Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More Perspectives

I started to write this as a response to a comment from RivkA, but it turned into a diatribe so I decided to post it. Unlike most of my postings, this is being written on the fly, first thing in the morning and without actual proper editing. So my apologies if the quality is a bit lower.

RivkA wrote:

1. feeling like I'm fooling everyone with my "positive attitude"

2. afraid to brush my hair and lose what's left

3. afraid my hair will never grow back (once my best feature -- long, red, and did I mention it was down to my....)

4. poor complexion -- I get cortizone with Herceptin and it gives me the acne I never had as a teenager. Oh yeah, and it doesn't go away because I heal so slowly, thanks to the chemo. (need I say more?)

5. lost (stolen) time, that I'll never get back! (TOTALLY SCARED of losing more, btw)

6. I am also "practical... pragmatic.... good at putting things into perspective." It's all bullshit.

If I keep moving, I don't have to think about how scared I am all the f***ing time.

Btw, it's 3:21 at night. After laying in bed, tossing and turning, I finally gave up and got up.

Cancer SUCKS!

Of course RivkA got me thinking….

In terms of losing time...it is weird but I tend to think in seasons. For example: "I lost a spring and a summer," to the bombing. Three years later I lost part of a spring, a summer, a fall and a part of a winter to a series of catastrophes which hit over a nine-month period: thyroid cancer, severe hormone-deficiency-induced depression, a freak allergic reaction to the hormone replacement meds, the development of a hole in my macula and one random hand injury which required stiches and several months of physical therapy. (By January, in desperation, I decided to give up the fight and just go on the damn Prozac).
I do not know why I have this urge to quantify, though it probably has to do with my being an accountant. Or perhaps it is just easier to write off a chunk of time than to actually consider it part of your life. Or perhaps quantifying it helps us to feel as though we are in control?

Whatever. I am an accountant, not a psychiatrist. Keep it easy then. Lama? Cacha! (Why? Because!)

As for the upbeat bit--at the time, in the hospital, I remember thinking that if I was depressing, people would go away. Of course, with the cancer, when the aformentioned depression hit, a couple friends really did go away. (But a couple -stayed--thank G-d for them).
There is also the fact that most people do not know how to deal with a person who is depressed. I will never forget (or forgive) the woman who came along with a friend of mine on a post-radioactive iodine treatment-visit. This was after nearly eight weeks without thyroid hormones and mentally and physically I was not in good shape. She, of course, started feeding me all of the bullsh*t she had learned at Aish (happy-clappy, "you should not feel bad", "this is all for the best", etc). In short, trying to shame me for feeling bad.
I wanted to kill her, but frankly, I did not have the energy.

People tell you that they want you to be honest, but they don't really. Furthermore, it is not black and white. At least with me, it is not as though the feelings hit in nice convenient chunks where you can call up a friend. It is just there in the background, all the time. For example, right now I am cheerful but I am still self-conscious about the scars on my leg. (Well, actually, right now I am a bit irritated--the memories of that visit always do that to me but never mind), Anyway, what am I to do? Call up a friend every time I think about my legs? I live in friggin' Tel Aviv-that would be pretty much every day during the summer.
The time lost is the worst. I still ask myself: if I had not been held back and lost time and all that energy to the bombing and to the cancer and to a variety of other catastrophes which I will not go into here….maybe I would be married by now? Maybe I would have kids? What did I lose? This is there all the time. I just live with it. But I do not call up a friend every time it hits. It simply is not possible. This is woven into my life and my thoughts. I can no more do that than I could call a friend every time I feel grateful for a body that works and money in my pocket (thoughts which are also constantly with me).

Another example--every year, about this time, I get paranoid that disaster is about to strike...and particularly now, as 1) three years have passed since the last disaster, 2) I just started a new job and 3) things are going well. It is, more or less, the combination of circumstances that preceded the bombing and the cancer. (The cancer diagnosis was received three years, nearly to the day, of the bombing.) I will be freaked out until the Hebrew anniversary passes. I think that it is in May this year. Paranoid as in "really afraid and really convinced that disaster is coming". I joke about it with my friends. I joke about it with myself. But I really am seriously frightened.

