A few posts back I wrote about not being able to remember myself before having had cancer. About how my old bedroom was a mausoleum to who I was pre-illness, and sometimes I just wish I could live one day without the weight of cancer survivorship pressing somewhere on my soul.
Nowadays, I don’t really think about who I was before. I’ve matured enough to know that that’s wasted energy—that the only way to go is forward. For the most part, I am a mentally happy and stable person.
However, as I approach another birthday in roughly a month, I find myself reflecting once again on how I have yet to be able to pinpoint what it is I want to be doing with my life. I have many interests and avenues I feel pulled toward—but a constant hesitance at pulling the trigger and whole-heartedly committing to something. And I know there’s some sort of mental roadblock holding me back.
The truth is, more therapy would probably do me a world of good in fixing this. But my last therapist kind of scared me…and I haven’t yet been brave enough to go back.
She began pushing me toward a subject that I refused to acknowledge as valid: that there may be something—however big or small—from BEFORE my cancer diagnosis that continues to hinder me to this day.
Well…I hadn’t considered this—wouldn’t consider this. Since December 2008, I have had the PERFECT excuse for depression, anxiety, hardship…anything: “Well I had cancer.”
I could say that and I didn’t need to say anymore. It was the perfect excuse and—don’t get me wrong—an ACCURATE excuse. I still have the recurring high school nightmares where they tell me I have to go back and finish my last few classes because I didn’t attend enough school days in my last semester—a dream just last night that my parents were tricking me into the car to go get dialysis because my kidneys were failing.
Last month I saw an ad for the annual Young Adult Cancer Survivor Conference held in Colorado. I attended one year, when they held it in Las Vegas, and it was a very good thing for me. I priced out how much it would cost for me to attend this year, and actually approached my parents with the monetary figure and asked that for my birthday, they maybe cover half of the cost for me.
Well of course, life happened, and I found myself needing to prep for other expenses, and so I let the idea of attending again fall by the wayside for this year. What a shame, I thought. It could’ve done me so much good!
And then I thought…would it really?
I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that being with a group of cancer survivors roughly my age, sharing and discussing our experiences and struggles would be SO therapeutic and a very positive thing. But I started thinking…would it really, truly help me launch forward in my life at this point? Is cancer still really to blame for my mental and emotional hang-ups?
And that’s where I’m dwelling now. Because it’s hard to tell without being able to remember what it was like to not have had cancer. To not be stuck with needles every day for a year. To not watch fellow patients—children—die left and right. To not watch the rest of my family struggle at my expense, to not become a toxic waste dump of chemicals with big bald head.
To not feel like an undeserving survivor, because I was so cruel to those around me.
The easiest thing is to blame any hardship I have in life on those things. On those experiences: “Well lately I’ve been struggling with XYZ, and that’s probably because when I was in the hospital in ’09 I talked to this girl in the hospital and the next day she died and…blah blah blah.”
The difference between me now and me a year ago is that a year ago, I just wanted to feel better…to feel good.
Now, I want to be better and be good. And…terrifyingly…that involves acknowledging that there was something a little bit broken about me before I became dangerously ill.
And no one wants to admit that.
Regardless of how often we acknowledge the stigma of depression and anxiety…there IS still a stigma. I’ve just been able to hide behind my cancer diagnosis for 10 years. But the truth is: Even if I had not had cancer in ’08-’09, I would probably still struggle from depression.
I would definitely still struggle from anxiety, given my OCD. But it’s really hard to admit that my emotional lows are probably just emotional lows…not cancer-related lows.
And I know what you must be thinking: if you’d just nut-up and go back to therapy you could get some solid answers.
But it’s not as simple as that for me. Because it IS impossible to go to therapy WITHOUT talking about the cancer. Because even if it isn’t the root of my mental hang-ups, it is a HUGE component and contribution…
I mean, one could argue that the fact alone that I’ve used it as my excuse for so long needs working out and unpacking.
There’s just so f***ing much to unpack.
I will turn 29 on March 25. That means for roughly 11.5 years (138 months…4,140 days) I have blamed all of my mental and emotional issues on a traumatic experience. (A traumatic experience that—no doubt—contributed to those mental and emotional issues).
But my previous therapist is correct: there are things from before December 23rd, 2008, that are the root cause of these issues. The bulk. The true blame.
Another thing I wrote in previous blogs is that I have always felt like there was something intrinsically different about me, and that when I was diagnosed with cancer, it made sense to me.
I have to decide if I’m brave enough to find out why.