Keeping Your Head Above Water Without Someone Holding You Up

So far, I haven’t met anyone who has dealt with cancer without a significant other. I know they are out there, but as far as I can tell, this is what sets me apart from other people I have come into contact with in similar situations. I think a lot of people who deal with cancer past the age of high school are usually not doing it “alone.” I use the term “alone” loosely, because I’m not really alone. My mom, friends and the rest of my family have all jumped into this head-first with me. They have not left my side since I was diagnosed, and I am so grateful for them. This is really about my dealing with this without a partner in life with which I share a mutual deep connection. Any of you who have ever dated someone know the connection I’m talking about.

I can count on one hand the amount of “healthy” relationships I have had in my dating life. So, I am usually single.

Maybe it’s because I have no real voids to fill. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then I think about it and feel like it is a little unfair because I would like to have a kid one day. I feel like I could be good at it. I may joke about never finding someone to marry me or being the “fun” aunt to my friends’ children one day, but I am happy with the life I have built for myself. And as I get older, I find myself refusing more and more to go out of my way to make a failing relationship work. I don’t have the energy for it. To me, it is worth the short sadness of a breakup to not have to deal with constant stress and unhappiness in an unfulfilling relationship.

I may be alone, but I am not lonely. The only person I have to answer to is my dog. And my mom on occasion. : )

After talking with my neighbor, who has been newly diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and hearing about her mostly unsupportive husband, I don’t really regret not having a partner to lean on during this time in my life. I can’t imagine how absolutely fucking lonely it must be to be married to someone who is supposed to support you through thick and thin, sickness and health and not have it. But I actually don’t blame her husband, either. Like a lot of people who have never had to live with chronic pain or illness, he can’t see it, so it must not exist. It isn’t his fault. He just doesn’t understand it. And maybe he never will.

I have told her how I deal with this because I have similar issues with my ankle (and now that damn #cancerbitch). All you can really do is keep your expectations low when explaining your issues to other people (this is NOT the same as giving up, this is more like self-preservation). Sometimes these people will surprise you with their support and empathy. Other times, it will be as you expected. They won’t know what to say or they simply won’t believe you. You have to downplay it to those people because they may see you as an attention seeker or a complainer no matter how much or how little you speak about it.

The best thing you can do for yourself when living with an unseen illness is to do just that: Live for yourself. Your illness isn’t about making people understand it. You really just have to live one day at a time (sometimes this is easier said than done) and try not to think about how this will affect the rest of your life. That is one rabbit hole you MUST stay away from. It is a dark place that is hard to crawl out from underneath. Even on days you think you are just barely keeping your head above water, recognize that you aren’t drowning. Some days will always be better than others. But you have to learn to cope. And part of learning to cope is congratulating yourself for living through the hard days (it is perfectly okay to congratulate yourself). As long as you have more good days than bad, emotionally, you are doing just fine. And, spoiler alert, you alone control your emotions.

I told my neighbor that the fun part will be sitting back and waiting on all those people who didn’t get it to turn 60. When their bodies start to fall apart and they start complaining about their various ailments, you get to sit back, sip on your coffee and say, “Told ya so!” Although it probably won’t be as fulfilling as you think because you will be sympathetic to their issues after living with your own for so long.

Do whatever you need to do in order to get through to tomorrow, but I cope a little differently. Some days I literally feel like I am just going through the motions to keep up some semblance of a normal life. But it is what I have to do to make it through the bad days. I have a mental checklist of all the things I need to do that day, and once I check them off, I feel like I have adulted at least the bare minimum for that day and can go stare at the wall when I’m done for as long as it takes. Or at least until the dog needs to be taken outside again.

Here is my daily list of ‘Bare Minimum Tasks’:

  • Wake up at 5am to walk the dog at least 30 minutes (20 is allowed if I was up past 11pm the night before)
  • Get to work by 7am
  • Stay at work until 4pm
  • Get my 250 steps at least 7 hours out of the 11 I have my Fitbit set to record them
  • Walk the dog after work for 30-45 minutes until he decides we are done (he’s a diva when it’s hot) or until I reach my 12,000 steps for the day
  • 9 Round at least twice a week

When this list is done, there is usually time for more activities in a day, but some days I just physically can’t. Emotional exhaustion is difficult to combat. However, as long as I complete my list, I feel like I am keeping my head above water until the next day. And sometimes the next day is much better than the day before. I will complete my list and go out with friends, or clean my house, or paint a wall. Other times, the next day’s sole purpose is to get to the end of the list so that I can go to sleep.

This is what keeps me out of depression. It seems way too easy to slip into that dark “what if?” place these days (for those of you who don’t know, I’m pretty terrified of needing chemo, so it is on my mind a lot), but life just doesn’t work that way. I have bills to pay and mouths to feed and fur babies to raise and cancer ass to kick. So this is what I do to keep myself sane.

I hope this helps if any of you are battling depression, or a major life decision, or something huge that you may be having trouble getting through. Sometimes you get a pass on only doing the bare minimum, but make sure you set a timeline for getting back to normal. Once [insert big, life-changing thing here] is done, I will get back to reaching my step goal 6 days a week, or I will paint the rest of my bathroom or finish outfitting my patio. Set a goal and a date and stick to it. You won’t believe the feeling of accomplishment it will bring once it is completed.

And remember that you will be fine.

Love to you all.

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