Chemo and when isolation hit like a tsunami

Isolation.

I’m midway through Chemotherapy and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write about when the isolation suddenly crashed in on me.

I have lived alone for years and am something of a recluse, so I’m no stranger to living with my own company and even being alone for days on end, but then and now there is one huge difference, living alone is a choice in which I’ve always been free to get my own shopping, go out if I wanted to, visit or receive friends and family and enjoy my own space.

Coronavirus has a dimension in this, though probably less than for healthy people. I am aware that I have a compromised immune system, so the Coronavirus is just another threat, but not an especial one, at this time. In fact Chemo isolation keeps me safer than most.

The isolation, though, when it hit, was a massive sense of loss, of my hair and teeth, my vehicle and the ability to drive safely, the Chemo fog that twisted my perception of safety and danger, my immune system in which any disease or illness could be life threatening, hence the urgency that accompanied the removal of several teeth which showed miner infections in the roots, leaving me with few opposing teeth with which to eat food and, of course, a gaping hole for a mouth, which in no way helped my sense of loss.

In my initial panic I wondered who the hell I could call but very quickly realised that was not any kind of solution to the reality of the isolation that was set to continue for months, up to another year, without remission.

I realised I had to stay with it and let it run its course. Thankfully I am old enough to know that the old expression, ‘This too shall pass’, is entirely true, but it still means finding the resources to hang on through the storm.

This is my personal journey and in no way am I offering it as a recipe as a way forward for anyone else dealing with isolation. It’s personal and different for each one of us.

I actually have a therapist and this time I knew I couldn’t talk to her about it, internally I knew I had to buckle down for the long ride and find the inner resources to make it through and part of that, for me, was not talking about it too soon. If I started leaking, I felt it would crush me and make matters worse. I felt my best crack at this was to accept it in its entirety. When I looked at it, I could see nothing I could change, my safety depended on my continued isolation, so whatever I did had to be about facing it and dealing with it right here.

An old trick from my days of deep depression was a partial solution, when it gets bad I go to bed and sleep, there’s nothing to beat that in my book. No one I know or know about ever went stir crazy or bonkers in their sleep. Apart from anything else that sleep is for us humans, it’s a vast well of healing and I am not shy about going there. And that’s exactly what I did for the first several days when the loss and isolation was an overwhelming tsunami.

The next one was tougher, to let the self pity out and cry. Self pity is bloody awful, but it is also very real. We’re taught to be ashamed of it, and any other less than desirable or worthy feelings, which, frankly, has always been some of the dumbest crap dumped on us by others. I learnt many years ago that we have a finite range of feelings and they are common to all. Learning to deal with them is firstly to admit that we have them. Selfish, self centred, avarice, jealousy and envy, false superiority and pride, despising and hatred, vindictiveness and the desire to punish others for our own failings. You name it and at some point any and all of them will rear their ugly heads, and the worst possible way to deal with them is denial. That’s what makes for self righteous pricks, smug and pig ugly Mary Poppinses. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too, pride is right up there in our common arsenal of feelings. Again, it ain’t pretty, but it’s real. In fact, denial is one of the most destructive forces in us and is one of the things that can turn people into killers. The great joy and mystique of therapy is dealing with your crap, but it takes a degree of courage to go there.

What good, person centred therapy also gives you is a prodigious tool kit with which to deal with the vicissitudes of life. Whatever happens in your sessions, therapy is only as good as what you walk away with for when the going gets tough and the tsunami of isolation in Chemo is tough which little else in life can prepare you for. The invasion of cancer is itself brutal, in which the body’s natural immune system is not enough to deal with it on its own.

I am extraordinarily fortunate that I have always enjoyed robust good physical health in which I have taken for granted my body’s ability to heal. My mental health has been shite, but bodily I’ve sailed through, apart from individual crises that required surgery, yet even then my body quickly recovered. That’s been a huge blessing, once I finally realised how damned lucky I was.

My head has, however, required help almost constantly throughout my life and I now have a pretty damned good survival tool kit for when mentally it all goes pear shaped. One of the most precious tools in that kit is having survived a whole heap of crap and come though. Never underestimate your own life experience. I have put a great deal of time, energy and investment into surviving mentally and the result is a hard won and pretty robust self regard and love. I never expected to make it to old age, but I’m still here, and still up for a fight when necessary.

I have reached the point in the isolation where I want to get up to no good and get into pranks and messing about. It’s a good creative outlet and having a laugh is really good medicine and I am plotting like a fiend. It puts the sparkle back and there’s nothing like plotting and anticipation for an inner sense of well being.

It also means I am coming through, hence writing about it now. It’s reached that point where laying it down, journaling it, is good and if you’ve made it this far, thanks, and I hope something in here is valuable, even if it ain’t no recipe.

Keith Lindsay-Cameron aka KOG. 22 September 2020.

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