Or maybe the eye surgeries this fall was the catastrophe, and G-d sent it early? That would be nice….

Oh…and Rivka, I have totally always wanted long red hair. I promise to be insanely jealous once it grows back. And in the meantime, I am so sorry. :(


Shoshana said...

Once again, your honesty just blows me away. Even for someone who hasn't gone through such difficulties (and who realizes how lucky she is for that), I can totally relate to your thoughts. And really appreciate reading them, because it makes me feel more normal.

Anonymous said...

I think that when a person is hit with a tragedy, no matter how much time passes, it will always be with there somehow, sometimes close to the surface and other times more deeply buried. And, whether we are prepared to admit it or not, it changes us. It becomes a permanent part of who we are as individuals.

I know that there are certain parts of me that have changed as a result of various tragic events in my life. I am more aware of different parts of my personality, and while I'm obviously still "me" in so many ways, I know that in other ways, I'm a different person, reacting differently to certain situations than I may have reacted previously. But this is who I am, now.

And as far as people saying things that make you want to kill them, I had a list. I think one of my favorites was, "God doesn't give us anything that we can't handle." Don't even get me started...

Anonymous said...

Gosh Gila, you know how to silence a person, did see the posting this morning but because of my intention to upgrade this horizontal career of mine I did not take the time to read.

Unknown said...

"[ I will never forget (or forgive) the woman who came along with a friend of mine on a post-radioactive iodine treatment-visit. This was after nearly eight weeks without thyroid hormones and mentally and physically I was not in good shape. She, of course, started feeding me all of the bullsh*t she had learned at Aish (happy-clappy, "you should not feel bad", "this is all for the best", etc). In short, trying to shame me for feeling bad. -I wanted to kill her, but frankly, I did not have the energy. ]"

it's possible that she meant to encourage you, and not at all to shame you, but was just 'clueless' about how to do so

very few of us know just the right thing to say or do that would be helpful,

i happen to be one,
of the many who have no idea ;-)

but i think that most people who really want to help are sincere enough to remain silent or leave, if that is what is needed

could you reflect,
and post
(or re-post, in case i missed it)
what words or gestures you found most helpful,

and also,
whatever you found yourself wishing that the person should have shut up or just leave

personal request:
{this has occasionally 'backfired' on me :-(( }

when did you appreciate people being funny/cute/clowny, etc.

and when did you absolutely not want to hear any of it

(have tried to post this last section in my best cheerful Donald Duck voice, but couldn't get the right html tags ... )

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

I totally agree with Vedaal about the person NOT trying to shame you. You know where I'm coming from, and it is a hashkafa that works on seeing good and positive. But that doesn't mean that I don't respect your pain, challenge, struggles or fear.

Also, when people are saying stuff like "it's all for the best" or "G-d doesn't give us anything we can't handle" people are often talking to themselves more than they are to you.

For years I used to have this dialog with G-d: "Hey G-d! Thanks for my troubles. I appreciate them. Really! They're great. Just DON'T GIVE ME ANY MORE BECAUSE I'M A REALLY WEAK PERSON. Okay?" But ha ha. G-d decided I was lying to myself and things got even tougher. Thanks a lot!

Spider Robinson says that if someone who does a felony is a felon, than G-d is an iron.

Anonymous said...

Vedaal and Ye'he, this is not a trial, we all are guests on Gila's blog, if she felt uncomfortable with the situation than she felt uncomfortable.
She was just a case, people talk but do not listen, you are a number and a see you next week.
I too have met a lot of people who did/do have problems with my meaning of life.
If they at this right moment would drop dead I simply do not care, and you know why?, because there are others who deserve a better understanding.

Welcome to the revolution!

Baila said...

Some tips for those of you who don't know what to say when your friend has been diagnosed with cancer, or been blown up in a terror attack (truthfully I can only speak from experience to the former and not the latter). Never say:

1. It's for the best.
2. G-d doesn't give you what you can't handle.
3. I could never handle this, I would just fall apart, but you, you're so ________ (fill in with brave, strong, spectacular etc.)
4. It's a kaparah for some sin you've committed.

I know there are many more, and I guess I can't speak for everyone, but saying those things just drove me crazy, even though I know that people meant well, and that they were saying them from a place of fear (if it happened to me, why not them) and maybe even relief (Thank G-d it didn't happen to me).

