The Invisible Stuff

Every once in a while, I find myself with the time and space (often when I’m all alone late at night and distraction-less) to let myself get really, really sad.

I get sad about everything I have and everything I’ve lost. Sad about who I was and who I am now. Sad about everything- and nothing.

I can’t tell which is harder after a major trauma; the ‘fighting for your life’ part, or ‘picking up the pieces’ part. Granted, they are different poles of experience with different things at stake, but at least the former has clear, measurable actions to take (endless medications, treatment to plan for, symptoms to manage, lab results to analyze). The latter is a never-ending struggle, like climbing a mountain without a top, to regain your invisible self.

It’s been over a year since my bone marrow transplant, and I’m doing well. Life is full of great things and one of the lucky ones. I have my health and my future (I think?).

But it’s what I’m left with now that pangs my heart. The appointments, to-dos, educating, data gathering, impossible decisions, hospitalizations, infections, procedures, labs, biopsies, isolation, desperation, pain, sleep deprivation, anxiety, medication, complications, prayers, panic, unknown, fighting, constraints, whirlwind, suffocating are over.

The problem, though, is that it’s the invisible stuff that takes the longest to heal. It’s the stuff no one can see, or measure, or diagnose, or medicate, or remove, or cure that stays with you. Healing the physical body is the “easy” (or at the very least, the “clear”) part.

What plagues me now is so much more nuanced and delicate. There are so many existential questions that I cant answer. (Like who am I now?… what do I value?… can I trust my body again?… am I safe?… what does intimacy mean to me now?… how do I relate to others who haven’t experienced life-threatening illness?…where do I belong?…)

My heart sinks when I see a picture of myself with long hair, or when someone reminds me how tired I look, or another month goes by without having a period, or I catch myself daydreaming about travel, or I remember how innocent I used to be. Those moments are full of so much meaning; so much meaning it will take me a lifetime to make sense of it.

The invisible is so invisible that I can’t really describe it here to you. It’s impossible for me to articulate. All I can say is my uncensored visceral expression would be (and has been) a mix of sobbing, screaming, collapsing, and convulsing.

So what do I tell myself late at night when I’m all alone? Keep feeling. Keep breathing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other…

The whole world will look better in the morning.


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