on living and dying and if i am wasting my life drinking juice and watching Boston Legal

this is all a bit trite and sentimental: but how do you really make your life count? how do you use the precious little time we have in order to do something, anything at all? (for me, this is in a non-religious context – i totally respect those of you who will have faith based answers, but they are not in keeping with my worldview). i think a lot about wasting time, or if what i do is wasting it – the sitting on the internet, the watching TV while doing craft, the wandering around at the mall because i find it comforting. there’s some weird expectation i have that i should be doing something ‘valuable’ but what is valuable? how do you put a value on your time? how do you do this knowing that you will be about to spend a long period of your life physically unable to do what you can do right now, and mentally exhausted by the chronic pain that is the inevitable result of multiple major surgeries, premature menopause and radiation on my already pretty rotten bowel? the spending 3-6 months with a stoma (at least), the rehabilitation, the constant knowledge of Death peering over my shoulder? how do you do this knowing that your chances of living another 10 years are well under 50%? knowing you will not see the kids of the people you love reach high school? knowing that even if you wanted kids, they are no longer an option? i know i don’t think i could have answered this prior to these things becoming the conditions of my life, and the daily mundane reality.

what confuses me, is after a night of turbulence after seeing what i am pretty sure is a bogus statistic about stage IV 5 year survival rates, that i am not even that torn up about it. i cried a bit last night, mostly upset at the sadness this will cause people, trying to think of ways to circumvent that. i’ve spent years training myself out of suicidal ideation by thinking of how it would effect others – i’m now in the position of not being able to control it, and feeling a vicelike anxiety at the pain i am going to cause people. this is not because i am an awesome kind person, but because of the fact i’ve used other people’s pain, and my desire to not cause it, to save my life for years. now, i can’t help it. i think about the fact that i might die before i hit 35 – that i am more likely, by those stats, to die before i am 35 than live, and i don’t feel broken, or unable to cope with this information. i feel sad, and then i start planning: how i will manage my estate, how i will try and spend my time, how i will value everyone i love in such a laser sharp priority. but how do i implement this when i naturally struggle to say ‘hey, can we hang out?’ because i presume most people have better stuff to do than sit around in a cafe, or wander around a mall with me, or sit and knit. i am terrible at that. i feel like i should be raising money for important causes: seeing Nature and being In Touch With Life. i hate the outdoors, and i think i am as in touch with life on my laptop as i would be having an authentic experience at a festival or something, as long as i remain mindful and aware – filled with the privilege of being able to keep in touch with people far away and share their lives by this screen interface, celebrating the fact that medical science is keeping me here, even if just for a few short precious years more than i would have been if not for the chemotherapies and the surgery and the radiation. i dunno.

right now, i’ve actually sunken to the level of hunting for scientific articles with promising Cancer Helpy Things, and my poor clinical nurse is going to be bombarded of lists of things i want to take. goldenseal! ASPIRIN! curcumin! then another part of me is all ‘argh who cares, i should just start drinking again and eat a goddamn stake and screw it all anyhow.’ in the mean time, i am drinking too many of these really expensive juices, because i figure if i have under five years to live, i goddamn am going to spend it drinking juice out of a square bottle.

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About elizabeth

various things.
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7 Responses to on living and dying and if i am wasting my life drinking juice and watching Boston Legal

  1. Kate says:

    There is this whole rhetoric around living a meaningful life that I find really challenging. On the one hand, I want to be My Best Self. I want to help people. I want to have impact on others’ lives. I want to finish this goddamn thesis.

    On the other hand, I want to watch TV. Lots and lots and lots of TV. I love TV. I love it more than I love (Shock! Horror!) reading. I love it love it love it.

    There is this idea that happiness = contentment = unwillingness to be your best self or be challenged = being okay with mediocrity = meaningless life. I’m thinking of a particular blog post I read along these lines that made me feel all shouty.

    If we get enjoyment or happiness or calm or whatever we need from watching TV or trawling the internet or walking around the mall then I think that’s fucking awesome and we should do more of those things.

    I can’t pretend to understand how you feel about this. But I know that being happy is not meaningless. And making things is not wasting time, and nor is finding comfort, however you find it.

    • veritas says:

      that is such a rad explanation of it. there’s so much shame in taking joy from TV. i love it. i think it’s a complex, interesting and rich thing we engage in, talk about, share, and sometimes just zone out during. i love reading too, and i get very different things from them – i watch TV to give me something to relax my mind into while i do craft, and because i love stories. i read because i love words. i find them completely unrelated experiences. sometimes i read for the stories – fantasy, for example is just a narrative joy for me, but usually it’s language i’m interested in. with TV, i can just relax into the narrative.

      there’s also the sense that yes – we must always push ourselves, and ‘grow’. i don’t know. how do any of us ‘grow’? i guess the thing for me is, the question of how i would have thought i would change my life if i found out i had a life-shortening illness, compared with how/if i have changed my life knowing that i actually have had one, and it’s ended up so advanced that it will almost definitely kill me. do i think about it differently now that it’s real and not a thought experiment? honestly, i don’t think i do. i am happy with how i am getting through this – i think i’m doing pretty well, and trying to become Cancer Hero Who Runs Marathons is not who i am, even if i sort of wish i was.

    • greenspace01 says:

      ooh, contentment and being okay with mediocrity are such different things! (I gather *you* weren’t saying they’re the same, Kate, but that it’s an idea that’s foisted on us)
      experiencing contentment is something we attain, it’s a skill, or a spiritual practice, or a gift. it’s nothing like apathy or accepting mediocrity. I get shouty about people dissing contentment too 🙂

  2. Kathryn Favelle says:

    I think you’ve pretty much got it worked out, Elizabeth – as much as any of us do. And I also think that your blog is making an important contribution. I love reading it, of hearing your voice via my screen, of being reminded of all the weird things cancer can make you think and do. And of how great Boston Legal is. Don’t stop.
    PS You might like this – http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/07/annie-dillard-the-writing-life-1/

  3. greenspace01 says:

    ” i think i am as in touch with life on my laptop as i would be having an authentic experience at a festival or something, as long as i remain mindful and aware – filled with the privilege of being able to keep in touch with people far away and share their lives by this screen interface”
    yes! totally yes!
    oh, a worthy life – so many rules about why we should and how we should lead a worthy life. many of the rules seem to be along the lines of “if you enjoy it, it’s bad for you and not doing anything for anyone else”, which is silly, because there are lots of things that you (and I, and others) do that we enjoy that are good for us – know for sure that reading, caring for small furry animals, gardening, learning about people and the world, are things that we enjoy and that are Good, for us and the world.

    • greenspace01 says:

      that was meant to say “I know for sure…”, not “know for sure” – I was making a declaration, not telling you what to know!

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