But there are things you can say:

1. I wish you weren't going through this.
2. I can help you by _________.
3. Raunchy humor always worked for me.

(Gila, if you need to hear a dirty joke, I've got a treasure trove of them).

RivkA with a capital A said...

Hey Gila,

I had to cut my hair years ago, when it started thinning on its own. (way before the cancer thing)

I didn't always want red hair (most kids don't)

Ironically, it was when I *did* want it that I had to cut it.

I find myself praying that I'll be able to keep what's left. If it thins too much, there's no point...

In my soul, I will always be the girl with the thick, long, red hair...


I have tons to say about the inappropriate comments thing.

My standard response: "Some people find those ideas helpful; they don't work for me."

Cancer does not make me a better person. Quite the opposite, cancer takes all the energy I usually divert outward and diverts it inward. I'm way more self-focussed.

Gila said...

Okay--few minutes to respond to various responses....

Baila--you know dirty jokes??? And you are religious? Oh--way cool! :) And yes, raunchy and any humor is always good.

Yehe and Vedaal--there is nothing wrong with looking on the bright side...but generally people do a better job of it when they arrive at that conclusion on their own, as opposed to having someone who has no clue trying to ram it down their throats because 1) they want to feel as though they are doing something (focus is on them, and not on the person allegedly being helped) and 2) it is hashkafa appropriate.

I have my own hashkafa. It is based on the Book of Job.

Here is my hashkafa:

G-d has a Plan.

The Plan is Good.

The Plan is very big and complex, involving as it does billions of people over thousands of years.

It bears pointing out that, of said billions of people, many of them suffer horribly AND in ways that one would be really hard pressed to say "yeah, well, it was for THIER good". Ummm....infants sacrificed to Moloch? (Am choosing this example intentionally) They gained something from that? Am I missing something here?

Which brings me to my next bit of hashkafa.

I trust that it IS good....but for the Plan. I trust that G-d has an end in mind, and that this is necessarily to arrive at the end. And therefore, whatever it is is good.

But it can still be absolutely horrific and devoid of any benefit for the individual person in question. I suppose one can consider being part of G-d's Plan to be good, in an of itself.

And if that does it for you--more power to you. And if it does not do it for you, I totally get that too.

Back to the murdered babies....I mean, the Jewish religion is based, on part, on a rejection of the deaths of those children. One could argue that a lot of what is good in society today was born out of the rejection of a society and belief system which could countenance such actions. If there were no deaths, no excess, perhaps we would never had the act of rejection. So in the grand scheme of things, one could say that the deaths of those babies had meaning. But still, it was hardly GOOD for them. They were murdered, in cold blood.

Before you give some response like "well, it saved them from growing up in that society etc", remember two things.... First, that these were children, just like your children, and 2) people have used that justification for murdering Jewish children, just like your children.

So again, for those far away children, was it for their personal benefit?

Sometimes terrible things happen. Not everything that happens is good for the person it happens to.

And as for G-d not sending stuff that people cannot handle--one word: suicide.

Moral of the story: when in doubt, skip the mussar and go straight to the raunchy jokes. Or chocolate.

Batya said...

Your fighting spirit saves you!
Rant all you want.

Kelly said...

first of all -- thanks so much for your sweet comments the past couple days! anytime you come near this part of texas you have a friend to visit! :) or if you're near my illinois roots...

secondly -- wow what a post. and your response above was great as well. i was just going to make a small comment somewhere along the lines of God's plan and how we may not understand it fully, but you had done it already. i love that, even though we come from different religious backgrounds, a certian framework is there. even though i had to look up the meanings of the hebrew words... :) which i love, because i love learning more about cultures and religions. so, thank you.

Baila said...

Oh Gila,

Not to start a new thread or anything, but religious people tell some of the dirtiest jokes I know.

Shocking, I know.

Gila said...

Kelly--you should know that I lived in Texas for a year, when I was three. And that we visited the Alamo. And I remember it (the visit).

Baila--guess that explains the large families.....


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

I actually more or less agree with your hashkafa. Some of the stuff that we have to deal with is hard, painful, scary, horrific, and makes us want to fall down on the floor kicking and screaming, "It's not fair!"

