Nothing left in my tank
May 28, 2021 5:55 AM   Subscribe

I’m having trouble dealing with the hand I’ve been dealt in life. Many snowflakes inside.

I’m 32. I was one of those kids who excelled at book learning and did well in school, including becoming fluent in French. I got a scholarship to a great university and eventually did an MA. I had interesting summer jobs and secured a permanent position at a national museum at age 24, which was my dream. The first 25 years of life were pretty smooth and involved a lot of checking of goals off lists. I relate strongly to Sunflower 88’s recent posts on what we’ve been taught constitutes success and feeling like overall, you’ve failed.

Because. The past 6 fuckin’ years, my friends. Life has knocked me flat on my ass.

First, the “dream job” was ruined by toxic management and I was there, deeply unhappy, for 4 years. I finally got the guts to leave and was hopeful about a new start at a new job.

The new job was physically and mentally abusive in almost every way. The director of our tiny, local non profit would: throw things across the room at us, tell us she “didn’t like” us when we made mistakes, once threatened legal action against me over “violation” of an NDA I’d never actually signed, insisted on 60 hour weeks with no overtime and had adult tantrums along the lines of “don’t you know who I am”. A coworker got a concussion because she once hurled a trash basket at him. I eventually got fired for a made-up, “restructuring” reason after working myself to the bone trying to impress her. My mental health was so bad in the wake of that job that I tried to commit suicide.

During the time I was working at Shit Job, my dad had a bad, mobility-destroying stroke and my father in law died of cancer. It was horrible to watch my husband go through the loss of his father.

After being discharged from a treatment centre, I rallied and put everything into finding a new job. I’m now at the best job I’ve ever had, but it’s a contract that’s currently being renewed in 6-9 month increments due to uncertainty in the cultural sector around Covid. It’s stressful as the prospect of unemployment is constantly hanging over my head. I don’t have paid vacation time because I’m a contractor so I haven’t had a break from working other than sick days in two years. Since 2018, we’ve moved cities every year for my work and that’s been expensive and exhausting.

Four months after starting Great Job, it was Covid. We all know what that’s been like.

In March, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the beginning there was talk of just having surgery/radiation and avoiding chemo, but of course it was more agressive than they initially thought, has now spread to my lymph nodes and declared its intent to metastasize, and I’m doing 6 months of chemo. After that, there will be several more months of radiation. I’ll then be on hormonal drug therapy for years.

I’ve only had one chemo infusion, haven’t even lost my hair yet, and already feel like shit due to nausea, headaches, and bone pain due to the drugs. I need daily injections to boost my white blood cell count. Foods I used to enjoy now taste terrible or they’re too heavy and I can’t digest them anymore. I’m tired all the time. I used to really love just cranking music and dancing around our apartment, but I can’t anymore; it makes the headaches and fatigue worse.

As I mentioned in another post, the diagnosis has strongly impacted how we have to approach my fertility. My oncologist has said there’s only a 50% chance my ovaries will still work after chemo. She’s recommending in my specific case that they actually be removed when treatment is complete because my cancer cells are hormone receptor positive and so agressive. We didn’t pursue IVF in the end because it would have meant delaying treatment and it is $16,000 per round, none of it covered.

As far as our financial state, I won’t be working for most of the next year as I’m in treatment. I’m fortunate to be able to take a leave from work and apply for EI and LTD. However, the benefits I qualify for are 55% of my tiny salary. As such, this situation now affects our finances as well. My husband has a good job, but what I’ll be receiving will be my share of the rent with not much left over. I have substantial savings but would prefer to not blow through them for this as that money was for a house. I may not have a choice now.

I can feel myself starting to become consumed by bitterness and resentment at how hard my life has been the last half decade or so. I feel completely spent. I have no will to persevere left. I try to remind myself of good things (I’m in Canada where all my treatment is covered under Medicare! Lucky bitch!) but ultimately it doesn’t improve my mental state. I cry all the time. Everything hurts. I have a therapist but have struggled with finding a good fit and don’t have the energy to look for another new one right now. I’m on Prozac and it helps a bit. I’d like to have the dose upped but can’t with my diagnosis.

None of my friends get it. None of them have had cancer. Although I know everyone has problems and struggles, I feel distant from them lately. Many of them are buying houses and having kids and we still live in a rental neither of us loves. I sometimes hear my husband crying at night after he thinks I’ve gone to bed.

