lately there’s been a big naysayer living inside my head. and while i don’t have an internal monologue, i do have a voice that often likes to tear me apart. shocking i know. but true nonetheless. i have been battling imposter syndrome for the last few years. and it comes from a sense of inadequacy that i have carried most of my life. i sat down in a therapist’s office for the first time before the age of seven. and i never really left. i began to feel like i didn’t belong sometimes. that everyone else’s ability to hide their insecurities or flaws meant that i was far less. and by the time i was in high school, my anxiety was at an all time high. you factor in the stress of being a teenager, knocking your front teeth clean out on the day of your biology presentation and being the fattest girl in your class. failing algebra and never having a clean room. forgetting to set an alarm and trying to make friends. catholic school already was hard enough. and the pressure to feel pretty and have a boyfriend and lose weight. and be a good person and meet your service hour requirements. and pass us history. and not flunk the sats and get into college. and not spiral. not lose it. it was a lot. and so when my bipolar disorder hit an all time record high peak in the summer of two thousand and eight, i was already in a full on war with myself. i had flunked out of my university with a stellar one point two grade point average. and was basically on the brink of losing it completely. i was completely lost. nothing felt right. i wasn’t enough of a person for anyone. and i wasn’t whole enough for myself either. i felt like i just couldn’t do anything right. and that my life just didn’t really fit into any mold out there. and sure, a lot has happened in the thirteen years since i was diagnosed by a second opinion doctor in baltimore on june tenth of that year. and over the years, the cocktails to manage my mental health have been varieties upon varieties. but the doubt in myself always finds a way to creep back in. settling in nicely within the crevices of my latest identity crisis.
and there’s a lot happening right now. and it’s pretty clear from the outside in that most people don’t understand that. and i have been working really hard to stop focusing so much on that perspective lately. the idea that everyone needs to be comfortable with how it really looks. and that it’s okay to talk about how it really is. to be healing from the inside out. i think there’s a misconception about healing. honestly, about all healing really. i felt that way after my best friend was killed suddenly and tragically six years ago in a car crash on the way to her fifteen year old son’s lacrosse game. by an audi. and that driver lived. she was forty six years old. and i remember after her funeral, the people around me shifted back into their lives and i was standing in a pile of my own pieces. unsure how to gather them all up safely. without slicing a finger open. without breaking them into smaller pieces. i was waist deep in grief. and navigating it solo. settling an estate and cleaning out her classroom while still teaching the ninth grade. and the normalcy that began to exist outside of my bubble of grief was hard to watch. because i didn’t know how to be there anymore. how to do things like make dinner or sleep through the night. i cried. all the freaking time. and the toxic positivity was thick. the ‘it happened for a reason’ and ‘she’s in a better place’. it was nauseating. to be waist deep in sadness. to be waist deep in unsaid goodbyes. to be waist deep in grief. and for others to dismiss it. to walk past it. to ignore it. and here we are, at a crossroads. where my life has suddenly dipped yet again. grief and healing and loneliness and balancing it all. and the assumption is that remission means happiness. that the summer glow means sunshine. that the weight of cancer has been lifted. that all is forgotten. that all is behind me. that all is lost. that all is over. and while that is seemingly true in a reality framework. it ain’t the move for me. it’s bigger than all of that. there is a lot of grief here. different than the grief that comes when you lose someone. it’s grief over everything you had. your whole life as you knew it. it’s the grief surrounding starting all over again. in a brand new body. one that feels swollen and ugly and unfinished. grief over the people who didn’t stay. who left you during dark times. the betrayal of friendship. grief that swells when you realize you can’t finish a thought or sentence. that your impeccable short term memory is not so impeccable anymore. which makes your pursuit of a doctorate that much more challenging. it’s the loss of a life you never got to finish having. and the doubt that comes in thick waves, it enters alongside grief. these two massive emotions that just carry me through the days. the doubt is just this immense emotion, stemming from the loss of the person i once was. making all these massive adjustments to being this person now. and wondering if i am even capable after being ravaged by a virus and cancer. and the world around me has resumed. which is great. everyone’s sadness has slid away and the conversations have gently redirected themselves away from the ‘how are you feeling?’ and that’s great. it’s great that others are able to move forward past the sadness that was my life for a little over a year. and it’s not that i don’t want to march past the sadness either. it’s not that i want to establish residency here. that’s not it at all. it’s just where i am. and it’s lonely being here. riddled with grief and doubt. but after much discussion about it this week, in multiple therapy settings, i have come to realize that it’s okay to be here. in that strange place balancing moving forward but opening yourself up to all that you have to carry with you. the doubt. the unsure feeling. the fear and worry. they don’t just slip out of your pocket after entering remission. and maybe that’s the hard part for people to understand. that sure, it can only go up from here. but sometimes there are ladders and other times, chutes.
but someone said something super powerful to me this week. i was on the verge of having my third breakdown of the day earlier this week. and lately, coping isn’t my strong point. i was still reeling over a less than cute comment that had been said in my direction last week. the short version of the comment was that as my treatments for cancer come to a nearing end- that it’s over. and that it being over means it doesn’t get talked about anymore because it’s not happening anymore. i could literally feel the heat rising in my throat. me. standing there, just six days out from an infusion. of medication that continues to save my life and protect me from exiting remission. me. with my short hair, five months cancer free. yeah, let’s not talk about it anymore. pushed back into this lonely space. where it’s me and what happened to me. me and my cancer diagnosis. huddled together. trying to make space for each other to exist harmoniously without ruining everyone else’s good time. and so i entered multiple therapy spaces emotional as hell. but someone reminded me of something so powerful. that my story is my truth. my story is powerful. my story shows strength and resilience and the fight. and it will make people uncomfortable. especially those who are ready to move forward and put it in the past. but that’s them. not you. not me. and the doubt and the fear and the loneliness. they are real. they come from the shattering of all that made me whole. gone too soon. and when those get loud somedays, and man are they loud; it’s okay. it’s okay to acknowledge that your old self and your new self haven’t synced up yet. and your old self is dropping mad doubt and fear in hopes you’ll come back. but ya can’t babe. arrows are only shot forward. you’re headed in the right direction. it’s slow. sometimes it’s full of doubt.
but how will i make it? who the hell knows.
but what if i can’t? you can.
but what if it takes forever? so it takes forever.
the doubt is there. no doubt about it. but it’s just your old self asking for you back. but we don’t walk backwards. we have been shot forward baby.
i am an arrow. slowly moving through doubt. aiming for healing.