Don't Be an Island
Knowing me, you will probably read the above tweet and think I am all for it. Spoiler alert: I don’t share the sentiment of my fellow tweeter. I almost hate putting that picture up as the first thing on the blog because someone might take a cursory glance, assume the article is going to be a big “fuck you” to friends and family, and not read the rest. I’m not saying that the author’s feelings are wrong or that she shouldn’t feel the way that she does. I completely understand where the sentiment is coming from. I just see things differently.
I grew up with a mother who told me from a young age that no one owed me anything, not even her. That thought is a little bit extreme, of course. As an adult, I think a parent absolutely owes their child a gamut of things. I also believe that different relationships come with different responsibilities, but I understand the core of what my mother was trying to tell me. She was saying that you should appreciate everything that someone has done for you because at the end of the day, no one is obligated to do anything for you.
She’s right. Outside of physical assault and murder, there aren’t any concrete laws that punish a person for being a shitty human being. Fathers and mothers walk away form their children every day. No one goes to jail for breaking your heart. You can’t call 911 on a bad friend. People don’t lose their livelihoods for cheating on you. There may be social ramifications to all of the above, but there aren’t any real laws enforcing that people should be good human beings.
In my own community I have witnessed extramarital affairs, parents walking away from their families, people behaving badly due to drug use, and many other dysfunctional behaviors. I saw it in my own family. I saw it in my friends’ homes. I even saw it in acquaintances as I grew older. People aren’t always good. They don’t simply just do the right thing all the time. You aren’t owed the perfect childhood or friends and family who always care. In the end the only person you can count on completely is yourself.
That might sound bleak, but when you think about it, it’s actually not. It just means that the people in your life, the ones who stuck around, the ones who checked up on you, and the ones who went out of their way to be good to you, they did it because they wanted to. You managed to find good people to surround yourself with. If anything, you should be focusing on that, and that should make you feel wonderful.
If cancer has taught me anything, it’s to appreciated the people surrounding me. It seems like such a simple thing, but I think we all come to expect things from others, forgetting to really acknowledge what they have done for us.
Don’t get me wrong, you will experience disappointment, especially when going through something as soul crushing as cancer. The weight of this disease is going to feel monumental to you. It’s devastating and all consuming, making it hard to remember the the world doesn’t stop to mourn with you; it just goes on.
Through my own cancer journey, I experienced some disappointment. There were friends I thought I was close to who didn’t so much as send me a text. There are people I am related to, ones who live only 45 minutes away, who didn’t lift a finger to come see me during treatment. There are many people in my life who didn’t show up when I needed them to. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s okay. Like my mom said, you aren’t owed anything. Instead on focusing on those who didn’t show up, focus on the ones who did.
The amount of people who did show up for me was shocking. I had old high school friends who I hadn’t spoken to in years come to see me. I had friends who lived in Brooklyn take the bus to Queens to visit-if you are a New Yorker you know how huge of a deal that is. I received encouraging messages and hangout offers from college acquaintances and some complete strangers! There are people I met along the way who offered me advice and a shoulder to cry on. There are so many people who showed up for me when I needed it the most, and many who still do.
I know that it’s harder to focus on the positive sometimes. It’s easier to dwell on those who you think should have been there and weren’t, but that will only make you bitter. At the end of the day, you won’t really know why someone hasn’t reached out unless you ask. You might find that what you may have misconstrued as callousness or not caring, could really just be a case of the other person not knowing how to proceed. People handle things differently, and you can’t always expect a loved one to understand exactly how you want a situation to be taken care of.
For example, I was hurt by a friend I am particularly close to who never seemed to reach out. My pride kept me from texting him, but eventually we spoke again. I found out that he hadn’t messaged me first because he assumed I wanted space and privacy. He was trying to be considerate of my personal space and not pry, and he assumed that if I wanted to talk about things I would reach out to him myself, as I often did before becoming ill. He handled the situation how he would have wanted to be treated. It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t being aloof or malicious. He just didn’t know what I needed, and figured I would ask for support if I wanted it. He was waiting for a cue from me.
Communication works both ways. If someone isn’t reaching out to you, then reach out to them. Tell people what you need. Ask for what you want. I can assure you that your real friends will be happy to help in any way possible. Maybe you have friends or family who want to be part of your journey, but they just aren’t sure if they would be welcome. They don’t know how to open up the lines of communications. As much as you think you shouldn’t have to ask for help and that the people in your life should volunteer, you have to give them a break.
It’s okay to be a little selfish when battling the King Kong of diseases, but it’s going to be better for your mental health if you allow people the room to be human. Understand that your loved ones have jobs and mortgages and families to attend to. They may be so bogged down with life that they forget to call or text you. Give them a nudge. Understand that some of them are doing the best that they can. Be mindful of how awkward some people may be around those who are ill. Give them the understanding and care that you want to see in them. It’s important to be the type of person you want in your life.
At the end of the day life is just one big learning experience. I’d rather not have learned the meaning of friendship and patience for others through a life threatening disease, but here I am. Instead of focusing on who wasn’t there for me, I am choosing to focus on those who were. I am also trying to be the type of person that I wanted beside me when I was at my worst. I'm working on building a community for myself, one that is strong and supportive. It’s not easy. It’s something that doesn’t come readily to me. I’m a loner and a homebody. Reaching out is not my forte, but in the end it’s going to be rewarding. Being an island can be devastating when disaster strikes. It’s always good to be prepared with reinforcements.