A friend had a really beautiful baby girl yesterday. The joy on her face in the photos she sent me was so moving; I was so damn happy for her, I cried. What a cute baby with a tiny little button nose. I just wanted to hold her and breathe in the baby smell and look at the itty fingers. Baby fingernails are almost too cute to be real. How are they so small yet real?! It defies sense!!

I also had a very sharp, visceral sense in looking at her photos that I haven’t been that happy in years. I don’t remember the last time. I feel hopeless about everything.

I also know that despite the way I feel, a lot of my struggles are first world, white girl problems. I fully acknowledge the truth of that. I know I should work on being more resilient.

I’d like to hear stories about coming back from the brink as well as tips on how to prevent yourself from being consumed by your circumstances. What has worked for you in hard times? How do you stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with what needs to be done? What makes you feel strong? What gives you perspective? How do you focus on the good in a way that alters your mindset?

Thanks in advance for sharing your lives with me. ♥️
posted by oywiththepoodles to Human Relations (24 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: So. Here's the thing. Most of your struggles are NOT actually first world white girl problems. Everyone in the world faces illness, the illness or death of loved ones, and fear about the security of their future. For some that fear is about the next meal instead of the next year, but there's nothing precious or oblivious about being scared that you have cancer and it might leave you broke.

So whoever's voice is either in your world or in your head telling you you're not "resilient" enough or not "productive" enough or not "deserving" of sadness because you're having these fears and problems, kindly tell them to shove it up their ass. I'm especially worried that you include the line about your husband crying in your paragraph about money. Honey. He is not crying because you don't have your old salary. He is crying because his wife is sick and he can't fix it.

I’d like to hear stories about coming back from the brink as well as tips on how to prevent yourself from being consumed by your circumstances. What has worked for you in hard times? How do you stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with what needs to be done? What makes you feel strong? What gives you perspective? How do you focus on the good in a way that alters your mindset?

I don't. I've been dealing with severe suicidal depression since I was around 8 or 9 years old; I'm pretty old now and not dead yet so apparently I've been dealing with it more or less successfully. The thing is, you don't really have to DO anything to come back from the brink except continue, every day, to not die. That's it, that's the brief.

I mean, ok. There are some basic steps but you're taking them. Having a therapist. Taking your meds. Getting enough sleep and food. Sure. All of those things are good and fine.

But the more you try to force some ideal of blinding joy into your very hard, very scary circumstances, the more awful you will feel when it turns out that no, having cancer in a pandemic still fucking sucks donkey ass and no amount of Positive Thinking makes that better. You can't make it happen. You just have to be alive and awake when the little moments of joy come tiptoeing in around the edges. Because that is what joy is: moments in the edges. The picture of your friend is an instant in time. Three days later they could have been weeping in desolation with post-partum depression. The picture is A truth but not the Whole truth.

The one thing I wish someone had said to me when I was a teenager is: It's not immoral to be unhappy. There's nothing wrong with spending some time feeling sorry for yourself. There's nothing wrong with occasionally being consumed by your circumstances. There's nothing wrong with being a sad scared wreck when things are sad and scary. You don't owe the world a sunny face and never ever ever ever being "a bother".
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:38 AM on May 28, 2021 [152 favorites]

I agree with the comment above. You are having a terrible time. I'm so sorry.

I also hope your husband is being supportive and not doing the rent calculus expecting you to pay half and not have anything leftover, but that that's your own mind talking there. If I were him crying at night it wouldn't be about the rental, it would be fear of the cancer.

For the medical stress, I have not walked in your shoes so I will leave that one to other experts I think. If you are worried that you are not positive enough having cancer, Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-sided looks at this.

That said, what makes me feel strong and happy under financial stress is making a list of things that are freely available to me for joy. So here are a few (some of these are pre-/post-Covid):

Library, a long list of indoor and outdoor spaces I love around my town including the beach, free evenings at various museums and galleries, strolling into commercial galleries, free concerts at various locations, free Zoom livestream concerts, biking (I own a bike already) or walking, the raspberries that grow in a tiny parkette near me that no one knows about that we pick, a lot of the books/media that I already own, food banks (I volunteer at one and encourage you to use it if things ever get tough!), clothing swaps, the free groups in my neighbourhood. Also baths, lying in grass.

Then I have some low-cost higher-effort foods that just for me epitomize the simple made wonderful, and which sometimes making helps me feel - joy, I dunno - risotto, focaccia, buttered noodle ring, salads full of herbs from my pots.

For me, a sense of 'okayness' really only comes either from being around people I love, or being very grounded in small wonders. Art, books, movies, food, walks, flowers, etc. Nature documentaries.

