it amazes me that i haven’t titled a blog post ‘overwhelmed’ in the last three years. it’s one of my most used words. overwhelmed. my favorite movie of all time is ten things i hate about you so if you know, you know that this quote is just super fitting to my life: ‘i know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed but can you ever just be whelmed?’ and goggle will tell you that, yes, yes you can just be whelmed. but that’s not the point. overwhelmed. one of my most used vocabulary choices. not surprising if you’ve met me. my personality can be overwhelming. my anxiety can be overwhelming. my trauma is overwhelming. my story line appears overwhelming. it’s just a vibe. and i have made it three years, right here in this space, without running to a word that i use often. a pretty big deal. but here we are. overwhelmed. and i say that because it’s true. i feel overwhelmed. when people ask me how i am, that’s where my mouth goes. forms the oh sound in oh-ver-whelmed. because the truth is, i am. in a very honest and upfront moment, right now; i am struggling. and yes, the right people in my life know it and i probably should tell more people but I feel some sort of shame about it. that i can’t be struggling because the struggle is supposed to be over. but it’s not. this place is hard too. in fact, i think i can be bold enough to say it’s just as hard as the rest of the cancer journey was. ugh, wait. i hate to use the word journey. it ain’t a cruise. but to most, it probably doesn’t look that way from the outside of the fishbowl. that i am struggling. this person who just survived the hardest battle in life. at the age of thirty two. after fighting for her life against an infectious disease just a few months earlier. but i promise you. i am swimming inside it, overwhelmed and the bowl is mostly my own tears at this point. i cried softly through most of therapy last week. for probably forty five minutes of the hour session. and i have zero shame in crying during a session. okay, okay. that’s a lie. i try really hard to make it a certain length of time before opening the flood gates. and honestly i wasn’t even planning on crying. but it’s been an emotional week [she says after every single week for the last twenty years]. no, but in all seriousness, it has been. it’s been a week with a lot of heavy feelings. a lot of them stemming from fear of being left behind. a lot of them directly rooted in fear of recurrence. and a lot of them just brimming over an overfilled cup. so i cried in therapy last week, and again today, as my therapist validated what i am going through. something she’s been graciously doing since we first met in june of twenty twenty. grief, she said. all of this is grief. all of this. the sadness, the fears, the losses. the new things, the disassociation with your body. grief. it makes sense. that’s what i said out loud. it makes sense. grief. the loss of everything. the loss of what i once was and the loss of the path that i was comfortably walking on. the loss of things no one else will ever experience. or the loss of things that no one will understand.
i felt silly telling her that i cried the entire elevator ride from the fifth floor to the first floor leaving my surgeon’s office last week. because i felt lost. walking the next leg of this journey [ugh, I need a thesaurus] without that surgeon holding my hand. to walk away knowing i am in charge of this now. that i have to take on survivorship without that part of the team. loss. lost. it makes sense. and so in true fashion, i began to cry again my car in the parking garage after i made it out of the hospital. and again, sobbed hysterically in my navy blue civic at eleven last night. and again this morning in the shower. because cancer has left me with a massive sense of grief and anxiety and well, overwhelmingness. yup, i just coined that term. and it’s an overwhelmingness that i could try to describe for hours. literally. it’s staring at all of my doubts and fears all at once. it’s being sad and frustrated and anxious all at the same time. it’s feeling suffocated by something completely out of your control. it’s the constant feel of need to make sure everyone is comfortable with your level of healing; even if you aren’t. it’s stuffing your new pixie cut into a turban because even though it’s sweltering outside, you absolutely hate the way it looks. it’s throwing all of your favorite clothes into trash bags because the new surgical breasts are misshapen and heavy and don’t fit into anything. it’s learning to put on fake lashes. because chemo caused you to lose all of them. and they won’t grow back. it’s putting down the coppertone sunscreen at target and picking up the only one that doesn’t have toxic chemicals in it. it’s pushing the triggers out of your mind. like when you suddenly remember that chemo scorched all of your skin off. and it peeled off like a chemical burn. or when you bathed in apple cider vinegar for two days because your skin was covered in yeast. or when you delivered your own hydration. alone. in your parents living room. while panic texting an oncology nurse you knew from high school. or when you pulled that first strand of hair out. and five more came after. and you lost yourself. when your mouth was full of open sores. and you couldn’t swallow water. when you had an allergic reaction to the flu shot. and then to the last medication possible to treat the yeast. your eyes swelled shut. vomiting over mouth sores. no food for eight weeks. sixty one pounds gone. when you couldn’t even walk up the stairs. when all you did was cry. and the overwhelming feeling, well it’s coming from the unfairness that still exists. that those moments are my moments. and they flood my brain regularly. stop me dead in my tracks. bring me into a full stop sob. it’s unfair that the hardest year of my life; the scariest year of my life; the most painful year of my life has such a hold. grief, my therapist said. GRIEF. y’all know how i feel about caps lock. it’s the losses. over and over again. the things that cancer steals. the things you lose when you’re stripped of yourself. like my ability to hold a baby and feed a bottle at the same time. i can’t. i will never have the strength to do so. and while that doesn’t seem like a big deal, it is a big deal. or that i will never be able to feel below the neck again. or that my body will never be the way it was when i met my husband or how it was in my wedding photos. that the clothes in my closet fit the person who used to fit into them. the losses. and this overwhelming feeling- well it also comes from trying to normalize but not being able to do so. and the overwhelming feeling is creeping into every ounce of my existence right now. my brain feels full and crowded. my to do list feels long and never ending. the list of things that scare me seems to be growing longer and longer. and i know, i know. i could pick up the phone and call any one of my therapists. but that’s not the only solution. somewhere, deep rooted maybe, is the push button to the new me. to the one who has to show her face and go forward in this life. but the thought of doing that; starting all over, it’s overwhelming. my therapist called it a crisis of the identities. where you can’t be the person you were anymore. because how could you? the person you were experienced things that most people never do. and the person you were can’t exist anymore. because the trauma and grief and chemo and the experience of death has shifted you. and this new person, this new identity is so hollow. i don’t know who i am. i feel lost and unsure and scared and lonely. i feel left behind. i feel like i lost a year of my life and the world has continued to trek on. i missed the opportunity to grow in my profession, in my marriage, in my friendships, in my schooling. and this new version, is so different. and to say goodbye to the person i was for so long is one of the hardest goodbyes. it’s a parting of ways that most never do. it’s grief in a big way. it’s another loss on the table. the two identities can’t exist. but i am struggling to let go of the person i was because i don’t know how to be the person i am supposed to be. and so i cried heavily in the parking lot today on the phone with my therapist. a crisis of the identities.
so in a way, i guess this is me putting it out on the table. to be vulnerable and visible about survivorship. and how broken and fragile it can be. how it is not a sudden shift into normalcy once your pathology comes back clear. it’s grasping at the frayed ends of your former life and former self. it’s holding back tears as you stare at the scars. it’s looking at photos and wishing you could hold those moments one more time and remember what it was like to not feel tired or scared. it’s knowing you chose the path that led you here and being proud to have fought and won. but it’s also grief stricken. with the losses. and it’s about being patient on the other side.
overwhelmed. that’s how i started this post, right? it’s okay to be overwhelmed. even in places where the world expects something different from you. even if you have it better than someone else. it’s okay to be overwhelmed or anxious or scared or sad or in a pattern of grief. it’s okay to be vulnerable and to be struggling with your identity. because it just makes you human. and that’s all we can be sometimes. so you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed and you can even be just whelmed.
and it’s okay. it’s going to be okay. soon.