Monday, August 11, 2008

Who I was/Who I am

The NY Times, in its ongoing fabulousness, has an article today about coping with identity changes, and I love it.

Two quotes in particular stand out. First,

A critical illness is like a great permission, an authorization or absolving. It’s all right for a threatened man to be romantic, even crazy, if he feels like it. All your life you think you have to hold back your craziness, but when you’re sick you can let it go in all its garish colors.

This is so true. And once the critical illness is over, the permission fades. You were allowed to deviate, given lots of leeway, even permitted to say NO to things and to live your life to maximize health rather than busy-ness. But as time passes, people stop thinking that you are delicate and must be handled with care; they start thinking it's time you stopped whining and started being like everyone else again.

The other quote I loved:

I wanted to be someone, a recognizable personality, a full-blooded, memorable human being, and not just a cancer patient. I had already lost the person I used to be, that healthy, energetic 45-year-old woman. I wasn’t capable of losing more. Other friends had their own spins on claiming individuality in the cancer world.

I alluded to this in an early blog post. At first, I wanted so much to maintain my professional identity, to be the smart, strong person who just happens to be going through cancer treatment. I didn't want to be like those grey, wispy, shadowed people sitting in the waiting room in their headscarfs and their wheelchairs. When I had surgery and couldn't wash my own hair, it was hard to accept help because it just drove home my incapability. When I couldn't walk outside for a full half hour at a time, I felt the loss of my physicality more than I had ever felt its presence.

What the writer doesn't say, and what happened too slowly for me to watch, is that you really can go back to something like your old life, and leave that self-loss behind; but it's almost like a projection of your old life, one rendered in all the same colors and moving in the same patterns, but against a different screen, parallel to the old but never quite touching.

I actually have to fight with myself not to just go the straight denial route, and turn my back on the truth that I had cancer, and ignore anything to do with cancer. Someone close in my social circle just started chemo (her first treatment was on the 2-year anniversary of my last treatment). It is surprisingly hard for me to see her go through this, in part because I just want to deny, deny, deny; and, unexpectedly, her reality becomes a constant undercurrent for me, reminding me of what I experienced and what I am as a result.


Anonymous said...

Wow, very heavy. I shouldn't have read that just before trying to get some sleep. Don't worry, though, no matter what, you'll always be The Schmoopie to me. TYTB & ILYMTYLM!

--Your biggest fan (TJ)

Morgan said...

Very good posting.Carry on..

Anonymous said...

What you observed in not just true for someone with a sudden health problem or disease. When I have gone through divorce, death of a close loved one, and - yes - health crisis, my life has changed and it has never come back to what it was before. Some things are worse and some things are better but all of it is slightly different. I am still me and yet never fully me, never that untried and unchallenged me. I try to give myself more latitude in how I behave and what I do. I think less about what is expected and more about being. And still, I strive to be that person who is untouched by life's lessons, above the pain and discomfort of growth, the me who existed before I knew that life would offer other realities. I want and so I comply. I fear and so I comply. I barter with life to keep myself safe and so I comply. I deny but not fully. It is always there.

laurie said...

Wow, wow, wow. This is brillian, Jenny. And beautifully written. I feel the same way about the ghosts in the cancer centre and want to be seen as strong and vibrant and active and HEALTHY, even though I have cancer. What a great post.

Jenny said...

Thanks, Laurie! I'm such a fan of your blog, I feel like I got a gold star with this comment. :-)

What I didn't say is--I wonder about those ghosts themselves; probably most feel exactly the same way. Which makes me sad.

calvin said...

I Am that I Am (Hebrew: אהיה אשר אהיה‎, pronounced Ehyeh asher ehyeh [ʔehˈje ʔaˈʃer ʔehˈje]) is a common English translation (King James Bible and others) of the response God used in the Bible when Moses asked for His name (Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah.[citation needed] Hayah means "existed" or "was" in Hebrew; "ehyeh" is the first person singular imperfect form. Ehyeh asher ehyeh is generally interpreted to mean I am that I am, though it more literally translates as "I-shall-be that I-shall-be." men feel better use Generic Cialis will make u forget ur problems and it will lose ur stress. The word Ehyeh is used a total of 43 places in the Old Testament, where it is usually translated as "I will be" -- as is the case for its first occurrence, in Exodus 3:14—or "I shall be," as is the case for its final occurrence in Zechariah 8:8. It stems from the Hebrew conception of monotheism that God exists by himself, the uncreated Creator who does not depend on anything or anyone; therefore I am who I am. Some scholars state the Tetragrammaton itself derives from the same verbal root, but others counter that it may simply sound similar as intended by God, such as Psalm 119 and the Hebrew words "shoqed" (watching) and "shaqed" (almond branch) found in Jeremiah 1:11-12.