I agree that even if one's hashkafa is that everything is for the good, you don't walk into a shiva house, a hospital room, or the general area of a struggling person and cheerfully tell them, "G-d must love you!" That's pretty counterproductive - as we can see from all the comments.

But people can be stupid. One example, I was at the shiva of a family who lost a baby to SIDS. The baby was close to a year old. This is late to lose a child to SIDS. And some older woman says to the baby's mother, "So tell us. How does this happen and how can it be prevented. We have children and grandchildren, and we want to protect them."

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! I wanted to smack her. We were all in shock that someone would say something so thoughtless.

What works for me, is for ME. If some day my approach speaks to you, I'm happy to share. I'll blog about my hashkafa because, well, that's why I blog. I like having a personal soap box. I see commenting in a similar way. But to walk into a hospital room and start spouting this stuff?

My point was that I cannot believe that anyone was trying to SHAME you. Not that she was justified.

To my mind, a basic rule for shmirat halashon is "know your audience". If you are going to cause someone pain with words, shut your gob.

So, having said that, I want to apologize if I got anyone upset or made anyone out there feel bad.

Unknown said...

"[I actually more or less agree with your hashkafa. Some of the stuff that we have to deal with is hard, painful, scary, horrific, and makes us want to fall down on the floor kicking and screaming, "It's not fair!"]

G-D already told us we can't understand,
"Lo Yirani ha-Adam Va-Chai"
(Shmot, 33, 20)
usually translated as :
'A person cannot see Me and live'

there are various fascinating Kabbalistic explanations,
but here's one that i think can serve as a bridge for all Hashkafot:

G-D *doesn't want* us to fully understand, because if we did,
there would be a danger of becoming 'cold' and shrugging off a person's suffering, as "It's all G-D's Will, what can we say"

so in order to really LIVE, and feel the pain of others, and cry out against the unfairness, and strive for a future where there will be no more suffering, we have to feel it in a way where we CAN'T understand it ...

there's a Chassidic story about Rebbi Moshe Leib of Sassov, who told his followers:

Every drive a person has can be used for Good,

--Greed can be channeled into developing wealth and giving of it generously
--Lust can be channeled into maintaining a relationship and having a family
--Anger can be channeled into bravery in battle,

The Rebbe asked, "What purpose can DOUBT have?"
and answered,
"When we see someone in need,
we should elevate the quality of Doubt by thinking 'maybe G-D *won't* help, maybe it's all up to us to help in whatever way we can ...'

along those lines,
this may be the channel to 'elevate' all those dirty jokes ... ;-)

Anonymous said...

What you said about feeling awful without thyroid hormones- I know what that feels like. It's horrible. Bravery or religious faith or a positive attitude doesn't enter into it. Especially with the exhaustion, mental fog and irritability. The other grad students I worked with daily assumed that I was some sort of drug addict. I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive them for that, but I survived. I'm glad you did too. Pfeh- who needs a thyroid anyways? They're far more trouble than they're worth- I was glad to get rid of mine with radiation.

Gila said...

Anon--I cannot tell you how glad I am to "hear" you say that about thyroid hormone deprivation. Ever since the cancer, I have felt terribly ashamed because I took it so hard and wasn't as upbeat as I should have been, and just turned into a whiney, self-pitying monster. Even when I chalk it up to hormone-induced depression and/or just not being up to dealing with another crisis, there is a big part of me that is not buying the excuses and will (wisely) point out that I was pretty much a disaster case even before my stupid thyroid was even removed--the whole cancer thing just hit me very hard. Anyway, this part of me looks at the people who have real cancer and the real problems AND good attitudes (like my friend Angela, at www.amvictory.blogspot.com), and goes "Girl--you SO deserve a big ol' bitch slap!

I don't know why it helps to see another person echo my feelings--maybe just knowing that, if another person feels the same way, that I was not making everything up, and that I really was not in control of my own mind and emotions....

Anonymous said...

I have lost time to severe depression. The anger, regret, and guilt at that - and at not being there for my family during those times - was as toxic as the initial depression itself, and fed it.

It's very important not to give in to this. Just look forward at what you can do now.