Are you ever struck by the feeling of how little you know? I have moments sometimes where that thought hits me. I’ll look up at the sky and think, “This is the same sky someone living a completely different life than me, in another part of the world, is looking at.” I wonder what that feels like. What does is it like to see the world differently? It is so hard for us to truly understand another’s perspective, another’s lived experience unless we’ve shared a similar one. Which is why I believe true understanding is a gift.
When I was going through my treatments and the ups and downs of cancer I had moments of real frustration and anger. Sometimes it was because of my own inability to give myself a break, so if someone said “You should exercise, it’ll make you feel better”, I’d be filled with anger. Why couldn’t they understand it was hard for me to breathe, so exercise exhausted me? But what I was really feeling angry at was my own lack of self acceptance. Why couldn’t I not feel angry when someone suggested I exercise? Because my own expectations of myself far exceed anyone else’s and I’m far harder on myself. Now, I try to question these moments. Is exercise going to feel good to me or will it take away my energy? But just because I’m aware of this tendency of mine, doesn’t make it any easier. I struggle with how fit I used to be and how I’m unable to exercise like I used to now.
Cancer treatments create fatigue. Fatigue is not being tired, fatigue is something you can’t sleep away. It is a condition you manage. You feel exhausted, getting up and down out of a chair is arduous and mentally, menial tasks seems overwhelming. “What you want me to make the bed? You want me to write a grocery list?” Think of it like a strawberry plant and every time you eat a strawberry you need to wait for it to grow back before you can have another. Fatigue is like that, you manage your energy reserves and if you over do it then it’s gone. Just gone, so you rest and sleep and wait. This is a hard concept for people who’ve never experienced fatigue to understand. It’s funny but in some respects, post-cancer is harder emotionally. People get cancer, what they don’t get is after cancer, everyone thinks you are fine, business as usual. And there are lots of ways I am fine now but you don’t just rewind to before illness and pick up where you left off. I am happy I don’t have cancer anymore; no more treatments, I can resume ‘regular’ life and I have more energy than I did. Every time I walk up a flight of stairs I feel good inside because I wasn’t able to do that for a long time and then when I was more able not without multiple breaks to catch my breath.
So I guess what I’m saying, is that for those of us who are hard on ourselves, it becomes harder when those around you aren’t saying “Of course you’re not exercising! Of course you feel tired!” Because I needed that, that permission so I could let go of my own expectations of myself. But life is sneaky, it has a way of forcing you to do the work. Now I need to be the one who gives myself permission to be tired, permission not to exercise. No more free passes from the outside world, Sarah, you need to love yourself enough to let it be okay.
As I talk about all of these feelings another one that is present always is gratitude. I am infinitely grateful that my illness and fatigue went away/will go away. There are so many people that live daily with this struggle and it will always be with them. Chronic fatigue syndrome, many autoimmune diseases, heart related illnesses, fibromyalgia, mental illness and rheumatoid arthritis to name a few. I am grateful that my experience has given me the capacity to give these people my understanding, to give them permission if that’s what they need. You never know the struggle another person endures, be kind always. Also, I think these eCards are funny, in that they’re funny because they’re true kinda way.
Holstee, where the first image is from, is an amazing company that produces images and products that carry meaningful messages. How I first stumbled across them was through their manifesto, which you can download for free! It’s message is a good reminder that we only get one of these lives so make sure you are doing what you feel passionate about. I know, when immersed in our day-to-day, things that aren’t actually that important feel important. It is hard to pull ourselves out from the inertia, but if you can, whoa the perspective. Make sure you take care of yourself first, that is the best way to care for others. I encourage you to check out Holstee and their philosophy.
be kind xo.