The day before I started radiation and chemotherapy, we sat on my aunt’s dining room table trying to figure out how to make the coming seven weeks as bearable as possible. It was a warm day towards the end of April and I mostly sat in silence, feeling like I couldn’t possibly contribute anything meaningful to the conversation. I think part of it was that I didn’t quite believe that I had the capacity to bear those coming weeks but I knew I had no choice so I figured the honest thing to do was nod and hope against hope that somewhere along the way, their faith rubbed off on me. So I said that I needed comfortable clothes and then I just listened to everyone talk.
They said the obvious things. They were going to be there with me every step of the way; that they no doubt that I could get through it, that I was loved, that seven weeks in the grand scheme of things, in the story of my life, was barely anything. That it would pass; that I would get back to living my life soon.
They were right about most things. Except those seven weeks, in the grand scheme of things, in the story of my life, were everything.
The night after I first my first round of radiation, I tried to visualise the remaining thirty four rounds on my phone’s calendar. I found myself wishing that I wouldn’t get a break on the weekends so my treatment time could be shortened to five weeks. I knew it was a dangerous thing to wish for. I needed the weekends to recover. Those weekends gave me a fighting chance. So then it hit me that in that moment, given the choice, I would choose death in five weeks over survival in seven. Never in my life, have I wanted to opt out of anything so badly. So I took nap and when I woke up, I promised myself that to the best of my ability, I would have no feelings whatsoever about the treatment process. It is simultaneously the best and worst decision I’ve ever made. I did what I thought I needed to do to survive but I also killed so much of myself.
I know this isn’t entirely fair. That even if I hadn’t shut down, that version of myself would have still died. There’s so much about surviving that’s just dying over and over again. But every now and then I try to pinpoint the exact moment I lost the person I’d been before I got sick and I go back to that night sitting on a brown couch in the corner, making this solitary, unspoken decision, in some ways, still choosing death. I spent so many hours curled up in that corner, shrinking and blending into that couch that by week four, people couldn’t even tell that I was lying there. If survival is about dying then life is a journey through graveyards. My most significant grave is a brown couch that I hardly ever sit on anymore. I wonder if that’s on purpose. If I start digging, would I discover some part of myself tangled up in the brown, sleeping the pain away?
The entry in my journal on twenty-seventh May 2019 reads:
“Hey you! It’s been a hot minute. Shit went really south. It’s almost over though. I really hope to all that’s holy that it is. That the first round of treatment does the trick. I can’t say that I handled it well. I dealt with it by retreating to the unfeeling parts of myself. I have been on an avoidance tour for months! Occasionally, I’d come back up to myself but mostly I just didn’t feel. But I’m coming back to life again.”
Spoiler alert, I wasn’t. Heck, I didn’t even know what life looked like. But it’s interesting that I thought that I was. This was my second last week of treatment and I think I was just excited that it was almost over. Spoiler alert: the following two weeks would be the worst of all. And the first round of treatment didn’t do the trick. Four months later, I was sitting in my radiation oncologist’s office listening to him tell me that I had some bits of cancerous tumour tucked away at the base of my skull.
This news I think I handed well. I knew that I wasn’t okay, but that it didn’t matter anyway. I remember telling my cousin that I was going to cry myself to sleep that night; that it would be as much emoting as I did. And then I just lived. I went to doctors’ appointments and had random conversations with my cousins and watched random shit on my computer and tried to gain as much weight as I could. I just lived until the surgery happened and then I just continued living through the recovery and now I’m here typing this, still living.
Except I’ve been feeling that urge to opt out more and more. Except now it isn’t because of some long treatment process or arduous surgery that I’m dreading, I just don’t want to do life. To be fair, life is a long, arduous thing so maybe I’m justified in feeling that way but still, I recognise that this is a dangerous path that I need to get off of. I don’t think I’m suicidal but I also know that left unchecked, I will get there.
And I don’t know what to do. I know the rational things. Keep busy. Seek joy. Seek community. Take it one day at a time. Seek help. Be kinder to myself. Don’t believe every thought that pops into my head. I know that if I try my hardest and just give it time, it will pass. Except I don’t think I have it in me to try anymore.
I’m so tired. I’m so tired of waiting for things to pass. I’m so tired of waiting to feel like my myself again. I’m so tired of feeling lost. I’m so tired of not being okay.
I think about the work that needs to be done to get me to a good place, of the time that needs to pass, of the many things that are beyond my control that need to happen for my life to feel like mine again and honesty, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to wait around and see how it goes. I want to fall asleep and never wake up again. I just want it to be done.
I’ve been trying to think about the next ten years. To give myself something to look forward to, a goal to work towards. It used to be my writing. I used to think that I just need to live long enough to publish a book or two—a novel and a collection of short stories. And when that felt impossible, I told myself, that I just need to live long enough to write them; they could be published posthumously. But these days I think, I’m not Toni Morrison. The world doesn’t lose anything by my stories not existing. Which is fine. My stories are for me—the hope they give me, the worlds they unlock inside of me, the things they tell me I’m capable of, the versions of myself they reveal to me. I used to think of myself as deserving of my imagination, of my stories. Now I think, it would be so much easier if I didn’t exist. I wouldn’t even need my stories then.
I see life for other people. I see it for my family and friends, for random strangers I see on the street. I spend hours making up this elaborate futures in my head and at some point it hits me, I’m not in there. I’m in people’s conversations and memories but I’m not there. Yes, even this I can explain rationally. I know that for a long time, I wasn’t sure that I’d have a future, so I just stopped thinking about it. I know that it’s going to take a while for me to trust my life enough to dream about distant futures. I know that even this, is just a matter of time. But like I said, I’m tired of waiting.
But I have to wait. I know I’m going to wait. That I’m going to try. That I will survive this too. Because more than anything, I know I’m capable of surviving. That in the grand scheme of things, in the story of my life, this will barely count for anything.
But in the meantime, please be my community. Please email me(firstname.lastname@example.org) and start random conversations with me. Send me stories that you enjoy, tell me your conspiracy theories about aliens, tell me about your favourite scientific theorems and niche hobbies and interests. Just go on and on and on, I won’t mind. Talk to me about anything. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I immensely enjoy (written) conversation. If you have my number, send me random memes and invite me out to things. Schedule phone calls with me. Please check in even when I seem aloof and withdrawn. Be like my cousin: just force me to hang out(like ask me if I’m sure when I say no, don’t be disrespectful and ignore my boundaries). I get social anxiety so sometimes I say no to company even when I need it. More importantly, if you’re a writer and you enjoy my writing and would like to me my friend, please send me an email. I need writing friends. Desperately. Or just a creative community. So not just writers. Anyone who does anything creative. I’ve been somewhat isolated since I got sick and honestly, it’s killing me.
Become a Patron. It goes a long way.