I often think that nineteen and twenty four were my worst years to date. Nineteen because I was having a hard time growing up: I was heartbroken and unbeknownst to me, reeling from trauma that I didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to deal with. I was lost; I didn’t have the slightest idea on how to make it back to myself and I didn’t even know that was my problem. Twenty four because, duh, I had cancer. It was brutal in the way that survival tends to be, a brutality that makes it easy to surrender because it’s in your face and in your bones and you know that’s it’s harder than anything you could ever use to steel yourself. So you guard the most fragile parts of yourself and you let it do it’s thing and when it’s done you see what’s left and you make do. You might grieve.You might just be happy you survived. You might resent your survival because now you’re left with withered bones that you have to carry around for the rest of your life. Some days it’s one or the others. Most days it’s all of the above and then some. Either way it’s an honest brutality: it doesn’t pretend it’s not going to break you. This year was sly kind of brutality. The kind that slinks away when you rise to meet it, the kind you think you’ll overcome. The kind that lets you catch your breath until one day you realise you can’t breathe anyway because you braced yourself for the kind of brutality that chokes you but this is the kind that drowns you, submerging you in water, a quarter of an inch at a time.
Cancer broke something essential inside me. Something bright, something whole and straight. There used to be a light inside me that’s been snuffed out. I am lost inside myself. I’m stumbling about, looking for candles, for paths that feel familiar but I’m beginning to think paths aren’t forged, they’re found. But I have no light. So my journey is an imitation at best. I’m performing movement. I’m crawling around in circles. I’m stranded and I’m terrified that the rest of my life will only ever be about wearing myself out, waiting for death to bulldoze it’s way to me. I think this year was about slowly coming to this realisation. Sometimes you think you keep falling down because you are navigating your existence with a weaker, broken version of yourself and then you realise it’s because you’re bottoming out. At first you are shocked, and then you panic and then you just flail about and hope for soft landings.
I was severely emotionally dysregulated this year. I think I’ve spent the last few years—my whole life if I’m being honest—shushing my trauma. Like rationally, I knew that I’ve been through some traumatising shit in my life but I just kept going. Which, I suppose, is what you do when you don’t know what else to do but I think my body reached its limit this year. My body and mind behaved like traumatised entities this year. I had zero control over my emotions. Being upset felt like the end of the world. My nervous system was constantly “overreacting.” Little things left me weepy and despondent for weeks afterwards. I got a rejection email in May and had an existential crisis for five months. I got another one in October and was suicidal for a month. A social interaction I wan’t prepared for in August left me panicked and unable to sleep for two weeks. After my first surgery, my surgeon had to clean and disinfect the surgical site before he could discharge me. He’d carved out a big tumour from my upper palate and so cleaning the site meant tilting my head back, pouring hydrogen peroxide into a hollowed out palate. So the hydrogen peroxide goes into my nose and my throat and for thirty minutes or so, it burns and I’m chocking and he’s cleaning out the wound. It’s like being water-boarded. At first I’m holding it together and then I’m wincing and squirming and then I was just screaming with everything in my lungs which makes the choking worse and it felt like this endless cycle of torture. Over the years, I’ve learnt to just hold my breath and curl my toes at these types of doctors’ visits. I think I’ve been holding my breath through waves of so much pain, this year my nervous system decided the only way to get me to cope better was to just scream at everything.
I don’t know what better coping mechanisms look like. But I’m committed to finding them.
For starters, I can’t keep re-traumatising myself. The other thing about cancer it’s that it’s made me desperate for community and love. Instead of going forth and finding new, healthier versions of it, I just went back to places that used to have it. I thought, if I just keep digging, then maybe I can grow love out of these barren, poisoned places. We all know how that goes. Sometimes I think I’m too fucked up, that people who haven’t met me yet, won’t want to deal with my shit. But I’m realising that being rejected by strangers, if it comes to that, is still preferable to coaxing love out of old friends. I’m kind of starting from scratch. I’m heartbroken and I’m terrified that I’ve reached my limit on loved ones, that I’ve already met all the people that will ever love me. Regardless, it’s a risk I’ll have to take. For my health, for my sanity, I have to walk through that fear. So again, if you want to be my friend, please shoot me an email at email@example.com. (Math) puns, dad jokes and deep meditations on Love are appreciated, but not absolutely necessary.
Some positives: I shot friendships shots with two writers whose work I love so much and they said yes. So now I have the makings of a writing community. I don’t have to do this scary, impossible dream by myself. If I have nothing else, I have that.
The other thing is that I am reminded how solid my foundations are. Yes, I’m down some friendships but my actual people? Fucking solid! Yes, this year has shown me things but one of those things was this quiet voice inside myself. I barely listen to it. I panic and wallow and throw myself at walls and I forget that it’s in there. Somewhere inside me, there’s a version of myself that knows how to transcend this shit. Somewhere inside myself, I’m holding a candle, working my way out, or through. Somewhere inside myself, my wildest dreams are coming true.
Mariame Kaba says that hope is a discipline. That it isn’t necessarily about feeling optimistic but it’s about the commitment to do whatever you can on any given day in service of a better future. So hope is like love in that way: we often think of it as a feeling but it’s more of a choice, a commitment you make every single day. I struggle with sustaining hope. I mostly swing from numbness or indifference to despondence and existential panic. It’s a dizzying, nauseating ride. Having hope reframed for me in this way has been life-changing. It’s not about how I feel, it’s about what I do every single day. Because it all adds up.
Speaking of, one of my favourite poems:
Happy holidays! Thank you for being here:)
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