Let me be clear about where “the dark place” is. The dark place is where I spent a good bit of my time after being diagnosed. Mostly when I was alone or not busy. What did it look like? Well, I ended up sitting in a lot of strange places. Kitchen counters, middles of floors, in the grass—I was quite literally overtaken by gravity wherever I may be at that time, as the weight of the “woe is me” bared down on my shoulders. There were sudden bouts of ugly crying which, somehow, blessedly,my 1-year-old didn’t see as abnormal. Instead he continued cheerfully flinging dirt around or running away from me as fast as he could. I saw death and finality EVERYWHERE I turned. Nightly news? Death. Roadkill? Death. The end of a song.Death! I allowed it to encircle my space like Eyore’s cloud but punctuated with turkey buzzards instead of raindrops. It also happened when I allowed myself to stare at my son and attempt to use every fiber of my creativity to imagine what he would look like when he was 5, 10 or even 50, knowing I would never get a chance to see it with my physical eyes. What is surprising about this dark place is that, while I worked very diligently and with great effort to get up and out, once I found myself free I turned around and realized I’d only come one small step. Indeed,it’s now possible to slip back down with one misstep and fling myself back out with just a shake and shudder of my shoulders.
While the arduous process of freeing myself of this place was a very personal odyssey in many respects, (and I plan to write several other posts to highlight some of the things I felt helped me along in this effort) I feel that it is most appropriate to first acknowledge that the ability to even begin this journey is largely due to the solid foundation of emotional, spiritual and functional support provided by my community –many members of which I had not even met. The volume and persistence of support that has been offered to me has been the most surprising part of this journey. I have never in my life felt so loved and lifted up. Since I was first diagnosed I have been getting calls, cards and messages that people are praying for me and every single day I go to the mailbox I have at least one note of support or kind hello. Every. single. day. that the mail comes. What is truly a blessing it that I have been given the opportunity to see the best side of people every day, time and time again. It's a great gift.
It is amazing what strangers who even guess at what I’m facing will do. The meals from church (the church that I had only recently started attending) and calls from the clergy began right away. I have been offered countless kind words, had more than one cab driver pray for me in their car. I have had people in the service industry refuse that I pay for my hair cut or massage – All perfect strangers who sometimes know only that I am facing something difficult.
From people I know, I have received so many gifts and flowers, even with those I have lost touch with over the years. Not long ago, after weeks of daily cards from my sorority sisters, most of whom I haven't spoken to in years, I received a box filled with the most generous gifts and extremely generous gift certificates from them to Whole Foods and Southwest Airlines and even a very generous donation to the Susan Fazio (Mucosal Melanoma) Research Foundation in my name. I had happy tears as I went through the box, spending so much time considering each item that I had to finish opening it in three separate sessions! I have had several people reach out to me through social media and offer an amazing amount of support and resources and time and friendly words. I have even had the opportunity to make peace about the past and rekindle old friendship sparks.
My family and close friends have been a gargantuan, solid, sheet rock for me. Even now, I can relax while on vacation knowing my son is with my parents who are happily entertaining him so Danny and I can get a restorative break (even after weeks of both of them spending half of their time at our house doing the same thing while we are there). James is so well cared for by all of our family that I’m worried he’s going to grow up thinking that every child gets eight parents/playmates all to themselves. My dad has been our farm hand and James’ best friend and my mother flutters around the house cleaning constantly so I don’t have to – my water glass keeps going mysteriously missing after she swoops it up to clean it before I’m even finished. My sister has escorted me to several appointments and trips to Houston and even scratched my nose when I was getting two-armed leukapheresis for three hours and couldn’t move to do so. My friends have offered me hours of “text” support and come over to cook dinners and entertain me when I’m low on energy or wanting to get out of the house. The love and support offered by my husband? That’s a separate blog entry entirely.
The biggest challenge for me with all of this support? Accepting the help! Partly, it was that accepting help in the beginning meant acknowledging that life had to change and it was also aconstant reminder that it had. Also, I’m a pretty independent person to start with – a favorite family story is me insisting “My do it!” to everything at a young age. And… let’s be honest… it’s also difficult to have parents essentially living with you part-time when you spent your childhood (at minimum the entirety of high school) looking forward to living without your parents. But, all things aside, I don’t know what I would do without their helpand love.
I remember hearing within the last few years, in the wake of several human-perpetrated acts of violence and destruction, thatit can be therapeutic to focus on the helpers. It is in our nature to help and to give. For me, during my disaster, I can focus on these helpers and breathe more easily. I get to see their glowing, wonderful souls shine through as they give and help and give, and repeat.
**Disclaimer** I feel that I should be clear that I’m not licensed as a clinical psychologist yet and that this blog is intended for personal shares and not based at all on actual science or research unless otherwise noted. Please do not consider any of my blog posts a professional recommendation.