I hope and pray that you know there are lots of people who are on your side and pulling for you.

    Lots of Love!

  3. I just want you to know that I think you are an amazing young woman. I know I have yet to meet you, but I have followed your journey through your BLOG and family, and Phillip is a very lucky man and Elise has a mother she will be proud of. I love your honesty, and I know sharing your experience will help many people with their life challeges. I am proud to call you a member of my extended family, and I pray for your healing and happiness always. You are a very lucky lady to have such a wonderful support group, but they are lucky to have you in their lives also. You are stronger than you know!