From the moment I got on the chemotherapy merry-go-round, I have been thinking about what it feels like to be me right now – compared to what it usually feels like. The further into the cycles of poisoning I go, the harder it is to remember what ‘normal’ looks like. Who I am today still holds the essence of who I was before…I think. “Do I seem different to you?” I keep asking people. In trying to find a word to describe the sensation of not entirely knowing whether I am still the same old Sara, I tried a few on for size. ‘Lost’ seemed a bit melodramatic. ‘Drifting’ felt like it was lacking in purpose because I am still very clear on what and who is important to me. ‘Temporarily suspended’ was the best I could come up with. That’s two words, acknowledged. Stick with me while I describe it because it’s taking us somewhere important.
What do I mean by ‘temporarily suspended’? I am firmly rooted in the now. So firmly rooted that I have almost lost my ability to dream, to think about how things might be different. Always one to give airtime to the fanciful and the dreamy, the piece of my brain that does that has largely checked out. Born an eternal optimist, I currently don’t have the ability to move within that space nor one where everything is going to hell in a handbasket. I am in the nowhere space where things are neither good nor bad, neither exciting nor dull. I am task-orientated and looking ahead a few paces less than usual. I can still do all the things required of me at work – but it requires a different type of focus. In some ways, I am relying on sets of purposeful learned behaviors rather than doing what comes automatically. In other ways, I am operating purely out of instinct.
Yesterday, a random thought about the parallels between my experience and those of our visitors emerged. The life events and other stressors our visitors face create a similar effect for them as the merry-go-round of ritualistic dosing with powerful drugs does to me. Mental-health issues, drug-and-alcohol dependence and life trauma all thrust people into a fog. Our visitors are firmly rooted in the now. They are often only looking ahead far enough to know what is happening in the next hour or at most, the rest of the day. Despite people on the outside thinking they must be constantly miserable, often they are neither happy nor unhappy, excited nor calm, hopeful nor hopeless. There are certainly times of imminent crisis where it all feels too much, just as there are moments of simple joy from a pleasant or soulful exchange with a kind person. Broadly – they are stuck and have lost their ability to dream about what else life could look like.
I was chatting with one of our regular visitors last week about his current battle with alcohol. Over and over he kept telling me stories of how the alcohol was devastatingly affecting his health. It didn’t matter where I tried to steer the conversation, he kept coming back to the same thing. When I asked him what he could do about his health, he told me more stories of the body parts that were giving out. He was stuck. Boldly and with license, because we had been talking about me heading back for a round of chemo the next day, I said to him “So it seems we are both poisoning ourselves, except I am poisoning myself to live and it looks like you are poisoning yourself to die. What do you think about that?” He agreed. We did a deal whereby the next day, I would poison myself to live and he would have a day of abstinence. I saw him five days later and he had been abstinent since we spoke. I won’t pretend our conversation was profound enough to cause a whole life shift but a five-day break was something his body would have benefited from.
I know there is an end to my experience of being temporarily suspended. But for our visitors, what is the catalyst that allows a dream of something better to emerge. Without doubt, it is to be surrounded by people who remember how to dream and who can help create the mental images that conjure up a different type of life. Our support team does just that. This is a team of truly special people, whose ability to help people transcend from a state of being temporarily suspended to one of forward movement is something made of magic. It is rooted in experience, practice, persistence, integrity, respect and a deep sense of care.
I am still asking the question “Do I still seem the same to you?” The random thought about parallel understandings and the process of writing about finding meaning in one thing because of another felt like me. So yes, I am me – temporarily suspended or not.