Frances Burney underwent a mastectomy in 1811. I recently picked up her novel Evelina (after, um, I was supposed to read it in graduate school like 4 years ago). I've since ordered a collection of her letters, in which she describes the surgery and her recovery. More to come on that, but just felt like saying sheeeeeeiiiiit. Fanny's a toughy. Here she is:
Eye doctor today, for a routine check up. I reluctantly submitted to the pupil dilation -- last time I did it was at the beginning of chemo, and I wound up watching reruns of Glee while wearing sunglasses all night. (Erm, it's possible something else was going on there too.) So I took the stinging drops, and the optometrist shined her orange light in all the corners of my eye.
When she finished, she asked if I'd ever been prescribed steroids. I told her that I'd done chemo, and had a dose a prednisone every week for 12 weeks.
"That explains it," she said. "You have some small cataracts, especially in your left eye, that can be caused by high doses of steroids."
There's nothing to do, because it's not that bad. Just a little harder to see at night, just always seems like my glasses are dirty. Those made sense when she told me about the cataracts. I can have surgery that will fix them one day, if I want.
And I'm lucky it's not worse, I'm lucky I haven't lost my vision completely. I'm lucky the prednisone was there to prevent a life-threatening allergic reaction to the taxol. I'm lucky I'm alive.
The piece, titled "A Grief So Deep It Won't Die," by Paula Span, deals with the concept of "complicated grief," a state characterized by years of sadness after a loss, and was recently given something of a footnote in the latest DSM.
It struck me this week, a difficult one on the heels of several other difficult ones. I had a check up with my oncologist, and since I rated my distress on the distress-thermometer as a 6, that meant we had to talk about it. She asked if I wanted to see the hospital psychiatrist again.
"I'm not depressed," I said to her. "I'm sad."
"Sadness is depression," she said.
It was an off-the-cuff remark, I know she doesn't truly equate sadness
with depression, but it was so illustrative of the cancer patient
experience. The whole, "You're not over it yet? There's something wrong with you" - thing. But
it's also, "Hey, you've been through something really shitty, and I
want to protect you from that the only way I know how." But it's already
happened. It always will have happened.
She wants to help -- she doesn't want me to be sad -- but
the relief isn't one that I want. After a rough few months on Effexor
last fall, I'm really not eager to go on an antidepressant again.
Nearly seven years ago, I cared for Matt through a life-threatening illness, tending his surgical wounds, watched deeply poisonous substances drip into his
blood, sat in the waiting room while he was shot with radiation beams. In the last three years, that same series of things happened to me.
Ad so it feels decidedly unlike a disorder for me to cry, feel an ache, to need time alone to lick those many wounds. Even though it's three years later.
(I know that's a slippery slope, and that depression does know how to
cloak itself in the "things are terrible, it's a lie to feel anything
other than misery." I know, and I am watching.)
But I have so often felt frustrated how little others will let me be sad.
Example: We put in an offer on a perfectly imperfect little house in the
mountains a few weeks ago. I moved in in my mind the moment I saw it. I
imagined planting wisteria (and once you mentally plant wisteria it's all over). There
turned out to be multiple bids, and though ours was the highest, we
still didn't get it.
And when I expressed disappointment, I
was repeatedly hushed and clucked at: "That wasn't the right one," and "The house
you're meant to have is out there." Chin up, and all that. Please, I
wanted to say. Just let me feel what I'm feeling. Just let me.
I'm ashamed it admit that to avoid this in daily life I hide behind "I'm fine."
To avoid my feelings being negated by others, I negate them myself. That
same old song and dance.
Matt keeps trying to buy me ice cream and mango juice. Pancho licks my face when I cry. But know that I have to feel it all.* Not because pain is somehow instructive or
"makes you stronger," (ugh) or a better person. Pain does none of those
things. I have to feel it because it's fucking true.
And all of that is not to say leave me alone. It's the opposite in fact.
It's, I need you now. Let's have a hug or smile or just hold me in your
heart with good intention. Let's have an I hear you girl. Let's all
talk to someone. Someones. Let's all get the help we need. Let's share
all our complicated grief.
I think all grief is complicated, by the way.
*But only if it is (really) real. Sadness can become depression. I'm
lucky, in that I generally know by the quality of my thoughts what sort
they are. When I feel the little beginnings of the rip tide start to
tug, I take notice. Am I realy an awful, selfish person, or did I just make a