I hope that helps, I am really rooting for you.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:52 AM on May 28, 2021 [24 favorites]

Best answer: I also know that despite the way I feel, a lot of my struggles are first world, white girl problems. I fully acknowledge the truth of that. I know I should work on being more resilient.

Fuck this shit. Cancer at 32 sucks. I’m really sad you’ve someone gotten the message it’s not okay to see what’s happened to you as real losses you need to grieve. Your young adulthood, possibly your fertility, your sense of place in the world, your health, the health of loved ones—these are major issues for anyone, Canadian or not.

When you look at what’s happening to you through the lens of personal failure, you then blame yourself and somehow make yourself culpable for not being fully self-actualized in your early 30s.

But what you’re dealing with totally sucks, and if you want to rage at the world, rage at the world! There’s no self help book you neglected to read that would have prevented your cancer.

I don’t think you’re going to fell better until you move past your shame at feeling bad. It’s okay to feel bad!

Lots of folks have found wisdom in Brene Brown’s discussions of shame and vulnerability and perhaps that’s a starting point for you.

I agree with others have said and encourage you to embrace all the emotions, even and especially the ones that seem to contradict each other. The photo of your friend and her baby filled you with joy for them and sorrow for you all at once. Lean into both. Cry with your husband, if he will let you. Find some community with other young people with cancer. Don’t try to push yourself to achieve happiness. This totally sucks, and it’s okay to feel that deeply.

I’m rooting for you too.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:23 AM on May 28, 2021 [26 favorites]

I'm autistic. I masked to keep high tech jobs (at which I was frequently bullied) for decades. I could not make close personal relationships (still can't, really) and up till 2019 I was frequently suicidal. Medication is not the answer for me (tried it).

Two years ago I gave myself permission to retire early. Honestly I should probably be on disability if this were at all a just world, but I have no interest in going through that demoralizing process. I've been beaten up enough.

I've come back. I still struggle with obsessive thoughts, feeling isolated (at times), and some of my other old faves. But I spend as much time outdoors as I possibly can, and that feeds my spirit. Playing music does the same. I also left the northeast US for a much sunnier climate and I think that is helping as well.

A lot of people are not going to be able to do what I did. But I share this because I was in a very low place for many years... and through some changes I made I probably added some years to my life. So I'm posting this comment from the other side of being in a dark place.

I would not expect a job to be the source of any kind of real fulfillment, to be candid. My suggestion is to cultivate as many moments where the monkey mind is not chattering away. I am NOT going to suggest meditation because that sure as hell never did it for me. For me it is spending time outdoors, music practice, cooking, listening to music, birdwatching, reading, listening to podcasts. For you, it may be music practice, cooking, art, crafts, board games, physical activity... it's different for everyone.

There's "joy" and then there's "contentment," and today I'm satisfied just to be content at times. And within those times of contentment there sometimes is joy, simply because my mind is quiet and I'm open to being fully present.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:28 AM on May 28, 2021 [29 favorites]

Yeah no wonder you're feeling like shit! You were psychologically abused for four years, you're dealing with a parent's decline, you don't have employment security, and you have fucking cancer! These are some of the most stressful things a person can go through (not to even mention multiple intercity moves). Yes, you're not food or housing insecure, or living in a war zone, or some of the OTHER most stressful things a person can go through. But you don't actually have to be experiencing every possible stress to need and deserve support. (You don't even have to be under as much stress as you're under, which again, is so much.)

So I would agree with everyone that giving yourself permission not to be resilient right now is key. Resilience will come! Right now things legitimately suck and you will probably have a better time if you just let yourself say so instead of scolding yourself for thinking it. Along the same lines: Does the hospital where you get chemo have any kind of patient support group, or can you seek one out? It's very helpful at times like these to be around a group of people who know what you're going through and can confirm that it's really hard. It'll still be really hard, but at least it'll be hard in a group.

Personally, I also find it's helpful to game out worst-case scenarios. (I would be doing that anyway, but I choose to think of it as helpful!) Financially, your worst-case scenario is blowing through your savings and not being able to buy a house but not being bankrupt or unable to make rent. That's survivable! Also, if you're able to think through the way things could go wrong, not by yourself and spiraling but planning and ideally with your spouse, you may feel more prepared. In your place, for instance, having thought through all the worst-case scenarios, I would definitely dip into house savings to freeze my eggs. You may land in a different place, but it'll be something that feels like a plan instead of a cloud of "what ifs."

