A few more thoughts about feelings

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

It’s been quite the rollercoaster, kids!

First off — very good news! My surgery July 6 went great and I’m free of disease.

What a blessed relief. I start radiation treatment in September.

But…what a disorienting time it’s been.

Jose, my husband, and I are career journalists — who, since the age of 19 when we began working for national publications even as college undergrads — learned early that having, let alone expressing, our feelings was an impediment to just getting shit done.

When you’re on deadline, no matter how stressed/tired/hungry/thirsty/in pain you might actually be, you have to get the bloody story done.

Jose, working as a New York Times photographer, once stepped on a nail so long it punctured his boot and his foot while covering the aftermath of a hurricane in Florida. He’d flown down — yes, really — aboard Air Force One, as he’d been in Connecticut covering Bush. He got a tetanus shot as the jet took off to head back to New York.

But this has meant, for decades, whatever we truly felt in a difficult situation — also listening to and photographing war, trauma, crime victims, fires — we suppressed our fear, grief, sadness. It might have popped out later, privately, or not.

Ours is not a business that welcomes signs of “weakness” — you can lose the respect of peers and editors, losing out on the major assignments that boost our careers if you admit to the PTSD that can affect us — even if it privately stains our souls with trauma for years.

This cancer diagnosis, and the sudden and reluctant admission of my own very real vulnerability, blew my self-protective walls to smithereens.

I’ve never cried as much in my entire life, (I never was one to cry), even in the toughest situations, as I have in the past month.

Tears of fear and anxiety.

Tears of gratitude for friends’ kindness.

Tears of pain. It’s a much rougher recovery than four previous surgeries on my knees, shoulder and hip.

Tears of pure exhaustion from being medically probed and punctured for weeks on end.

Tears of worry I won’t get back to being wry, wise-cracking me. (If not, who will I be?)

I feel like a lobster cracked open.

I’ve spent my life being private, guarded and wary of revealing weakness, vulnerability or need.

My late step-mother loved to taunt me as being “needy.” That did it.

I was bullied in high school which taught me that authority figures who did nothing to stop it didn’t care about me as a person, just a number in a chair.

But this has been life-changing — not only in the rush of so many negative emotions — but the kindness, gentleness and compassion I’ve also felt with every single medical intervention. Ten minutes before being wheeled in the OR, I was laughing with my surgeon and her nurses. That’s a rare gift.

I also feel some shame at how infantile one becomes — focused with ferocious selfishness  — memememememememe! — when in pain and fear. Two dear friends were widowed and another’s adult daughter died of cancer within the same month as all of this, and it’s taken a lot of energy to offer them the attention and love they so need.

People have offered to talk to me about their experiences of breast cancer. I can’t. Too often, they plunge into detail and I can’t listen, process and empathize. It’s too much.

That may be my own weakness, because feelings can feel so overwhelming.

Interesting times….

 

38 thoughts on “A few more thoughts about feelings

  1. I really wanted to say something super profound so you would be impressed but this probably isn’t the time. Instead there is this: Mememememe yes you. You are allowed to worry about yourself, just like everyone else is, so don’t feel bad about it. Put yourself at the head of the line and if you need something ask for it. No, I won’t do your dishes.

  2. Wow, at my organization, we’re encouraged to a degree to be open about our feelings in the name of workforce resiliency (unless of course your feelings and opinions might incite division and get in the way of the job, in which case please suppress them for the sake of harmony and unity). We even have an on-staff counselor to talk to about your problems (I’ve seen them twice for anxiety-coping strategies). It’s quite a contrast to hear of a field that has such a different approach and outlook on our emotional states.
    I’m glad to hear you’re doing better. Remember, if there’s anything I can do, just let me know.

    1. Lucky you…

      It’s one of the many reasons journo’s (like cops and MDs) marry fellows in the biz. We get why our sweeties are “unemotional”. We’re not at all, but we may handle it differently.

      I will also say that being a Canadian and a WASP adds more cultural imperatives to keep a stiff upper lip. Jose, being Hispanic (or just Jose!) is very comfortable expressing his feelings.

