Free Writing and Free Thinking

Most of this blog was written in group therapy as a ‘free writing’ exercise.  It’s fair to say they were preaching to the converted with this particular task!

People imagine that I must be resentful about having cancer.

Why me?!’

I’ve never felt this.  I’m quite pragmatic and used to dealing with situations as they come up but given the extremity of this one, I’m not sure if that explanation quite cuts it.  I can’t even bring myself to be angry about waiting over 100 days for treatment when the target is 62.  I should be furious about this.  Everyone else is and my waiting list story is being used by the Labour Party to prove the point that delays in the NHS are shortening people’s lives.  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be sitting here now in a session designed for people who won’t be cured if the NHS had acted more quickly.

Part of this is the knowledge that I’m not entirely blameless here.  I could have been more proactive in seeking help.  Of course hindsight brings clarity and there are fairly good reasons why I didn’t. For example, that phone call with a locum GP five months before I was given so much as a blood test wasn’t taken with any seriousness when perhaps it should have done.  I was in enough pain to think I had appendicitis, but being essentially told I was just constipated and to take some laxatives and stop moaning made me reluctant to seek further medical attention.  I’m not much of a Type A male but I’m fairly stereotypical of my sex in the tendency to shrug off even serious ailments and imagine they’ll go away.  When they do, confirmation bias sets in and the debilitating pain is a faint memory.  Lesson not at all learned – well, not until now and unfortunately, now is definitely too late.

So to an extent, it’s my own stupid fault that I’m dying.  But if for a second I can attempt to consider myself relatively blameless, that has absolutely no effect on my life as I now encounter it.  Cursing all the deities and shouting incredulously at the moon will do precisely nothing and probably make me feel worse.  I’ve had to deal with all sorts of things that other people would find unacceptably difficult.  I’ve become so used to suffering that I’ve sought it out through running when life has gotten that bit too comfortable.  It’s almost like I need some suffering to overcome in order to function normally.  To feel like I’ve gotten through something significant.  Yes this would be better manifested in achieving things that don’t require any adversity but I guess it’s not uncommon to be your own worst enemy in this way.

I’ve written about suffering before.  It brings endorphins (well – running does) and that’s a happy side effect of putting yourself through the mill.  Unfortunately, chemo doesn’t give me any endorphins and anti-sickness tablets aren’t nearly as good.  But today, feeling something as boringly mundane as normal, with the way this block of chemo has done me in is brilliant.  I’m sitting here (without having taken any chemo tablets for almost two days) not feeling any pain, sickness or even discomfort.  My energy levels are fluctuating wildly as they do every day but there’s a gradual upward trend and that’s not just down to the custard creams.  Normal is relative and right now, it’s brilliant.

And so, in its own way, is talking.

I turned up to group therapy not sure what to expect and, as I seem do consciously or not, started reeling off the stories that most introverts have ready to go – to avoid having to spontaneously socially interact with people – even therapists!  But eventually the conversation became more natural and – exhausting as it is – there was some proper opening up and non-scripted discussion.  It helped to listen to other people’s cancer stories. ‘You’re not special, princess’ is something I tell myself when it feels like I might be milking the cancer thing and it’s hard to feel too uniquely special when listening to another person retell their story of loss, struggle and strength.  I found myself in tears at one point and that is as ‘cathartic’ as people tell you therapy should be.  I used to be a real sceptic about talking therapies and under the impression that talking to someone is only required if you’re depressed or have a serious mental health condition.

But I was wrong.  You don’t have to be at all neurodivergent or remotely haggard to get some use out of talking to someone.  It’s great for anyone to walk out of that room feeling that bit lighter and, even when you’re feeling great, you don’t realise the weight you’ve been carrying.  Even so, I’m not certain it’s all sunk in.  Surely, I’m far too balanced and well adjusted for a dying man.  Where’s the blind panic? I thought I ordered an extra helping of blind panic and it’s not arrived yet.  Will that hit me?  I really hope I don’t experience a death bed religious conversion or something – whichever deity intelligently designed this slow and sometimes agonising death I’m going through just doesn’t deserve any worship from me.

It’s good to talk.  

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