"Better" Does Not Equal "Normal"

Over the past week or so, I'm finally starting to get OUT and see people again.  (Well... people other than Ryan and my parents - who have been my entire social world for a couple months now.)  And getting out and seeing people has made me more aware of how I feel.  It took seeing various friends to really get that I am looking and doing a lot better.  But it's also hard because, as this post title says, better is a long-ass way from normal.

This is something that I had not realized would be so difficult to convey to... well... everyone.  I think it has to do with the fact that the people in your life who love and care about you - they WANT you to be "OK."  They feel better if they think you are better.  And that's not a bad thing, but it IS a difficult thing to try to live up to.

I mean, sure.  I didn't lose my hair, so when people see me and I look relatively like me old normal self, they are happy.  I keep hearing "You look so good,"  "You look beautiful," etc. and while I love a good compliment (who doesn't?), I don't feel good or beautiful.  What I see is that I still have these horrifying dark circles around my eyes and that my hair seems funkier and harder to control somehow and that I seem to have forgotten how to work makeup and I generally feel awkward.  I don't feel like "me."

And while I do, indeed, feel worlds better than I did just a few weeks ago, I am in no way back to normal.  I still get tired just going up and down the stairs.  I can't sleep.  I have zero interest in food.  My entire body hurts most of the time.  I am overly aware of my hands because of the painful bumps left in them.  My back is so tense and knotted and sore, it feels like it would take a 10 hour massage to get it to stop constantly hurting.  I'm filled with anxiety (and have even started having some fun anxiety attacks) over what the future will bring.  It's all very NOT normal.  And with all of that going on, it's difficult for me to even get or feel that I AM better, because there is still so much that is not normal.

But don't get me wrong.  I am happy.  And I AM getting more functional every day.  I'm (slowly) getting things accomplished around the house (laundry, putting away christmas decor, hanging pictures that have been piled up since we took the house off the market months and months ago, grocery shopping, etc.).  I even managed to get out for an awesome impromptu day of just basic errands and shopping with my dear friend, Mallorie, this past weekend (which I REALLLLLLY needed).  So I DO get it.  I am getting better.  My energy is slowly returning.  I am starting to honestly look forward to getting back to work.  And I'm also starting to think about my future, how it will be different, and how implementing the changes I want to make is going to be a struggle (but so worth it).

I'm also enjoying some of the strange benefits of this whole experience.  Including the less profound ones.  Like... uh... I've lost some weight.  Over 15 pounds.  It's an huge inspiration to keep that going once I find out from the doctors if I am safe to get into some sort of exercise routine and serious diet changes.  Nothing has felt as good in a long time (in a "vanity" sort of way, at least) as going into Anthropologie with my mum yesterday, trying on AND fitting into a size TEN dress.

So, yeah.  Good things are happening and I definitely DO get that.  But, I am still struggling.  And I know that that is ok.  I just hope that everyone else knows that, too...

Love love, Phoebe


I for sure know where you're coming from and am glad to still see you in positive spirits. We may be in different situations but the way you say you feel better but not normal...I'm in that boat, too. You're a good person to be in a boat with. Love you.
gregkirmser said…
I totally get what you mean here. Though its only natural that people want you to be back to normal, that social nicety flies in the face of the reality of the situation. Let the recovery take its own course. I gather that is a lot of what this blog is all about--love that mid-western and NY down-to-earth realism! Its as potent as any optimism.
Karla said…
Phoebe, there used to be a cliche where mental health helpers were supposed to tell people who had gone through disasters that they were having "a normal reaction to an abnormal experience." That's bullshit! It may be a typical reaction, or an understandable reaction, but to the people going through it, it feels anything but normal. It sounds there are a lot of parallels with what you're experiencing - you've survived the disaster, and now you're adjusting to how it's changed you, for better and for worse, regardless of how other people might want you to bounce back without any signs of change. THAT's the only normal part of the situation - adjusting, not thinking things will go back exactly to the way they were before. But it sounds like your plans for the "new normal" are great ones and I look forward to seeing them in action, at least from a distance! Love from Michael and me.
Anonymous said…
Phoebe, both times I was diagnosed with cancer, the absolute hardest part for me was dealing with others reactions to the diagnosis, and the way I looked afterwards... that's just the way it is with people who love you and want you to be better or "normal", whatever that is. We are more attuned to changes in our bodies, whatever they may be. And yes, savoring small bonuses is one way to find the golden lining! I was so excited I had lost weight after the last diagnosis ~ then I realized it was because I no longer had breasts. But hey, I weighed considerable less than before! All things considered, you sound as if you are healing in so many ways... one day at a time.xo Salli
Jim Dustin said…
Phoebe, you continue to be amazing with your powerful mind to see things from many angles including what others think of your recovery. I suspect that if you could see all of your friends and family give you the high five, thumbs-up, okeedokey-circle-three fingers sign, fist pumping hurrahs, you would still have your own doubts about this insanity. Two things I can throw in here for what they're worth to you. 1)people are generally not comfortable with their own mortality. Most of us spend our entire lives in denial of the absolute fact that sometime after our birth, we will die. I don't know if our culture is unique, but it seems like we are just adverse to the idea. That survival instinct has insured that we stay around as long as possible. Good! Because of this however, there is a side effect that many people can't seem to grasp. It's the irrational fear of transference. They know cancer is not contagious, yet too much connectivity makes them uncomfortable. It reminds them of their weakness toward their own mortality. Not to get heavy on you, but if you peel back the onion, that's what's going on - and it will likely be there for some people, forever. 2) You and medical science have reversed course on a deadly disease. They make beating cancer look easy. Even though you can intellectualize normal (whether new or old), the fact is you have essentially survived falling off a 200 foot cliff, with some weird things to deal with. When my wife gets low about beating her two cancers back, we always get to the conclusion that at least she is here to talk about it. That always provides the ultimate snap into place moment, that everything else is just ....stuff. Hang in there Phoebe. If you never see the old normal again, chalk it up as you being here to know the difference! And what the heck is normal anyway? You can never step into the same river twice. Everything changes, no matter what. Onward! -J.

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