  3. It’s wonderful to hear you’re free of disease Caitlin, Jose must be over the moon too. Though you have a job where everything must be dropped at the last minute, remember to always mke time for yourself to celebrate life now.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  4. Jan Jasper

    So glad to hear the news that you are doing well! What a relief! And what an experience this whole thing has been….

    1. Thank you!

      It’s been very tiring emotionally to keep working, meet with 7 MDs and discuss further treatment, make all the appt’s etc. It will be good to reclaim the part of my brain that has been so distracted by fear.

  5. Happy for you that’s wonderful news! I read your comment above “It will be good to reclaim the part of my brain that has been so distracted by fear.” that has to be the best feeling! Reclaim it!

    Thank you for sharing with us what’s been going on in your life. I know it had to be difficult. I’ve learned a lot by what you’ve shared with us. Most importantly an opportunity for all of us to offer words of encouragement to you.

    1. Thanks!

      I debated whether to blog it or not — TMI? TMI too soon? I spared the gory details and one of my neighbors — 80-ish — was so sweet yesterday when she said “The worst is over!”

      Glad it was useful. And all your words of encouragement have been of deep comfort to me. More than some might realize!

  6. So much went through my head as I read this post of yours. And as much as I hate that cancer was the messenger, I do love the universe brings us what we need. I was cracked open by my divorce and the aftermath. So I do know what it’s like to be in a strange land. And I am sure you feel as if you are in one. But I love that you have love to surround you and are willing to embrace the new customs of this land. I am sending you love, light and every wish for continued healing.

  7. Small steps. The tears will flow and they will stop. Then probably hit you again later, when you least expect it. This stuff goes in waves but it does seem like we grow through it all, come out the same person yet changed on the other side. The emotional release may just have added precious years to your life. So glad the outcome is a good one!

  8. hi caitlin – i’m going to try again, as it looks like my comments may not be making it through. i first wanted to say that i’m so happy to hear the positive news after your surgery. i’m sorry for all you’ve had to endure already, but know that it’s the path that will lead you back to good health. the gift here is that you are not only on the way to improved physical health, but in expressing your emotions, openly and honestly, you have broken through on the path to improved emotional health. best –

    1. Thanks…

      The whole “sharing feelings” thing is still not something I’m comfortable with. We’ll see if this is a permanent change. One of the predictable surprises has been seeing who’s really shown up and those whose support I would have counted on….but they fled. So that’s something I’m thinking about, who’s reliable in a crisis.

      1. yes, it certainly becomes clear in these situations. some may be the fear of not knowing ‘what to do’ and some may just show their character. i’d say the knowing what to do could be solved by just being supportively present in some way.

      2. I have a post cued up on what to do and what not to do. The simplest gesture — an email, a card — means a great deal.

        Basically, on a very primal level, you seek reassurance that people care, that they would notice your absence.

  9. That’s great news, Caitlin. It’s as if you entered a tunnel, but came out the other end, triumphant. Now you have the rest of the summer ahead of you to relax in a tranquil state of mind. Will you go somewhere pleasant and peaceful, or just stay at home?

    1. Thank heaven — and through nothing more than damn good luck, early detection and a good (female) surgeon.

      I now have to try to make some money — have been massively distracted with anxiety and endless medical appointments, so am quite behind. We’ll stay close to home. I’ll be up in Ontario the first week of September then stuck back here for a full month once I start radiation.

      We’re hoping to get to England in late October for a break from all things medical.

  10. Wonderful news that the surgery went well! I’m so happy to hear it.

    A few years ago, my mother broke both of her ankles and she said it was a big lesson in accepting help, relinquishing control, and being overwhelmed by the generosity of friends. Sounds very similar to what you’ve described!

  11. Hi Caitlin – I am catching up on blog reading, time for such things has been elusive of late. Sorry to hear about your diagnosis, but it sounds like all is progressing well, and all best wishes for a swift and full recovery!

  12. Very glad to hear that your surgery was successful Caitlin and that you are on to the next stages of recovery. I agree with your other readers and friends that the new discoveries you’re making may well add years to your life because of the positive effects of emotional release – and letting in the fact that people care about you can transform even very difficult situations – as you’ve already seen. You describe feeling vulnerable but show such guts in writing about it. I respect what it takes to do that.

    Sending you lots of healing vibes!

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