None of this necessarily means you'll feel good, not right away. You don't have to feel good and you might not be able to right now. You're going through a lot. Not letting your brain make things worse by fretting, fixating, or spinning out is an achievable goal.
posted by babelfish at 8:00 AM on May 28, 2021 [18 favorites]

You're dealing with incredibly serious stuff, I agree with everyone above that you should embrace your (totally reasonable) feelings. You have every right to feel sad, angry, however you feel at a given time.

So this might sound cheesy, and obviously won't work for everyone. When I feel like there's no way my goals can come true and I may as well sink into despair, I make new goals.

It's made me feel very strong and resilient to make a habit of actively letting go of goals and dreams (relationships, jobs, lifestyle choices etc) that are not going to work out for me. I say goodbye and I grieve (on and off forever sometimes) but then I find a new dream.

My story is that I can't use my body the way I used to be able to. This still pisses me off and saddens me to no end sometimes. However, I've found out that I can use my body in some ways that I never would have known was possible before my injury. I won't ever be able to do some of the things I'd dreamed of doing, but I'm getting better and better at dreaming up new stuff that I can do.

I can personally relate to the loss of your father in law. I'm feeling for you. I hope you can share your feelings with someone as you're going through this.

Sending all the good thoughts your way.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 8:00 AM on May 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you're going through this - 2nd trying to find a local support group: several friends who are dealing w/long-term cancer treatments have found them very helpful, both for emotional support and for practical advice on dealing with side effects, doctors, and insurers.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:23 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is heavy, heavy shit and I'm so sorry you've had any one of these things happen, let alone all of them. These are not whiny "white girl problems," your pain and your loss and your difficulty is real. I want to talk about the trauma of terrible workplaces, though. I feel like they can be traumatic in extra special ways. I had two traumatic workplace experiences. They were both thankfully short lived! But even these short stints at dysfunctional workplaces with crazy bosses stayed with me for a very long time. There's just something extra f-ed about tying your monetary worth which, as a culture broadly, is tied with our actual worth as a human to a workplace that would demean and humiliate you. At one workplace, during the interview, I was asked how I felt about "managing up" meaning, telling the bosses that they were wrong or needed to do something differently. What I should have asked was, 'how do you feel about management from below?' Because the answer was: not good at all!

It truly is an unjust world beset with the sickness of capitalism that allows monstrous bosses and management structure to seemingly flourish and I'm sorry that you went through that very traumatic environment.

With your medical team, is it possible to reach out for more help and resources? You and your partner should throw everything at making life as easy as possible so that you have some room to breathe. Sending you massive good vibes.
posted by amanda at 8:33 AM on May 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Dude, you're me - I spent an entire FLIPPIN' DECADE going through that kind of one-damn-thing-after-the-other, and even asked my own question like this at my own six-year mark.

And one thing that did help is exactly what others are suggesting above - giving myself the permission to admit that "dammit, this isn't a 'first world problem', it is a valid problem and it SUCKS ASS that I have to deal with it". I learned which friends would let me have those kind of tantrums without rushing to say "but you have so much going for you" or "cheer up" or "you'll be fine". And I let myself feel that way for as long as I needed to.

Because - and here's the other secret I learned - all those feelings of "this sucks" want is validation, and as soon as you give them that validation, they start going away. I literally just last night had another major bad-luck thing befall me, and my current roommate was a tiny bit worried how I was reacting - but I called one of those friends and was all "this sucks and I don't wanna do it" for about 20 minutes and all he was saying was stuff like "I agree, that sucks" and "I'm sorry this is happening" and "you're right, it isn't fair," and after 20 minutes, I was all "....I actually am starting to feel better now," and this morning I'm pretty much bounced back and am ready to tackle things. I reminded my roommate this morning that this was kind of just how my brain worked, and he remembered that he'd seen something similar when I lost a job right after he moved in ("oh yeah, you were a mess that night, but then the next day when I came back from work you were telling me about the 17 job applications you'd submitted and the ten employment agencies you signed up with and you were fine").

The additional advantage to letting yourself admit that "this sucks" is that you're also more likely to ask other people for help if you need it. You may need people to lean on right now especially, and it is okay to ask them. I know your therapist is disappointing you, but friends, family, people like that - if you trust them, reach out. If they try to belittle your problems, then they can go fuck themselves, or if they give you a whole list of "here's what you should do" and it just sounds exhausting maybe tell them you're not ready to hear that yet - but if they just let you lean on them a little while and rant and rave and moan and cry, then....that is what you need. And it is okay to need that, and totally unsurprising because you have had some MAJOR shit go down.

