I want so much to forget all of this. I want that more than anything. But I know that if I did; if I were to put this all behind me and live as if it never happened, it would be the single most selfish act of my entire life. Just because I was lucky enough to have survived, that doesn't mean I can ever walk away.
Writing about my experience with cancer brings back painful memories with every word. Engaging in the cancer community, and finding all of these wonderful people whose lives have been touched by the disease is both a blessing and a curse. It brings me closer to all of you, knowing that we have this shared experience. And it brings me closer to humanity, knowing that such suffering isn't only possible, but commonplace in the world. It identifies and exposes the human condition in greater detail than anything else could.
This is what inspires me to act -- the fact that everyone goes through something, which is an important thing to be mindful of in the first place, but even more so when you've just been through something pretty terrible yourself. You have the option to step back into the mainstream, that winding and disorienting wormhole of people and energy shooting off ceaselessly into the future, back into the routine, into the grind, the rat race, the series of events and reactions and self-decrees that we call everyday life. It certainly takes a while to get back to that place, back to "normal," or what was once normal for you, but I'm finding out that it's entirely possible. When I talked to people while I was going through treatment, people who were a few years out who had already been through the same ordeal and had left most of the pain behind them, I was exposed for the first time to individuals who had regained normalcy in their lives. I couldn't, for the life of me, understand how they'd done this. It was such a foreign concept to me. And I wasn't even happy for them. In fact, I was irritated. I thought about my feelings, and how I'd been so miserable, so life-alteringly miserable, and knew in my heart that I'd never be where they were. I'd never be satisfied again, and I'd certainly never be able to hold a job again or have successful and fulfilling relationships, not with the dark cloud of what had happened following overhead. Those thoughts seem so far away now. I've been reintroduced to levels of normal in my life that I never thought I'd see again. And I've also realized that it's okay to embrace them. It's okay to allow myself to be happy. I don't have to take the whole weight of cancer on my shoulders, all by myself. I can do my thing and help, and I can also be happy.
But that's just it; I have to help. I can't sit by while others are dealing with this and worse, and allow it to continue without putting up a serious fight. Which brings me to option number two. Option two is where I was, sitting alone in my room, writing up a storm about my experience, all nicely packaged together in book form (which will hopefully be seeing the light of day soon), that I would use to garner awareness and attention, and build a platform from which I could enact change and better the circumstances of those who were not as fortunate as myself. There are some people in this world who have no advocates, and who are lost, and who have no hope. This is unacceptable to me. I was going to fix it.
I still am. And I would be extremely pissed at myself if I didn't follow through here. The need to do so outweighs any threatening complacency a million fold, so I don't really have a lot to worry about. I don't have to hole up anywhere and work myself to the bone, focusing on nothing but the misery and the task at hand. There is, I'm finding, a third option: a Middle Way. And that is, as I touched on earlier, that I can focus my energy on enacting change and bettering the world, and find personal happiness and fulfillment at the same time. I want others who are going through this and don't even remotely understand what it means to accept "normalcy" again, to know that it's okay to learn to be happy again. It's okay to be happy. You'll find happiness in old things in different ways. And it's okay to embrace that. It's okay to own your new life. You have passed through a checkpoint, a weigh station, and you've seen things others never will, and that has shaken you to your core and caused you to reevaluate and reconsider just about everything you've ever experienced. But there are some experiences that will still translate, and that will be all the same, or even enhanced by this. And they are...
Love. Self-worth. Fulfillment. Happiness.
If you're anything like me, you'll isolate yourself from the possibility of ever finding these things again. I had resigned myself to being miserable, although I would have argued that I was steeling myself and making the necessary sacrifices to meet my goals. I now know that it was unreasonable to put myself through all that I did, but, I needed it at the time, and it was useful to my growth, and I wouldn't trade that time for the world. I got a lot of work done, both tangible and intangible. It was a time of significant development and the beginning of a gradual process of healing. I'm proud of myself for having such discipline and fortitude at a point when I needed it most. This is not to say that I immediately took to my self-care responsibilities right away, or with any sense of ease whatsoever. In reality, I spent the good part of a year curled up on the couch, covered in a snuggie. But that was part of my process. If you happen to process tragedy that way, curled up under a snuggie, then that's okay. I went from severe "handling" mode, to severe couch mode, in the span of a few months. I shut down because I couldn't filter all the terrible information that was running through my head, like the vile tributaries of a vast and poisonous river.
It's okay to come to terms with all that, and the fact that you've gone through it. And the fact that you are or will some day come out on the other side. Being happy or accepting happiness is not a denial that something awful has happened to you -- quite the contrary, I'm finding out. It's an acknowledgment of the experience, and a nod to your new-found perspective. Life is short enough as it is; we should embrace all the love, self-worth, fulfillment, and happiness that we can. You might stumble around aimlessly until you find it, like I did, or you might suddenly get back on your feet and know exactly where to look for it. In truth, there's no right answer, and no guidebook for finding happiness after a tragedy. Normalcy is a lie ordinarily -- it doesn't exist -- and even more so after you have your life threatened. Normalcy is a quest, more than it is a concrete state of things.