Recently, a friend of mine asked me (for about the 10th time in 2 months) if I would consider blogging about my experience with breast cancer. My response? A blatant “Heck no!” and an exasperated “Why do you keep asking me to do this?!”. She assumed it was because I didn’t see myself as a good enough writer or that I was afraid of letting strangers into my very private thoughts.
It was only afterwards that I realized my actual reason for not wanting to write about my experience: I believed that people will not be able to relate to or understand what I’m going through and I feared that this will indefinitely cause more intense feelings of isolation than what I’ve been experiencing. The thing is, my battle with breast cancer has transformed the way I think, see and do life, putting me on a completely different mental and emotional plane which is nearly impossible to describe to an outsider. Attempting to explain it always results in agreeable nods and in inadvertent “Aah, I get it, I see what you mean” that I know is done and said with heartfelt compassion, but also in complete ignorance of the reality I’m trying to convey. They might think they know, but they really don’t. And this is a sad but true fact.
There is a certain ache that brings… knowing that your story can be heard and factually known, but never fully understood by the people around you. And isn’t it every human’s desire? To have someone who can acknowledge your life, share in your ups and downs and empathetically tug on the string that connects their soul to yours because that same string has drawn them through exactly the same, or at best, similar ups and downs? Maybe because they’ve lived through it with you or made your struggle their own.
The thing about humans is that we want to feel that we are different and unique, but we also love the fact that we are the same. This is why we more readily connect with people from the same backgrounds or upbringing and order the same drinks when we go out because there is a sense of familiarity and that brings comfort. Yes, comfort: A snug, ready-made space we fit into because we’ve been there before and left our fingerprints all over the seats and coffee mugs and rugs. Excessive familiarity is said to breed contempt, but the right and healthy amount of familiarity is what we call home.
Arthur Nortje writes about the intense sense of alienation and displacement he felt when he was exiled from South Africa in the 1960’s. Displacement in both space and circumstance is a condition that has often led to post traumatic stress disorder because it disrupts an ingrained pattern of emotion and thought that was attached to the previous state of space and circumstance.
Ectopic displacement sees the subject removed from their ‘home’ and moved to an unfamiliar space in which they cannot function like they used to, like they were created to. And yes, that has been me… A being made for sunlight and air and wind which now finds itself in caves and corners, desperately trying to acclimatize to its new state of being. To adapt. To survive. To live.
And how do I let you in if you’re still in the sunlight and air and wind and have never even heard of caves? How do I explain the stalactites which loom above my head every night, the scurrying of ghost-like claws across the floor, the deep black of night enfolding me like a scruffy blanket I’d like to toss but also can’t do without?
Truth be told, the cave gets lonely and the stalactites have lost their charm. So I’ve decided to explain, or at least try to. Bear with me.