At the very least, stop telling yourself to suck it up, because you for real have valid problems and it is okay for that all to have overwhelmed you.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on May 28, 2021 [19 favorites]

Just adding (from a non-white-girl) that these are not 'white-girl-problems' and I hope nobody is making you feel that way.

I'm sorry you're going through this and I hope you can catch a break somewhere because it seems as if you're going from one thing to the next without pause. I know the fertility issue is time-bound but I hope that within all of that you find time to process everything because that is what needs to happen. Going from one difficult situation to another like that over and over again will take its toll eventually and if you don't give the body rest, it will often find an unfortunate way to get the rest it needs. Please put yourself first. Find a way to take the weight off your shoulders, bit by bit.

Best of luck. x
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 9:45 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

So my two friends with cancer were super happy to have me around to be a friend who was not always asking them about their cancer. Sometimes you just want to talk about TV or the Giants or baking or something. You need a team to support you emotionally as well as a medical team. For sure go find a good cancer support group because that’s going to be very helpful. But also figure out who among your friends and family members can let you just be yourself and have frivolous conversations if that’s what you want or serious conversations if that’s what you want.

Some people are so upset when friends get ill that they want their friends to console them because of the illness. Run away from those people if you happen to know any and find as many people as possible who can let you be you, during sickness as well as health. This will require some experimentation. And it may require being a little bit flexible and checking out some people who are acquaintances rather than close friends. And some of them might be people in your cancer support group.

Trigger warning for super dark thoughts: I once wanted to hurt someone I loved and myself. I did not do that. Instead, I called someone I knew from my home Al-Anon group to share my secret shameful thoughts. To share my heartbreak, my despair, my pain. That is how I have always survived: 1. Going for walks. 2. Losing myself in a good book or a bad movie. 3. Sharing my pain with people close to me (when possible) and with strangers on MF (when necessary) or both.

I am on my phone so I can’t remember if you have a therapist already but by all means, if you can afford one, that would probably be helpful too. If you liked hugs and you were nearby, I would totally give you a big hug because you have had a shitty time of it and it got even shittier thanks to the cancer. When I’m having a bad time it’s often hard for me to remember even small things I can do to enjoy some tiny moment of pleasure. So a list of such things has also been helpful for me. Thanks for your question. We are rooting for you! ❤️
posted by Bella Donna at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I mostly just want to add to the chorus of sending you good wishes, and assuring you these are real problems. I've lived in a country most people would label "third world" and you know what? People there agonized about fertility problems, and I honestly received more concern there over any health problem I had than anywhere else I've been. Including a (thankfully brief) cancer scare.

Depending on your personality, you may or may not find the book Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us to be a therapeutic read (I could also imagine for some it would be triggering). It's written by an anthropologist at Stanford, but unlike most academic anthro books, it's approachable. The author got breast cancer in their 30s, and the book traces their treatment as well as their emotions (anger, grief, fear, etc.), difficulty thinking about finances, processing their changed body, their annoyance at "pink-washing" and "cancer diet" and other such nonsense, medical sexism, etc. They also note being part of a "Cancer under 40 therapy" group and finding it helpful.
posted by coffeecat at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, this just objectively sucks and you haven't done anything wrong.

Can you and your husband make a plan to check in periodically and reconnect on a human level? Not medical stuff or finances but just the "you and me" part of it? It broke my heart to read about him crying when he thinks you can't hear.
posted by BibiRose at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

The friends don't get it? Your husband likely doesn't entirely get it either. Most of them have no experience dealing with this sort of trauma in their personal life. I mean, 32? Kid, it's your nose that's impossibly cute. I jest, and I do that when I feel very bad, and I feel that for you. Most folks I knew/know at that age have been sheltered from these sorts of disasters, a benefit of that first world, and now here you are.

Here we are. I completely dropped the ball in my own time. Back when disaster struck I was terrible, with no idea how to be supportive. Now I work in the disability field. Let's talk practicalities. That organized friend, or the one that sends thank you cards to thank you cards, they get delegated to set up household a support system. Ask them for real assistance on this. Make your asks as specific and formal like as possible - I need help organizing getting x for y times, I need your help for 2 months?

