I’m pleased to say that I’ve been feeling a lot brighter since my last post. September was hard for lots of reasons, many of which I didn’t go in to at the time but now feel able to explain a little bit more about. It’s important to note them here to remind myself if it happens again, but I also hope it might help others in a similar situation realise they are not alone.
Reaching the milestone of 6 months of treatment hit me really hard. I know that these markers are self-imposed, but they often carry a lot of weight. In those early days, we received so much information and a few figures stood out; one being that the first 6-9 months of treatment would be the hardest. Without realising it, I think I’d held on to that and felt that as we’d reached the 6 month mark, things should suddenly feel much easier. In those early days we had the protective excuse of exactly that: these being early days and therefore having no idea how to absorb the impact of having our lives completely tipped upside down felt perfectly acceptable. There was nothing else to do in those early days except hold each other close and keep life as simple as possible. Most day to day tasks were outsourced to loved ones and we had nothing else to do except keep ourselves standing and survive each day. Reaching the comparative distance of 6 months felt like we’d come an awfully long way on this journey – the 5 metres of Poppy’s beads of courage go some way to explaining just how far. With that in mind, I had started to put heaps of pressure on myself to achieve normality (whatever that is!)
Reading that back from a more rational point of view, I can see that sounds ridiculous but when you’re in those dark moments, it can be hard to think properly. Another thing I find really hard. Without realising it at all at the time, when things feel really tough, the logical/rational part of my brain disappears and it becomes really difficult to make basic plans or accomplish basic tasks. Writing a shopping list or making a logical plan for the day feels completely out of reach. Not being able to do these things is frustrating and debilitating, and leads to a deep sense of failure. It’s a slippery path and one that can be hard to dig yourself out of.
A simple notion that really helped me turn that mindset around was actually admitting out loud that I was struggling. Rather than responding with platitudes, I was honest that things aren’t all as they seem and despite Poppy doing really well, I was actually really struggling to hold myself together. It’s amazing how much lighter I felt as those first tears fell and in doing so, I accepted that it’s okay to feel like this. That the only person putting pressure on me to feel any differently is myself. I was feeling that I should be able to function properly. That by 6 months in, I should have a better grip on how to handle this.
The closest thing I’ve been able to compare this to is the early weeks of having a newborn baby. Those intense, filled with love early weeks when that tiny new person consumes your every thought and action. By the time both girls were 6 months old, we’d found a good rhythm and those months of experience meant things didn’t seem to new anymore. Without realising it, I’d expected the same thing to happen here. That somehow that arbitrary milestone would alleviate the pain of living with childhood cancer. In some ways, we have learned to live with it. We know what helps on certain days and certain times for certain medications. We generally know when to be kind to ourselves and when to just leave the chores and head out on an adventure. But that doesn’t mean those coping mechanisms work every time, and that there aren’t days or hours when this still feels impossibly sad and cruel. Recognising the dark times really does help you to see the light. After all, where would we be in a world without rainbows?
Other things which have helped me feel better this week are nutrition and exercise. Throughout September, a nasty cough and head cold kept me from exercising as regularly as I have been lately and I’d also found myself accepting more treats than usual in a bid to cheer myself up. In combination, this lead to a feeling of sluggishness and a lack of energy. There’s an irony that when you’re feeling that way, it can be hard to find the motivation to exercise, especially when coupled with the fact that everything feels a little bit pointless. Why bother to look after yourself when we live in a world cruel enough for a three year old child to have cancer?
In summary, the things that have helped me feel better are talking, being kinder to myself, nutrition and exercise. Sounds so simple when you put it like that, but when you’re feeling like you’re in the depths of despair, the helplessness is overwhelming. Everything feels hard and nothing feels possible. Things haven’t changed overnight, but by taking small steps forward again and not heaping pressure on myself, the future suddenly feels a lot brighter again x