Cancer log 78: This one…

Cancer log 78: This one is awkward to write, and probably awkward to read. Apologies in advance, folks.

So, I was talking to one of my best and oldest friends today, and I just lost it. I got weepy and inarticulate, which I've only done a few times in about three decades of friendship. I don't think I can really reproduce the conversation well, but what we managed to figure out after a while (said insight slowed down by the fact that we were on the phone for all this), was that I am just overwhelmed with talking to people. And I want them all to go away now, please.

Not really, of course. Not entirely. I like people. But it has been a rough three months since the diagnosis, and one effect I wouldn't have predicted is that I've really been deluged with social contact. Family and close friends, of course, have been very present. Several old and valued friends whom I don't talk to that often have gotten in touch multiple times, in person when they could manage it. Colleagues and neighborhood acquaintances have gone out of their way to talk to me, to offer their concrete support (which has been *so* useful already). Others with cancer experiences have sent letters and e-mails and presents and so much advice, much of it helpful.

All of this is what many people would experience, those who are somewhat extroverted and with strong social networks. And I absolutely want to make clear that I understand how lucky I am to have such strong networks, that so many people are enduring equally difficult illnesses, crises, etc. without this level of support, or, frankly, any support at all. That must be much harder. The strong networks are a good, a great, thing...but they're also overwhelming. It's not a one-way flow, after all -- when people talk to me, I talk back, I'm in conversation, and I am starting to feel really fragmented. I don't think I can be in conversation with quite this many people at once, for quite this long, without starting to lose myself.

In addition, one weird thing I realized in the conversation with my friend today is that the intense socializing effect is being amplified because I am, to some small extent, a public figure. After twenty years as a writer, especially twenty years being very visible in some odd corners of the internet, there are a lot of people who know my work. Over the last three months, a notable percentage of them have taken the time to get in touch.

And they're all really, really nice. They're so kind. I can't emphasize that enough. I've gotten a ton of great advice and information and support, and it would be appallingly churlish if I didn't appreciate that. I do, and I also think I would be in much worse shape if I didn't have so much support. But there's a flip side -- I'm also finding myself socially exhausted, in a way I don't think I've ever been before.

I mean, I know I'm not quite as extroverted now as I was in my twenties, that I've come to appreciate some quiet time now and then, but I hadn't realized how much I really need it now. And so I completely lose it on the phone with one of my best and oldest friends and tell her that I'm so so sorry, that I just can't keep talking with her nearly as much as we have been, that I'm going to have to be a terrible friend for a little while, because what I desperately want to do right now is run away to a desert island for a month and not see ANYBODY.

(I am perhaps willing to make an exception for beautiful young men who silently bring me food and drink and then slip away again.)

I'm going to see my sister on Saturday, for a week. And ostensibly this is to help her with her newborn twins, and I do want to talk to her and her husband, of course, I like them a lot, and I never get to spend enough time with them. In the normal course of affairs, I would be all about staying up late, playing board games when the babies permitted, having long conversations over tea, etc. There'll be some of that, hopefully. But honestly -- right now, what I'm most looking forward to is rocking in a quiet room with a baby in my arms and everybody leaving me alone for hours on end. That sounds LOVELY.

Anyway. I don't know that I'm exactly asking anything of y'all. Don't change! If you've been in touch in the last three months, please don't feel bad about it at all; every single note and expression of sympathy and support is so appreciated and so helpful. I just need a teeny, tiny break from it all. I'm not sure how much -- a few days of silence might be enough. Usually, when the semester ends, I (along with most academics, I suspect) disappear for a few days, into an exhausted collapse, so there's some of that going on too. Normally, I'd be back after a few days, ready to dive into the maelstrom of social life once more, and this time might be the same.

I guess I just felt I should warn you, in case I suddenly start weeping in your general direction, or stop answering your e-mails, phone calls, doorbells, etc. (Although it doesn't feel particularly draining to read and share articles online, I might even take a few days off from Facebook sometime soon. Shocking, I know.)

Trust me -- It's not you, it's me, and I'm pretty sure it's just a temporary version of me; I just need a little time. Thank, so much, for your patience.

2 thoughts on “Cancer log 78: This one…”

  1. I can certainly understand needing a break! Since it’s been about a week, I feel safe saying something :-).

    I’ve also heard (and experienced) that sometimes emotions get raw, like skin that’s been sunburned. Tiny things, even *nice* things, can be painfully sharp.

    This doesn’t make it comfortable – but it’s not abnormal. It doesn’t mean you’re cracking up, for example! You’ll regrow some healthy level of “callous” when you’ve had some time to heal, just like with the sunburned skin.

    BTW: you never have to respond to me, if doing so would be even a tiny bit of stress. I’m chronically fatigued – I know what it’s like to have no resources to send back a quick note. I bet a lot of your friends would feel the same way but might not know to mention it.

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