Remember, your people will want to be useful, and they just don't know how. So be totally frank and say what you've said here in abbreviated form. The first ask is simple - you need someone to co-ordinate helping you, and your partner. Yes, it can be your parter who does this, or you mum, but make someone else responsible. This person will manage the system by which friends and family can volunteer for various tasks. Delegate that whole role, and it might be hard for you to ask, you might still thinking of yourself as someone who doesn't need help. When I got covid (I was fiiine) I got an emotional support soup and it was one of the nicest things in ages. I am perfectly capable of making my own soup, but this one made a tremendous difference to how I felt.

Think of the people you would do this for, and ask them like you would want to be asked. Make the ask and give them some time to considered it. But you need to delegate as much as you can, and do it right now.

Bring a plan for how this support should be scheduled and the scope of your needs. Like we need help for diner on two nights a week, groceries midweek, need assistance for traveling to appointments x,y,z. Get them to help you set up a facegroup/list serv with a shared calendar and invite all of your people. Put the helper and the spouse in charge of posting updates. They will likely be better at humble bragging. So starting right now your friends can start by bringing you some food, and the delegated helper handles the logistics of scheduling and explaining the dietary restrictions. Yes, this delegate will learn all about your laundry situation. Start with the food because, yea, box of warm feelgood that's the stuff of big emotions, and then adjust to your needs.

Your treatment is for a long time, people will initially be super supportive and then can fade. Part of that delegated person role is getting folks interested in helping today to sign up for 2 weeks in September.

You noted you husband is also sad. Your description of him doesn't make him sound very supportive. The lived experience of disability/illness forces you to adapt to your new reality, others will take time. For example, in my mind's imagination the picture remains stubbornly an old image, I have to remember, oh yea, right, that's all busted, and it's been years. It's been decades. People will tell you that things get easier, but some things don't. So he might be sad for the loss of the future he imagined with you, he might be sad because he is worried about your death. So he's sad, cause yours and his situation is sad. But rent is his responsibility now, delegate all of that stuff to him, unless that would just contribute to your stress.

It can be hard to just ask for help, or even know it's the time to ask. But today someone on Metafilter said, hey, my job sucks and I've got cancer and all my plans are a big question mark now along with my friends and my hubs is sad and then asked about feeling very bad. And here I am with my limited lived experience of crap jobs, medical disasters, plans torn up, sad spouse, and I want to help. I want to share what I hope will make you feel better, how to rally your people and feel supported, and I want you to feel less alone.
posted by zenon at 10:57 AM on May 28, 2021 [9 favorites]

So I'm thinking a bit more about your age, and what's going on with your, and your friends. My ex-husband was married before we met, and his first wife died suddenly in an accident when he was in his mid-30s. People that age, in his community, had mostly never really dealt before with the death of a peer. They just didn't know how to support him, even when they meant well. You're dealing with something that folks your age aren't really sure how to deal with (just like you know a lot better what to say to a friend who lost their job after you've lost their job).

You might need to tell your friends what you need. You might need to be direct and explicit about what you might find helpful to hear from them or what they can do. North American culture is great at teaching how to celebrate babies and weddings but not how to take care of friends who are sick and struggling in other ways.

I also don't know if you're very good at asking for help. I get the sense from your post that you don't think you deserve it. Are your friends the type to set up meal trains for people who have babies? Then ask someone to set up a meal train for you, if that would be helpful to you and your husband. Or ask a few friends to bring over meals you can freeze. Or help you run errands. Or clean the house. Whatever would be supportive to you and your husband.

Is your husband getting the support he needs? Men traditionally rely on women friends and spouses. You might nudge him to find a spouse support group or call an old friend he can confide in (maybe someone from college if he's not close to lots of folks right now).

More broadly, I'm trying to encourage you to ask for help. Chemo is no joke, and your friends might not be rising to the occasion because it's a bit shocking to them, and they just don't even know what to do. So, tell them. Has someone said, "Let me know if there's anything I can do"? Let that person know. Even if it's just someone to come and sit with you or talk to your husband or clean the bathroom to give him a break. Whatever it is, it's okay to ask.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

Try to be gentle with yourself. Pretty much everyone would struggle with those really valid challenges even without compounding them with a pandemic, and being sad or overwhelmed about a shitty situation doesn't make you weak.

I agree with finding local support groups if you can - this is usually something that your cancer treatment center can help direct you to, though I'm not sure how covid has changed things. Ideally ones aimed at younger people, since it really does change things when you're diagnosed at 32 rather than 62. It's a really hard thing to deal with regardless of where you live in the world, and the existence of people struggling with different challenges in other countries doesn't invalidate that at all.

Your friends aren't going to really understand, but they can still be a source of support too, especially if you tell them exactly how they can help. Or better yet, your husband or a close friend can help delegate things to people so you can focus on getting through your treatments. Many people are very willing to help out in this kind of situation but unsure about what exactly to do so they just do nothing.
posted by randomnity at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had near-fatal cancer at 21 with 6 months of chemotherapy. Where you lost your house fund, I lost my college fund. My friends withdrew as if I were contagious, either because it's hard to see someone you love in a state like that, or because we naturally fear and avoid those whose situations remind us that any of us could in a heartbeat be infertile, in the ICU, or in the grave.

It's true: Sometimes all you can do is just wake up every day and keep going. You don't have to be positive. You should mourn your lost dreams. Potentially missing the opportunity to have a home and a child when you wanted both is a tremendous loss, and one you have the right to grieve. For my part I certainly did not stop feeling sorry for myself. I am today still extremely bitter about what happened to me, and the narrow path I had to walk to survival. As I live in America, the odds were against me obtaining medical care I had no insurance for and could not afford. I was the perfect picture of a pitiable model patient--young, quiet, polite, undemanding, and sick through no fault of my own--and still so many people in the hospital system were cruel to me and cared not at all whether I lived or died.

After it was over, for me it was helpful to stay off social media entirely and to avoid advertising. Photographs are a moment, as has been said, and ads are a constructed simulacrum of reality, not reality itself. It is alright to want what we see in these moments and realities, but our having them, or not having them, does not reflect on our worth as people. And most of us will not have what is being sold to us in ads forever, or at all. Youth, health, sex appeal, financial and professional success--these things are beyond the reach of many of us, and yet our lives are still worth living.

I have found joy in learning the names of plants, weeds in particular. To know that the life which grows in the raw patches of earth is called purslane, and admire its tiny leaves. I pay a lot of attention to the sky, the clouds and their names, the small animals I see. The music, the poetry, and amateur art. These things are evergreen, as lovely in times of joy as in times of sorrow. They are things that we share with our ancestors, and which our descendants will share with us. To witness this world and to witness others' lives is our heritage. To hear each other, offer comfort, and remember; to my mind nothing more is needed to be human, to be worthwhile. I am sorry, and I am thinking of you.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 12:06 PM on May 28, 2021 [24 favorites]

Man. That is just a shitload to deal with. I'm sorry you've had to face all that, and then cancer in the middle of a pandemic to top things off.
When my mum and sister were in their last days, I set up an email group to keep friends and family up to date on how they were doing without being inundated with 14 phone calls and 20 emails at a time. Is there a friend or sibling you can delegate as point person?
You may find some comfort in supports provided by Young Adult Cancer Canada.
Big, hard, virtual hugs.
posted by kate4914 at 1:07 PM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

oh hun, you are already being crazy resilient, and so strong. These are not "white girl problems" these are real, difficult, serious things you have been dealing with, one after another. It is ok to feel spent and overwhelmed in the face of everything. You've had to deal with a whole bunch of crappy stuff, any of which individually would knock any of us on our butts, you've had them happen all at once and you're keeping going. You don't need to add shame and self-doubt on top of it all by looking down at yourself. I think it's a very canadian way of dealing with stuff to say to yourself "this is bad but it could be worse" but that is only helpful to a point, y'know?

I wish I had more helpful advice on how to deal with stuff, but the best thing I can say is to not beat yourself up about feeling down - every day that you get out of bed and put one damn foot in front of the other, you should be proud of yourself for keeping going. And if there are days that you just want to say screw it, I'm going to stay in damn bed and give myself a break, you go ahead and do that, and don't feel bad about it. Physical discomfort (like being in chemo) can affect your emotional state in insidious and bizzarre ways, so remember that after the treatments are done, some of the darkness you are struggling under will be lifted. Right now, let yourself get some rest, and be proud that you've made it thus far.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:24 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Me back again, with an analogy -

If you've never seen the movie The Martian, check it out this weekend - partly because its pretty dang good, with some funny bits. If you've never heard of it at all - Matt Damon is an astronaut that's part of a mission to Mars, and his team has to evacuate in a hurry because there's some problem but there's an accident and people think he got killed by some debris, but the rest of the team has to evacuate so they leave him there. The trouble is - he's not dead. So most of the movie is how he figures out how to first feed himself and get enough water, and then fix the radio and stuff to communicate with NASA to let them know "hey, I'm still alive here" so they can get a rescue mission off the ground. It's also refreshingly funny - there's a running gag that the only music he has to listen to is one of his colleague's disco collection that she had to leave behind, so the whole soundtrack is all cheesy disco songs and that can get pretty funny.

But another reason I think you should watch it - for most of the movie Matt Damon's character is figuring out all of these problems that he's got to solve, everything from growing food to making drinkable water to sheltering himself to...and on and on, and he's coming up with some pretty clever ways to do things. Making mistakes once in a while too, yes, but figuring stuff out.

And even that's not the reason I thought of recommending this (although his last scene has a speech from him about how survival is just "figuring out problems one at a time" that could be comforting). No, the reason that I am recommending this is because at the very beginning, when he's first discovered that he's been abandoned on Mars, there's a short montage where he records a video message where he basically says "hey, if anyone finds this, I'm still alive, may not be for long because the water will run out and the food and I might get hit by a rock and there's no way to call NASA, yeah, I'll probably die here on Mars." And then theres's a montage of him sort of moodily staring out of windows for a couple minutes, until he finally blinks a little bit, then gets this determined look and says "fuck it, no, I'm not gonna die." And that's when his mood changes and he gets determined to start figuring stuff out.

My point is: yes, the rest of the stuff he did to survive was amazing and clever and all that. But in order for him to GET to the point where his brain could think about that, he had to have the moody staring-out-of-windows grieving montage FIRST. He had to give himself permission to be sad and angry first, to let those feelings work their way through. And THEN he could get to work.

Maybe you just need to have the staring-out-of-windows montage for a little while. And when you've caught your breath, you will be better able to shake it off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:34 PM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

First I just want to pile on and say that what you're going through sounds harrowing and to send you my best wishes.

Second, I think there's a stupid amount of pressure on cancer patients to have a relentlessly positive attitude. We wouldn't expect that a positive attitude could fix an ingrown toenail or regenerate a missing limb but lots of people still tell cancer patients that attitude is a huge part of the recovery equation. Feel how you need to feel right now.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:20 PM on May 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

That fucking suuuuucks.

Like, that's really fucking shit, and there's probably only so Pollyanna you can be at the moment because you're having *chemo* and feel like death. It's not just a physical thing, your brain is getting chemo too, so your emotions feel like that too.

That makes me think, what would 'being selfish' look like for you right now?
Because what you were saying about 'white girl problems'? You 'should be' resilient? Yeah that's some bullshit, so I think it's likely you're probably overcompensating on the trying to be reasonable, rational, not take up too much emotional space or be a burden or *need* things and support, even though you have cancer. You desperately need support, and you deserve it, as a human being, and a human being with cancer
So first, consider turning the dial a bit towards the selfish side. Would it actively hurt anyone? No? It would just be needy?
Good. Have some needs for a bit.

What would I do? I'd go have a bonfire with your husband somewhere it doesn't matter if you yell a bit, and pick things you can throw in the fire, whether paper or wood, but take each thing, name it as the shittiness you're feeling at the moment, and throw it in the fire - the cancer, job, losing house fund, babies tired being super cute even though you weren't sure you wanted them and now you probably can't, small pretty parking annoyances etc.
Let it all out, repeat all the bullshit in your head or that's been said to you and do an action which symbolises what you wish you could do.
Burn it, burn it, burn it. Do it with your husband.
Because most of the time you need someone to be onto it, keep it together, but maybe try having a cry *together* *against* the shittiness, just for a change.

Wash it away. Imagine there can be change.

It's real shit. I feel for you.
Also, you're gonna work until you can't, and that'll leave you in a better financial situation, but when you can't, you can't, that just is what it is, don't be mean to yourself on top.
posted by Elysum at 8:11 AM on May 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your kindness, time, sharing of experiences and for validating a lot of the things hanging around the fuzzy edges of my consciousness that I am maybe still not ready to let myself acknowledge.
I’m working on just letting myself exist without being in a constant state of self-improvement.

I did want to clarify one point, which is that my husband is not crying about money. He’s crying because his heart is shattered and he’s stressed. Sorry, I might have positioned that weirdly in my post so that it seemed he was worried primarily about finances.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 4:34 AM on May 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

I went through bad times from roughly 18 to 23. Not remotely as bad as what you described, but they sucked and cemented in my mind that I was a failure.

Having an escape was very helpful. My escape was video games. They gave me a break from the relentless feeling that everything sucked and I was constantly defaulting on my obligations.

I was able to build resiliency and capacity and all that great stuff after I had made it through the bad times. During the bad times, I needed pain relief.
posted by Ptrin at 6:02 AM on June 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

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